SANTA CLARA, Calif. — USC linebacker Su’a Cravens is a special athlete. Pac-12 coaches are eager for him to go seek his NFL fortune, which figures to be considerable. But he let out a sigh through a flicker of a respectful smile when asked about Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey, who sliced and diced the Trojans for a ludicrous 461 total yards in the Cardinal’s 41-22 victory in the Pac-12 championship game.
“I mean, ‘What doesn’t he do?’ is what you could ask me,” Cravens said. “He catches the ball in the backfield, makes the guy miss and takes it to the house. Rushes the ball inside and on the edge and scores with any play they draw for him. He’s just a special guy. In my opinion, he should win the Heisman.”
It seems a certainty — at the very least — that McCaffrey will be invited to New York for the ceremony. On the biggest stage of the season, he turned in a performance nothing less than epic.
McCaffrey rushed for 207 yards against the Trojans and averaged 6.5 yards per carry against a defense that yielded just 3.8 yards per carry this season. He caught four passes for 105 yards. He scored two touchdowns. And he threw a touchdown pass and returned kicks.
Heck, the true sophomore broke the celestial Barry Sanders’ NCAA single-season record for all-purpose yardage (3,250 yards) in the second quarter.
McCaffrey continues to eradicate doubters, none of whom populate the Stanford locker room or pretty much any locker room that has opposed him this season.
“We knew as soon as he got here — his first workout with us — we knew this kid was special,” quarterback Kevin Hogan said. “But he definitely has a chip on his shoulder that people don’t take him as seriously as he deserves.”
McCaffrey scoots and sprints and jukes and seems trapped and then — kapow! — he accelerates through the sliver of daylight. He looks good on film, sure, but it seems like more than a few defenses thought they could handle him all the way up to the point when they didn’t.
Said USC coach Clay Helton, “He’s as special a player as we’ve played all season. His ability to break tackles is what stood out today.”
McCaffrey started quickly against the Trojans by rushing for 93 yards in the first quarter, and he finished strong, with touchdown runs of 28 and 10 yards as Stanford pulled away in the final frame. That effort played the primary role in Stanford’s earning its third conference title and Rose Bowl berth in four years.
While the Cardinal fell short of a spot in the College Football Playoff, coach David Shaw didn’t hesitate to advocate for McCaffrey to pick up the Heisman Trophy as a consolation prize his team could take pride in. Before reporters could ask him about his running back, Shaw announced his vote — if only he had one.
“To my left here is the best player in the nation,” he said as he shared the stage with McCaffrey. “I don’t know if there is any question. There is nobody in the nation doing what he’s doing. It’s not even a debate.”
Well, there is some debate. Alabama running back Derrick Henry is a brutally efficient rusher. Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson is the productive heart-and-soul of the nation’s No. 1 team. But there’s no question that eclipsing Sanders, perhaps the best running back in college football history, pushes McCaffrey into truly rare territory.
It’s pretty overwhelming for him, actually.
“Everything happened so fast,” McCaffrey said. “I haven’t had much time to think about it. I try to keep all the individual accolades out of there and focus on getting the win.”
Stanford, an afterthought in the preseason and dismissed after a season-opening loss at Northwestern, got a win over USC and the Pac-12 title.
Cravens’ postgame question, however, hasn’t been answered.
What doesn’t McCaffrey do?