Philippou: The case for Christian McCaffrey

Dec. 11, 2015, 12:08 a.m.

I’ve held my tongue for long enough.

Ok, well, maybe that isn’t exactly true. I’ve been promoting #WildCaffForHeisman pretty aggressively on Twitter, but I did in fact want to write something on this very topic that wasn’t limited to a series of 140-character messages.

I recognize that I’m writing this well after Heisman voters have made up their minds and well after the voting closed on Monday. I also recognize that not only will nothing I write or say or tweet actually have an impact on Saturday’s results, but also that now that Derrick Henry swept the Maxwell, Doak Walker and Walter Camp Awards at the College Football Awards, it’s very likely that McCaffrey may not bring the Heisman back to The Farm. That being said, I feel strongly enough about this “cause” that I believe it deserves a column of its own.

So: Should Christian McCaffrey win the Heisman?

My answer: Absolutely.

Let’s break down my reasoning as well as the counterarguments against the McCaffrey camp.

Let me preface this all by saying that a huge reason why I think McCaffrey isn’t favored to win is that Stanford had seven of its 13 games start at 7:00 or 7:30 p.m. PT. My family lives on the East Coast, and I was lucky if they stayed awake for a full half of Stanford football. While #Pac12AfterDark may sound sexy, there is no doubt that those late kickoffs affected who and how many people were watching the games.

In addition, I focus much of my argument around Alabama’s Derrick Henry: For one, he and McCaffrey are both running backs and are thus easier to compare to each other. Also the race really seems to be between those two players — sorry, Deshaun Watson. And let me also say that this column is not meant to diminish the achievements of Henry and Watson — they are both exceptional players and deserve their trips to New York just as McCaffrey does.

Now that all of that is out of the way: Back to my argument.

1) Christian McCaffrey has done something that no other player in the history of college football has done before. Ever: record 3,496 (and counting) all-purpose yards in a single season.

The fact that McCaffrey broke the record of none-other than Barry Sanders should signify the enormity of this feat. Not only that, but the record lasted 27 years before anyone — even Reggie Bush — came dangerously close to breaking it.

For the life of me, I don’t understand why people are not talking about this record more or why, upon closer inspection, this fact alone doesn’t outright win the Heisman for McCaffrey. We’re talking about topping what Barry frickin’ Sanders did, something that has not been matched or eclipsed in nearly three decades.

And then our dear friend ESPN has the nerve to selectively display stats.

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 4.48.06 AM

Really, ESPN?! Really?!

Also for the record: there have been 4 players since 2006 with 1,986 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns. One of those four is Derrick Henry.

How many players since 1869 have notched 3,496 all-purpose yards?

Only one: WildCaff.

It also must be emphasized that yes, Barry Sanders set the record in fewer games (11 vs. 13), but McCaffrey did it on seven less touches.

McCaffrey’s yards even out to an average of about 270 all-purpose yards per game. Per game. That’s absurd! The next two players with numbers close to that average are Tyler Ervin from SJSU with 200.8 and Jakeem Grant from Texas Tech with 180.6. Ervin’s stats ought to be taken with a grain of salt, considering SJSU isn’t from the Power 5, making Grant’s the next measure… and McCaffrey has nearly a 100-yard advantage on him.

Obviously, McCaffrey is able to get all these yards because he’s so versatile, which I will talk about next. But that should work to his advantage and should in no way devalue his accomplishment.
Also, if it was so easy to break Sanders’ record, why hadn’t it been done in the past 27 years? Either by a true running back, or by someone who can run, receive, return…

Maybe because there have been few/none multifaceted threats to have had such a successful season, until McCaffrey’s this year.

2) Christian McCaffrey’s versatility has made him the most outstanding college football player — not running back, college football player — this season.

[Also, if you haven’t read Michael Peterson’s article with the top-10 McCaffrey plays of the season, it’s worth a look and really shows off how much the sophomore can do.]

Yes, Derrick Henry is the better running back. I don’t think many people are wasting their time saying the WildCaff is better at that position (and if they did, it would be a losing battle). And that is exactly why I was not upset or surprised that Henry won the Doak Walker Award: because it is given to the nation’s top running back.

But McCaffrey has consistently shown that he is not simply a running back. The sophomore has 540 receiving yards, 1,042 kickoff return yards (ninth in the nation with 28.9 yards per return) and 39 passing yards with 2 passing touchdowns.

Let’s actually look at the kick return stats for a second. McCaffrey’s average kick return ends up being 11.3 yards better than that of Reggie Bush and 1.4 yards better than Desmond Howard’s in both their Heisman campaigns. If superstars such as Reggie Bush and Desmond Howard didn’t even achieve McCaffrey’s stats on kick returns, and taking into account WildCaff’s other skills, what more do you people want?

Seriously, I’m looking for an answer.

For some reason, some have been arguing that his kick return yards in particular should detract from his record-breaking achievement in all-purpose yards, which I simply don’t understand. His ability to successfully run back the ball simply highlights his versatility, and since when was versatility a bad thing?

3) When you take a closer look at McCaffrey’s rushing numbers, they’re still pretty pretty impressive.

Let’s break it down.

McCaffrey is the fifth-best rusher in the nation in yards per game (142.08). He’s behind Leonard Fournette, Derrick Henry (the favored Heisman winner), Dalvin Cook and Royce Freeman. Henry, the only other one in this group who is a Heisman candidate, averages 152.77 yards per game, which is only 10 yards more than McCaffrey. And McCaffrey makes up for this in his 41.5 receiving yards per game, as well as his 80.2 return yards per game.

Henry’s résumé does not include returned kickoffs, and the Alabama stud has only totaled 97 receiving yards this season.

Still not convinced? Let’s go further.

Let’s look at yards per attempt.

Derrick Henry: 5.86

Christian McCaffrey: 5.79

Basically equal, right? And McCaffrey does more for his team than just run the ball.

Not only that, but McCaffrey outgains Henry in yards from scrimmage by a huge margin: He has 2,387 yards from scrimmage — best in the country — while Henry comes in second in the nation with 2,083.

If we break this stat down even further, McCaffrey still holds the advantage: His 183.6 yards from scrimmage per game is also top in the nation and well above Henry’s — by over 20 yards.

4) What’s with the Pac-12 hate? It’s uncalled for, and McCaffrey’s performance is still significant and meaningful regardless.

It’s come to my attention that some people think that the Pac-12 is “not a good conference.” Direct words from the person I thought was my brother.

First of all, since my brother and so many Heisman voters (and even just football fans) are from the East Coast (or at least simply east of California), I’m not going to beat around the bush and will flat-out call them out for (perhaps unintentional) SEC bias. Particularly Alabama bias. I even admit: Before I came out West for school, I was very unaware of West Coast teams and never watched Pac-12 football. Now that I’ve been properly enlightened, it astounds me how the country is still continuously drinking the Bama-SEC Kool-Aid. Look up and look West. You might be impressed with what you see.

Not only that, but this year, ESPN featured Alabama on GameDay for two of its games (one in Tuscaloosa, one in Arlington). Stanford? None. That, combined with Stanford’s late kickoff times, really, really hurt McCaffrey’s visibility and thus popularity back East.

And then there’s the argument that the Pac-12’s defenses are not actually that good. Well yes, when comparing stats on paper, the Pac-12’s defenses aren’t anything to write home about, perhaps even compared to SEC defenses. But anyone ever consider the fact that the Pac-12’s insanely talented offenses might skew these numbers to make the conference’s defenses look weaker? After all the conference does have some of the best quarterbacks in the nation in Luke Falk, Jared Goff, Cody Kessler, Josh Rosen and, heck, let’s throw Kevin Hogan’s name in there.

The Pac-12 has five of the top 25 passers in the nation, and two of them are in the top 5, when looking at yards per game. The SEC? Two.

The lesson in all of this? Is it really possible to compare these players of two different conferences? Perhaps not. And even if you try, I’m not sure how possible it is to come to a definite conclusion, since each conference has different strengths.

Regardless, let’s see how Christian McCaffrey and Derrick Henry each do against top-50 rush defenses.

Henry has faced more (seven) than McCaffrey (four), but the two have performed almost identically, McCaffrey with 5.34 yards per carry and Henry with 5.33 yards per carry, suggesting that the two are doing essentially the same thing against some of the best defenses.

But McCaffrey is also receiving, kick returning and occassionally even throwing touchdowns.

In closing:

What more do you people want?!

Are you not entertained?!


Alexa Philippou couldn’t get anyone to add a funny contact line to her article because she published the piece at some absurd time at night. Send her tips for how to have better time management skills at aphil723 ‘at’

Alexa Philippou '18 is a political science major and a former Managing Editor of The Daily's sports section. She switched from the sports section to news her junior year, where she has worked on the university/local beat since. Being from Baltimore, she is a die-hard Ravens and Orioles fan who cried when the Ravens won the Super Bowl. To contact Alexa, please email her at aphil723 'at'

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