It's official. Stanford has begun a Heisman Trophy campaign for sophomore running back Christian McCaffrey and it's pretty impressive.
"He's played his way into the Heisman conversation," Cardinal football coach David Shaw said Tuesday. "It's a really good sidebar to what we're doing as a team."
No. 7 Stanford (8-1 overall, 7-0 in the Pac-12) hosts Oregon (6-3, 4-2) on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. A Cardinal victory clinches the North Division title and keeps intact a chance to reach the college championship playoffs. A Stanford loss will kill off the national championship hopes, but not conference championship hopes.
The Cardinal understands that beating the Ducks is far more important than promoting McCaffrey for the Heisman, but, hey, talking Heisman is just so much fun. Andrew Luck and Toby Gerhart were the most recent candidates (Owen Marecic finished 10th in the balloting one year) and both were national runner-ups. Gerhart lost by the slimmest margin in Heisman history.
Thus the push for McCaffrey with three games remaining to play, all at home, and with something on the line in each contest.
"That guy has been special since the day he arrived here," Palo Alto grad and Stanford linebacker Kevin Anderson said. "It's cool for us that he's getting the attention he deserves."
The splashy website WildCaff features everything you need to know about McCaffrey, the son of former Cardinal All-America and NFL star Ed McCaffrey. The site includes a comparison with former trophy winners in all-purpose yards.
"It's not just what he does on the field," Shaw said. "It's how he practices, how he prepares and how serious he is about offseason conditioning. He'll make a great play, give the ball to an official and sprint back to the huddle. All he cares about is the next play."
McCaffrey's all-purpose yardage (2,174) is already more than former Heisman Trophy winners Tony Dorsett and Marcus Allen. He has a chance to move ahead of every former Heisman Trophy winner with the exception of Barry Sanders' 3,250 yards. He needs 315 yards to surpass Mike Rozier for No. 2.
"Give him the Heisman, he deserves it," Cardinal receiver Michael Rector said. "He's a special player and his future is bright."
Cajuste needs a boost
Injuries and illness have played a part as Stanford receiver Devon Cajuste struggles through his senior season.
Cajuste set a school record averaging 22.9 yards a catch as a sophomore and followed that with a 16.4 average last year. This year, he's averaging 11.1 a catch.
"His ankle sprain was significant," Shaw said. "He's only played four or five games healthy."
The sprain kept him out of fall camp for all but the final two weeks.
Big picture, framed
With Stanford in the running for a potential national championship chase, it might be easy for players to allow themselves a peak into the future. Not so says Rector.
"We all know what could happen," he said. "But we think taking it one game at a time is the right approach."
Defensive lineman Brandon Simmons will not play against the Ducks, Shaw said, but that everybody else who played against Colorado are healthy and available.
Senior Kevin Anderson from Palo Alto High said he feels 100 healthy after missing a month. He returned to play against Washington State.
"I really missed playing," he said.
Oregon possesses two special offensive weapons in particular: quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. and sophomore running back Royce Freeman.
Stanford's Anderson offered his opinion on both.
On Adams, "We've got to figure out how to contain him. We can't jump. We have to make the sound tackle and not try to make the blow-up tackle, and just do whatever we can to keep him in the pocket."
On Freeman, "That guy's a beast. All I remember is last year trying to tackle him and not being able to because he's big and strong. All he's done is gotten bigger and stronger."
Freshman wide receiver Jay Tyler is giving the Stanford defense his best Adams imitation as Stanford's scout team quarterback.
Tyler, a quarterback who broke some of Peyton Manning's records at Isidore Newman School in New Orleans, has provided the elusiveness that the Cardinal defense will expect.
The first collegiate touchdown pass for Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost, and the last collegiate touchdown reception for Shaw, came on the same play.
Frost, a sophomore making his first collegiate start as a replacement for injured Steve Stenstrom, fired a 13-yard strike to Shaw on Nov. 12, 1994, late in a 55-21 loss to Oregon at Stanford Stadium.
A big-time recruit who came to Stanford to play for Bill Walsh, Frost transferred to Nebraska after that season and led the Cornhuskers to the 1997 national championship before a five-year career as an NFL safety. His brother and Stanford teammate, Steve Frost, is Stanford's football public address announcer.