Stanford sophomore running back Christian McCaffrey continues to garner national recognition. This week, the Heisman Trophy candidate was named the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year, one of five finalists for the Walter Camp Football Foundation Player of the Year award, and an Academic All-American.
Previously, McCaffrey was selected a finalist for the Maxwell Award, given to the best player in the country, the Doak Walker Award, presented to the top running back, and the Hornung Award, honoring the most versatile player in college football.
"No one can tell me there's a more dynamic player in college football," said Stanford head coach David Shaw, whose seventh-ranked Cardinal (10-2, 8-1) plays 24th-ranked USC (8-4, 6-3) on Saturday at 4:45 p.m. for the Pac-12 Conference title at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara.
McCaffrey enters ranked first in the nation in all-purpose yards with a Pac-12 record 3,035, becoming just the third player in NCAA history to eclipse 3,000. Only 11 300-yard all-purpose games have been recorded by FBS players this season, four of them by McCaffrey. He tallied 389 against Cal and 369 against UCLA, the top totals of 2015.
McCaffrey has surpassed 200 all-purpose yards nine times, and needs 216 yards to break the NCAA single-season record set by Barry Sanders of Oklahoma in 1988, who won the Heisman Trophy.
Considered by many to be the most complete running back in college football, McCaffrey averages 252.92 all-purpose yards per game, more than 60 better than his closest pursuer. Only two other players have surpassed 2,000 yards.
A product of Castle Rock, Colo., McCaffrey has rushed for 1,640 yards, caught a team-high 37 passes for 435 yards, has amassed 922 yards in kickoff returns, averaging a Pac-12 best 29.7, and threw a 28-yard scoring pass. He eclipsed 100 yards rushing in a school-record nine-straight games, highlighted by a Stanford-best 243 against UCLA.
All told, McCaffrey has been involved in 369 plays (rushing, receiving, passing and kick returns) and has averaged 8.2 yards per touch.
Tough, fast, patient, instinctive and durable, McCaffrey runs with great vision and is seldom brought down by the first tackler. He has forced opponents to stack the line of scrimmage and commit starters to their kickoff coverage teams, a tactic employed by Note Dame last Saturday. McCaffrey still produced 228 all-purpose yards to help lead the Cardinal to a 38-36 victory against the fourth-ranked Fighting Irish.
According to ESPN, McCaffrey has rushed for 10 or more yards against eight-man fronts this season more than any Power 5 player.
For all the accolades McCaffrey has received, teammates insist he is an even better person.
"I worked with him last summer as an intern for a local commercial real estate company," said senior inside linebacker and team captain Blake Martinez. "Going into it, I was like, 'All right, what am I going to see from this kid? Am I going to see that great person I was expecting?' We all knew he was going to be a great player. Every single day he was personable.
"I talked to Coach (Duane) Akina one day and he was like, 'What about No. 5? Do you know anything?' And I said, 'Honestly, Coach, you couldn't say anything bad about him.' He's going to come up to you, no matter who you are, and he's going to be respectful. That's just the way he was raised."
Cardinal placekicker Conrad Ukropina grew up in Pasadena among an extended family of USC fans, though he rooted against the Trojans, per his father's wishes. Conrad's father, Bill, graduated from Washington State.
"I love beating the Trojans," he said. "Will it probably come down to something like that? Absolutely. I'll run out there and give it my best shot."
One thing Ukropina learned from his predecessor, Jordan Williamson, is that he was able to move on from kick to kick by having a short memory. "Kickers need to have a short memory."
Ukropina was a freshman walk-on and not on the travel squad when Williamson made the field goal to beat Oregon in 2012. Ukropina drove nearly nine hours to Eugene to watch that game. Williamson texted congratulations after Ukropina's winner last week.
As for Ukropina's USC family, "All the Trojans are definitely going to be rooting for USC," he said. "It's a running joke they have. They root for the Trojans 98 percent of the time and, strictly when the ball is leaving my foot, then they root for Stanford."
Stanford has been productive on third down this season, leading the Pac-12 with a 50.9 percent conversion rate (81 of 159). The Cardinal succeeded 8 of 12 times during its 41-31 victory at USC earlier this season, and posted the same figure against Notre Dame.
Stanford is also first on fourth-down attempts, converting 10 of 11 opportunities (90.9).
Conversely, USC ranks first in the conference in third-down defense at 34.1 percent (55 of 160) and first on fourth down at 33.3 (6 of 18).
Offensive tackle Kyle Murphy from San Clemente has accepted an invitation to play in the Senior Bowl, Jan. 30 in Mobile, Alabama. He was named to the preseason Lombardi Award and Outland Trophy watch lists and was selected to the Pac-12 All-Conference first team earlier this week.
New USC coach
USC took the interim tag off Clay Helton and named him head coach Monday. Helton had led USC to a 5-2 record as a replacement for Steve Sarkisian.
"I'm happy for Clay," Shaw said. "It's much deserved. He's been very well respected among the coaching circles. I'm glad USC made that decision. It's good for them and it's good for the coaching profession. Stability is always good for the coaching profession."
If Stanford wins and is considered for a College Football Playoff berth, at least one stat is in its favor: strength of schedule. To this point, Stanford has played five teams in the CFP Top 25 the most of any team in the rankings.
Shaw is hopeful starting cornerbacks Ronnie Harris and Alijah Holder will play against USC . . . Stanford is 22-2 this decade against California teams . . . The last six meetings between Stanford and USC have been decided by 10 points or less.
"If me following him was the best moment of his day, that's the best moment of mine." Seattle cornerback and former Stanford standout Richard Sherman, after learning that Conrad Ukropina said the best thing that happened to him after kicking the game-winning field goal against Notre Dame was discovering that Sherman started following him on social media.