Ralph D. Russo
AP College Football Writer
Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey is The Associated Press college football player of the year, becoming the first non-Heisman Trophy winner to earn the honor in six years.
McCaffrey was the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy to Derrick Henry, but received 29 of 60 votes from the AP Top 25 media panel to edge the Alabama running back.
Henry received 16 votes and Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson was third with 11. Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds and Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield each received two votes.
The last time the AP player of the year was not the Heisman winner was 2009. That season Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was the AP voter’s choice while the Heisman went to Alabama running back Mark Ingram. It is the fifth time overall that the Heisman winner and AP player of the year went to different players.
McCaffrey is the first Stanford player to win the award since it was first handed out in 1998 and first running back to win it since one of his football heroes, Southern California’s Reggie Bush, did it in 2005.
“This award is a testament to all the efforts and support of my teammates, coaches, staff and the entire Stanford football program,” McCaffrey said in a statement to the AP on Tuesday.
The 200-pound sophomore was a revelation this season and, like Bush, displayed an ability to dominate games in various ways.
He ran for 1,847 yards (second-most in the nation behind Henry) and eight touchdowns, caught a team-best 41 passes for 540 yards and four scores and averaged 28.9 yards per kickoff return with another score. He also threw two touchdown passes.
“What is Christian McCaffrey? The answer is football player,” Stanford coach David Shaw said in a recent interview. “It’s not running back. It’s not receiver. It’s not returner. It’s football player. What do you need for him to do?”
Add it all up and McCaffrey set the NCAA record for all-purpose yards with 3,496 this season, breaking the mark of 3,250 set by Oklahoma State’s Barry Sanders in 1988. McCaffrey played two more games than Sanders though he had fewer total touches when he passed the record.
“You can say he had the best year in the history of college football,” Shaw said.
McCaffrey, who is the son of former Stanford and NFL receiver Ed McCaffrey, can also kick and punt though he admits without much consistency.
“(In high school) I had one 60 yard punt and I had one negative-3-yard punt,” he said.
Shaw said he is confident McCaffrey could hold his own on defense if necessary.
“One day we needed some guys to flip over and be on the scout team,” Shaw said. “And he flipped over and jumped over at corner. And the back pedal was natural. The plant and dive was natural. The flipping the hips to run deep was natural. He could be phenomenal at that position, too.”
McCaffrey led the Cardinal (11-2) to a Pac-12 championship and their third Rose Bowl appearance in the last four year. Stanford will play Iowa on Jan. 1 in Pasadena, California.
His record-breaking season will make him one of the favorites to win the Heisman heading into the 2016 season. It will be a high standard to match, but McCaffrey said he has plenty left to prove.
“I’m not satisfied at all with the season, my personal season,” he said. “All the great players you ask always expect greatness. There’s definitely a lot of work to be done. A lot of room for improvement.”