The “almost” team from the “not quite”conference put on quite a performance in Friday’s Rose Bowl.
Donald Trump, though, would look at the big picture and say “Loser.”
Christian McCaffrey, the guy who would have won the Heisman Trophy had it been voted on Friday night, led a Stanford team that would have been in the playoff had the committee met once more Saturday morning.
Stanford proved, in its 45-16 win over Iowa, that it is one of the four best teams in the country. McCaffrey set a Rose Bowl record with 368 total yards but won’t get a Heisman recount.
Looking like one of the nation’s best teams made Pac people proud but didn’t get the Cardinal any closer to winning this year’s championship.
Nobody does “just missed it” better than Stanford, or the Pac 12. The league is dubbed “conference of champions” but not when it comes to football. The league, in 16 years, never figured out the BCS and is now 0-for-2 in the College Football Playoff.
If you had a candy store, with a big window, the Pac 12 would be the kid outside with his nose smudged against the window. McCaffrey finished second in the Heisman Trophy because that’s just what Stanford players do in a fine tradition dating back to John Elway, Toby Gerhart and Andrew Luck (twice).
And no team, outside of USC, knows how to close the deal and win a full share of the national championship.
Stanford made the mistake of playing Northwestern AND Notre Dame in non-conference play. It then won one of the four best conferences in college football. Anyone want to challenge that?
Yet, Stanford did not earn one of the four playoff invitations. And here’s the weird part–it wasn’t an outrage. The Cardinal, unfortunately, lost two games in a year where that wasn’t going to cut it. Louisiana State lost two in 2007 and won it all, but did it in the right year.
Alabama, in 2011, won the title without even winning the SEC West, but you should not attempt to do this at a west coast home.
The Pac 12 just can’t get it right when it comes to football. If the train leaves at 6:10, it shows up at 6:12. McCaffrey broke Barry Sanders’ single-season, all-purpose record but finished second in Heisman voting to Alabama’s Derrick Henry. It was the same story in 2009, when Gerhart lost the Heisman to another Alabama back, Mark Ingram, in the closest vote ever.
McCaffrey proved to the world Friday what we left-leaners already knew. It was nice that Stanford was able to play in broad daylight for a change, and that the east coast got to see one of the most exciting players in a generation.
But that doesn’t mean Derrick Henry didn’t deserve the Heisman, either. The campaign is all about what you do, when you do it, and who at ESPN sees it.
McCaffrey’s Heisman charge got started a week too late, after Henry became the favorite and then did nothing to lose it.
And just because Stanford IS one of the best four teams doesn’t mean the selection committee picked the wrong four teams. It picked the four most deserving teams based on the evidence it had. Stanford was the only team in contention with two losses.
Stanford could have made the Final Four by not scheduling a tough game at Northwestern to start the season. It could have scheduled a cheap win over a 1-AA opponent.
But that’s not what Stanford did. It played Northwestern, and lost, and then lost a two-point game to Oregon. That was not good enough, this year, to beat out Clemson, Alabama, Michigan State and Oklahoma.
There should be no sour grapes, but nor should we ignore just how good a team Stanford appears to be now.
Anyone think it would have lost to Alabama, 38-0, as Michigan State did? College football, however, is as much about timing as it is about talent. You are judged sometimes on what you were, not what you are.
McCaffrey, despite his brilliance on Friday, can never win this year’s Heisman. Maybe Henry could loan it to him for a day or two, the way they do with the Stanley Cup.
The Pac 12 is also going to be watching next week’s national title game from home. If college football had a real playoff, Stanford would be a division champion with a first-week bye.
But that’s not the way this sport works. You have to have players and a program, but you also need a bully pulpit, a proactive platform and some luck.
If Arkansas doesn’t convert on a miracle fourth-and-25 play against Mississippi, guess what: Alabama would have been beating the crud out of Oklahoma State in the Sugar Bowl instead of playing for another national title.
See how slim the margins are in this racket?
The only luck Stanford has had, of late, is Andrew. And he came up short in the BCS and the Heisman.
Photo credit: Laureen Pada