Here we go again on our MNC Wednesday miniseries entry scrutinizing Heisman Trophy history, and in 59 seasons overall, we have confirmed just 17 vote winners—which makes us think we’re doing something wrong? But we really don’t think we are, with all the context we have; maybe we will re-visit these choices 10 years from now in book form and see if we’ve changed our minds. However, onward and upward for now, as we take on the second season of the infamous College Football Playoff and its lies.
2015 Heisman Trophy winner: Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama (original); Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford (revised)
Alabama Crimson Tide running back Derrick Henry led his team to the SEC title and a berth in the CFP by posting 2,310 total yards and 28 touchdowns against the No. 1 schedule in the country. Alabama went 12-1 during the regular season, losing only to Ole Miss by 6 points in a game where the Crimson Tide quarterbacks tossed 3 interceptions. Henry posted 166 total yards in that game with 1 TD, so he did his usual damage (or maybe less?). This is a tough profile to top, but we say that a lot.
As normal for this space, there are always other high-quality candidates to consider, and this is our final list of firmly vetted Heisman candidates for the 2015 Heisman Trophy, a roll-call lineup that is short but sweet this time around the block:
- Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford: 3,903 all-purpose yards and 17 total TDs (No. 11 SOS)
- Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma: 4,105 total yards with 43 TDs and 7 INTs for a 173.3 QB rating (No. 25 SOS)
McCaffrey led the Cardinal to the Pac-12 title and a berth in the Rose Bowl. Only an early-season road loss in the Eastern time zone kept Stanford out of the CFP, and his SOS is not Top 10—but it’s pretty close. Mayfield guided the Sooners to an 11-1 record, the Big XII title, and a CFP slot, but his SOS (while very good) is not elite like those of Henry or McCaffrey. But we will keep all three here for the round-robin analysis of their supporting casts:
- Alabama: QBs with sub-150 QB ratings and only one teammate also over 1,000 total yards
- Stanford: QBs with 170 QB rating and no teammates over 553 total yards
- Oklahoma: Three players over 1,100 total yards (two RBs and one WR), a fourth with 760 yards
It seems like Mayfield had the most help on offense, considering the two RBs were balancing that offense tremendously. Throw in the SOS, and we’re going to drop Mayfield from final consideration. Another thing to consider: McCaffrey did everything for Stanford. He returned kickoffs and punts, scoring once each way; he threw two TD passes out of the option. He was the same all-purpose threat in college that he is today in the NFL. Meanwhile, Henry had just 91 yards receiving, so he was one dimensional.
McCaffrey had better QB play than Henry, for sure, and Henry had the superior SOS. But McCaffrey did so much more than Henry did, in terms of not only running the ball. The special teams and the receiving skills made the Cardinal QB play that much better. And what about the defenses? Alabama was No. 3 in scoring defense, while Stanford was … wait for it … ranked 33rd. That’s a huge bonus there, in terms of defensive support. The Cardinal needed every touch McCaffrey had in him.
And let’s examine that usage: Henry had 406 touches, compared to 437 for McCaffrey. Not that much of a difference, but Henry carried the ball 395 times, while McCaffrey only ran the ball 337 times. The Stanford star had a bigger per-carry average, but he scored less (circumstantial as we have seen over the years of analysis here). In the end, we see Henry as a one-trick pony on an über-talented team, and we see McCaffrey as a multidimensional value player in almost all phases of the game, except defense.
The SOS? Henry is to be applauded for carrying, pun intended, his team on his back all season long, but it’s not like McCaffrey was playing cupcakes, either. To do so much more against a mostly comparable slate of opponents says a lot to us … and Stanford still won the Pac-12 and reached the Rose Bowl to finish fourth in the SRS—despite a much weaker defense than Henry had supporting him with the Crimson Tide. Henry may have been a product of the system, while McCaffrey just was a rare talent.
We wouldn’t argue too much if others feel Henry deserved this more, but when we toss in the variety of ways McCaffrey could hurt an opponent, combined with his vastly inferior teammates in the skill positions and the defense, we just think he was the better player in historical context. It is our column, after all. And for the record, the 2008 season was the last time we confirmed a vote winner. Crazy, for it’s like the voting has gotten worse despite the voters having more access to data than ever before!
Congratulations to Christian McCaffrey, the real Heisman Trophy winner for 2015.