Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey's breakout season has earned him a spot in the Heisman Trophy conversation. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

Shaw, McCaffrey all the buzz

He’s quicker than a hiccup. At 6-foot, 201 pounds, he’s tougher than a grass stain, too. He’s as much fun to watch as any college football player in the country.

So after he led Stanford to its sixth consecutive victory last weekend, why did it take nearly six minutes for the local media to mention Christian McCaffrey in the postgame news conference?

“It took you that long to ask a Christian McCaffrey question?” coach David Shaw wanted to know himself.

But while McCaffrey is taken for granted locally, it seems the rest of the country at least knows his name now. There even has been some talk about him in the Heisman Trophy conversation lately, although he’s a long shot to hoist the most coveted individual award in college sports.

First, sophomores rarely win the big prize. Three have done it, and only one (Mark Ingram) is a running back. And it’s far more difficult for a white running back to pull it off, not that

the voters are racist or anything. Fact is, that hasn’t happened since 1973, when John Cappelletti was the pick of a rather ordinary lot.

“I’m not thinking about it,” McCaffrey said. “We’re just worried about getting in the film room, seeing what we can do better and becoming 1-0 [this] week.” Stanford travels to Washington State in what could be a trap game Saturday night if the Cardinal isn’t careful.

Still, McCaffrey has begun to build a pretty good case for himself. He leads the nation in all-purpose yardage (1,818), and averages 9.0 yards every time he carries the ball. And he totes it a lot — an average of 28 times per game.

“I’m at the point that I don’t know what else I can say other than ‘Watch him. Just watch him,’” Shaw said. “He’s so quick, so explosive, a little guy who never gets tired. He gets pounded. He gets hit. He gets blown up on a kickoff return, and we want to take him just to see if he’s OK, and he comes up with a smile on his face and says, ‘Coach, I’m fine.’ We put him out there and he gets back after it again.”

The obvious question is: Will McCaffrey burn out in the stretch drive? A year ago, he never handled the ball more than 13 times in any game.

“He’s holding up very well,” Shaw reported. “He only knows two speeds — on and off. He took some big shots this past game, but that’s how he plays. We’ll take care of him to a certain degree during the week, but he’s a running back, and he’s going to run between the tackles.”

If McCaffrey continues to shoulder the load and do it this well, it will be hard not to watch him.

OH, THAT TRICKY CARDINAL: So what’s gotten into Shaw and offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren lately? At times criticized for their ultra-conservatism in the past, they’ve loosened the reins and the eighth-ranked Cardinal have been that much better for it.

In the victory against Washington last weekend, Stanford converted fourth-and-3 and fourth-and-1 situations on touchdown drives, the last one at its 45-yard-line. On another play, 6-foot-7, 301-pound tackle Kyle Murphy and tight end Greg Tabaoda switched places. A quick snap caught the defense unaware of the tackle eligible play, and Tabaoda caught an 18-yard pass as a result.

The bit of trickery was borrowed from the New England Patriots, who tried it last postseason with one notable exception. The Cardinal used a fully inflated football, presumably.

NOT FOR LONG: Shaw is a lock to become an NFL head coach in the not-too-distant future, and if Stanford avenges its loss in the 2013 Rose Bowl this season, he’ll have little if anything left to accomplish there. His 48-13 record speaks for itself.

“Yeah, you never say never long term-wise,” Shaw told Jay Mohr Sports recently. “But for the immediate future, what we’re building here is so special. The guys who we have coming in and the guys who are here are so special.

“I love where we are. I’m raising my family here in Palo Alto, California You really can’t beat it. I’ll never say never down the road but no time soon. We’ve done some good things here, but we’ve got a lot to accomplish as well.”

Shaw spent nine seasons in an the NFL as a quarterback and wide receivers coach, the kind of experience that makes him a prime candidate to coach on Sundays. Reminded that there was a certain NFL team only a few miles south that could use his services, Shaw said, “I’m good where I am right now, thanks.”

SERIES OF PROBLEMS: Seamheads called the World Series opener between the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals an instant classic. Balls calls it another baseball nightmare.

The 14-inning marathon lasted five hours, nine minutes. The final pitch was thrown at 1:18 a.m. (Eastern), long past the bedtime of younger viewers. Fox Sports announced that television ratings were the highest in five years, but it didn’t tell us how many people outside New York and Kansas City actually watched the final out.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the TV picture suddenly vanished in the fourth inning. After an electronics failure cut the power to the generators inside the production compound, fans got to watch a “technical difficulties” screen. The teams were unable to watch replay video as a result.

Now you know why Major League Baseball lost many of us years ago.

JUST SAYIN’: The World Series should feature two afternoon games, one in each city, but MLB would rather lose young fans than a few bucks, which is why the sport becomes more irrelevant every year.

YOUR TURN: “You wrote that the jury is out on [the 49ers’] Jimmie Ward. Personally, I think the jury is back. Ward is a bust. Think about it. The 49ers easily have one of the worst secondaries in the NFL. They may be even worse than the Raiders. Despite that, Ward can’t break into the starting lineup. … As for the others, only Carlos Hyde has been really outstanding, especially given the offensive line’s inability to open holes for him.” — Tom Ryugo, San Francisco.

Got an opinion? A gripe? A compliment? (A compliment?!?) Send them to pladewski@sfexaminer.com and you may get your name in the paper one day.

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