Wake up, sleepy voters: McCaffrey for Heisman

Can you imagine a war correspondent not covering a peace treaty because it went down at midnight, way past his bedtime? A real reporter always finds his path to a story. Not to mix world events with college football, but shame on Heisman Trophy voters in the Eastern and Central time zones who claim they’ve been inconvenienced by seven Stanford games that have started past 7 p.m. Pacific time and, thus, haven’t observed enough of Christian McCaffrey to select him.

Ever hear of a DVR, peeps? Or a smartphone that live-streams games? Or, as so-called experts entrusted with ballots, maybe grasping the importance of credibility and staying up to watch games like anyone else who cares about the sport? It would be a travesty if the spectacular McCaffrey — who probably will break Barry Sanders’ 27-year-old record for most all-purpose yards in a season — lost the Bronze Stiff-Arm due to national underexposure and regional biases in places such as, oh, the Southeast.

Yet two weeks and two nights before the winner is announced in New York, runnerup-dom appears to be his fate, despite a wow factor that should make him the electrifying, prolific favorite. Unless McCaffrey blows away voters with his biggest performances yet against Notre Dame on Saturday and in the Pac-12 title game the following weekend, he’s doomed to get the ziggy. This while the leaders of the top two teams in the College Football Playoff ratings — quarterback Deshaun Watson of Clemson and running back Derrick Henry of Alabama — are considered the Heisman favorites, having played in time slots more conducive to the electorate’s sleeping patterns.

Anyone who lays eyes on McCaffrey, or listens to him talk about his team while shying away from self-promotion, realizes he’s the emerging football hero and dashing young man that we want to extol in 2015. He’s the very antithesis of the Johnny Manziel/Jameis Winston model of collegiate playmakers gone bad, dashing across fields throughout the American West en route to 2,807 total yards, 444 short of the national record of Oklahoma State’s Barry Sanders — father of McCaffrey’s Stanford teammate of the same name. Sanders won the Heisman, as did the player next-highest on the all-purpose-yardage list, USC’s Reggie Bush, though he had to give his back.

Why not McCaffrey? Why not a dynamo who has nine straight 100-yard rushing games and has exceeded 300 all-purpose yards four times this season? Because his games start too late?

Know how lame and pathetic that sounds?

“Offensively and special-teams-wise, has anybody seen a running back — I’ll say this, a football player — better than Christian McCaffrey this year?” said Stanford coach David Shaw, pleading the case. “Tell me. Show him to me. I haven’t seen anybody.”

Said Stanford center Graham Shuler: “Christian puts his nose to the grindstone as hard as anybody in this country. That’s why I think he deserves to be in Heisman contention and deserves all the recognition he’s getting and even more. [Offensive coordinator Mike] Bloomgren and I were joking around about what covers he’s been on and why he hasn’t been on Sports Illustrated and Sporting News. That stuff is very soon to come. He’s a superstar.”

As the son of Stanford’s most famous married sports couple, Ed and Lisa McCaffrey, Christian will be back next year as a junior to edge closer to his degree. He can win the Heisman then, I suppose. But if he deserves it this year, I can’t fathom not voting for him because people only recently discovered him. It’s their job to know about him, right? So many media based in the East and South tweet comments such as, “Christian McCaffrey has to be in New York for the Heisman ceremony. The kid is unreal.” If he’s unreal, why only give him a seat in the room while Henry wins? Then there was the Southeastern Conference-based writer for ESPN.com who described Henry as “the Heisman Trophy front-runner” last weekend after he gained all of 66 yards, though carrying only nine times in a romp over a typical SEC late-season creampuff. There’s Alabama coach Nick Saban, scheduling an easy November game as SEC coaches do, while Shaw is playing, in succession, a season-ending murderer’s row of Oregon, Cal, Notre Dame and the Pac-12 title game opponent. No one can say McCaffrey has accrued yardage against soft competition.

The conference office hasn’t helped. The Pac-12 still hasn’t struck a deal with DirecTV more than three years after starting its own television network, falling far behind the SEC Network and its widespread exposure via an ESPN partnership. Thus, you do detect Heisman politicking on ESPN and CBS, another SEC stronghold, that involves players from leagues to which they’re contractually obligated. It’s a sham, I know, but that’s how it works in a multibillion-dollar industry. And the Pac-12 has no counter move. Why so many late Stanford starts? Part of that is the Cardinal’s fault for losing its first game at Northwestern, which knocked Stanford out of frontrunner’s status for a while and, consequently, out of the more desirable late-afternoon starts seen in prime time in the East and South. The slots at 7 and 7:30 PT are considered second-best — after so many Joe Deadlines are already snoring from Boston to Baton Rouge.

What’s wonderful about McCaffrey is that he doesn’t care about any of this political jibber-jabber. More than a joy to watch, he has rich perspective for someone who only turned 19 this past summer.

“I’m not really focused on all the individual statistics right now or anything like that,” McCaffrey said. “If that does happen, great. If not, I’m not focused on that right now.”

The sleepyheads argue that McCaffrey is a newbie on the national scene, that it took Oregon’s Marcus Mariota a couple of seasons before he won the Heisman last December. Why should it take a couple of seasons for a West Coast candidate to percolate? Watson and Henry weren’t widely known at the start of this season. Yet they’re playing in the South, where, according to the inherent bias, the football is better. I understand that Clemson is undefeated and Alabama is talented enough again to win the national title. But Stanford isn’t far behind in the CFP rankings and, if the Cardinal did somehow squeeze into the Final Four, I’d like its chances.

More than 900 people vote for the Heisman. At some point, I assume all have watched late-night TV shows featuring Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert or the comedians and musical guests on “Saturday Night Live.” I assume some actually have stayed up past midnight, perhaps at a drinking establishment.

Get your butts out of bed, turkeys.

You’re missing the best show in college football and, at the same time, doing the worthiest Heisman Trophy candidate a pitiful disservice.

Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at jmariotti@sfexaminer.com. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.

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