College Professional Sports

SPORTS DIGEST: McCaffrey shows what he’s made of in Rose Bowl

PASADENA — Christian McCaffrey was the best college football player I saw all season. It wasn’t close.

I saw the Stanford running back twice give USC all it wanted. They couldn’t handle him either time.

Stuck in Dodger Stadium traffic the night of game five of the National League Divisional Series against the Mets, I listened to the radio as he ran for a long touchdown out of the wildcat formation to seal Stanford’s victory over UCLA.

I saw him a few other times.

No one was better.

Derrick Henry, the University of Alabama running back who won the Heisman Trophy, is a solid college running back. He gained nearly 2,000 yards rushing, averaging 5.9 yards a carry. But he wasn’t as spectacular as McCaffrey. And he didn’t mean as much to Alabama’s offense as McCaffrey meant to Stanford.

McCaffrey finished second to Henry in the Heisman balloting, but after watching the two play in bowl games last weekend, I wonder how many Heisman voters wanted a do over.

McCaffrey was once again spectacular in Stanford’s 45-16 victory over Iowa in the Rose Bowl Jan. 1.

He caught a 75-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Kevin Hogan on the first play of the game.

He returned a punt 63 yards for a touchdown 48 seconds into the second quarter to give the Cardinal a 28-0 lead.

By the time the game was over McCaffrey had become the first player in Rose Bowl history to gain more than 100 yards in both rushing and receiving. He broke the Rose Bowl record for most all-purpose yards (rushing, receiving and returning) with 368.

It was truly an award-winning performance and probably put McCaffrey at the top of the Heisman list for next season.

But McCaffrey should have won the award this year. Unfortunately, too many of Stanford’s games started too late for the bulk of Heisman voters to see.

East Coast and southern voters didn’t get to see how McCaffrey could thoroughly dominate a game.

Alabama rolled over a very good Michigan State team in the Cotton Bowl, 38-0. The Heisman winner’s contribution was 75 yards in 20 carries. In other words, Henry had little impact in a blow-out win.

During the season, McCaffrey broke Barry Sanders’ record for most all-purpose yardage with 3,864. Six times he had more than 300 all-purpose yards in a game, topped by the 461 yards he gained against USC in the Pac 12 title game.

In his last two games, he had 829 all-purpose yards.

Yes, he was the best college football player this year. And probably will be again next season.

COLLEGE PLAYOFFS: Now in its second year, the four-team playoff to decide the best team in college football ran into the sophomore jinx.

The major problem was caused by playing the semifinal games on New Year’s Eve. That caused a significant drop in the television viewing audience. Add in the fact that neither game was particularly close and you have a ratings disaster.

There also was a carryover effect to the New Year’s Day bowl games. Despite two good matchups (Ohio State versus Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl and Stanford versus Iowa in the Rose Bowl), ratings also were down.

Everyone knew the semifinal games would impact other bowl games around New Year’s Day. The impact was bigger than expected. The semifinal games need to be played on New Year’s Day to capture the biggest audience.

This year’s championship game between Alabama and Clemson should be an interesting battle. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney played and coached at Alabama. He would like nothing more than to knock off his alma mater and he has a quarterback he could pull off the upset in Deshaun Watson.

Alabama quarterback Jake Coker had a great game in the Cotton Bowl and he can always hand the ball to his Heisman Trophy-winning running back and watch him go.

Two years in, I’m still a fan of the playoffs, especially after all those years with the Bowl Championship Series computers.

But the people that run the playoff need to tweak it a little bit. Or expand it to an eight-team playoff and be done with it.

USC quarterback Cody Kessler, who was mentioned as a Heisman Trophy candidate during the pre-season, finished a pedestrian senior season in the Holiday Bowl, where USC lost, 23-21. The Trojans finished a turbulent season with an 8-6 record. (Photo by Mario Villegas)
USC quarterback Cody Kessler, who was mentioned as a Heisman Trophy candidate during the pre-season, finished a pedestrian senior season in the Holiday Bowl, where USC lost, 23-21. The Trojans finished a turbulent season with an 8-6 record. (Photo by Mario Villegas)

TROJANS FALL: I’m starting to feel like most USC fans. Let down. Again.

The Trojans 23-21 loss to Wisconsin in the Holiday Bowl Dec. 30 was a perfect example of what is wrong with USC football.

The Trojans were more athletic than the Badgers. They had more outstanding players. But they didn’t want the game as bad as the Badgers, and in the end, that made the difference in the game.

Clay Helton’s first task as new, permanent coach of USC should be to get all the preening and prancing out of his entitled players and make them be hard-nosed football players.

I’m tired of watching USC players dance and celebrate making a tackle (that’s what your out on the field to do, guys) and then watch the other team make a crucial first down on the next play.

Be consistent, play hard for 60 minutes and let your talent carry you.

Granted, San Diego on Dec. 30 is not Pasadena on New Year’s Day. But this was the Trojans’ only bowl game this year. If you only have one shot, go out and leave it all on the field.

The Trojans finished the season 8-6, not bad considering the turmoil the team went through with the Steve Sarkisian fiasco in August and September, but the Trojans are better than 8-6.

Here’s hoping Helton gets more out of his players next year.

THE NFL MOVE: It’s official. Three teams — the St, Louis Rams, the San Diego Chargers and the Oakland Raiders — filed papers with the National Football League Jan. 4 that they intend to relocate to Los Angeles.

Now comes the real fight.

The league is not going to allow all three teams to move. At least one — maybe two — is going to be disappointed.

The league also has to decide what stadium site to choose: Inglewood or Carson. The Inglewood project is much farther along than the Carson site.

Carson still has to decide how to clean up hazardous materials that are under the surface of the proposed site, the result of a dump site that closed long ago.

Unfortunately, the Charges and Raiders are aligned for the Carson site and St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke is going it along in Inglewood.

Ideally, Kroenke and Dean Spanos, the Chargers owner, would work out an arrangement to share Inglewood and the NFL owners would approve that plan when they meet next week to discuss the relocation requests.

Most league owners sympathize with Spanos for all the hoops he has had to jump through in San Diego to try to get a new stadium built. They would back him in an instant.

Kroenke isn’t as well liked among NFL owners as Spanos is. He doesn’t care.

If his Inglewood proposal is turned down by the owners he might go Al Davis and move anyway, daring the league to stop him.

Besides being farther along on the stadium site than Carson, Inglewood is less volatile politically than Carson is.

The mayor and City Council in Carson is currently trying to recall the city clerk (a former mayor) and the mayor is being investigated by the district attorney for holding two elected positions (he also is an elected board member for the Water Replenishment District of Southern California) that are considered incompatible.

He could face criminal charges if he doesn’t decide to give up one seat or the other.

The NFL doesn’t want to get caught in the middle of that.

On the outside looking in are the Raiders, who probably have the strongest (at least the most rabid) fan base here in Los Angeles than either the Chargers of the Rams. Oakland has done next to nothing to try and keep the Raiders, but the only way I can see them relocating is if they move to St. Louis or San Diego.

The vote might not happen next week (or even this year), but eventually I think we will see the Rams and Chargers playing in Inglewood.