STANFORD, Calif. – On Sept. 5, I sent out this tweet into the ether:
— Travis Mewhirter (@Travis_Mew) September 5, 2015
And then for the remainder of that game, a season-opening tilt with Northwestern, Stanford proceeded to ignore running back Christian McCaffrey—and its offense did not look really good. It devolved into a spectacularly mundane 3-and-out machine that managed six points against the Wildcats in a 16-6 loss.
I didn’t delete the tweet, though I wanted to, because I—along with the rest of the collective sports media— immediately wrote Stanford off as an overhyped preseason team that might not score in the 20’s all year.
And now here we are, and Stanford owns the most explosive offense in the Pac-12, with the biggest home run threat in the nation in McCaffrey. Stanford is running flea flickers with historically magnificent catches in the end zone. This is a Stanford unlike any that even Jim Harbaugh, the architect behind the program’s resurgence to relevancy, assembled.
It’s very easy to pinpoint the difference between the Stanford team that showed up against Northwestern and the one we have seen these past five weeks: The use of McCaffrey.
The sophomore was given just 12 carries against the Wildcats, and three of those came on that first drive when I noted that Stanford looked kind of fun to watch. When Stanford is at its best, it involves McCaffrey at every opportunity possible.
He had 30 touches in a stunning 41-31 romp over USC, at the Coliseum; 31 in a 42-24 rout of Oregon State; needed just 17 carries to run for 156 yards and a score in a 55-17 pasting of Arizona; which all preceded the historic effort he posted in a demoralizing blowout of UCLA.
McCaffrey tied or broke two school records – rushing yards in a game, touchdowns in a game – by the end of the third quarter. He scored on a 70-yard run out of the wildcat and returned a kick 96 yards to setup another touchdown. He wound up in the end zone on four occasions.
In the same game, with the help of a current FBS-best 369 all-purpose yards, he overtook LSU Heisman candidate Leonard Fournette, who has drawn comparisons to Adrian Peterson ad nauseam, in all-purpose yards per game.
In fact, McCaffrey is authoring a season so explosive that his 253 all-purpose yards per game is on pace for 30 more than Reggie Bush in Bush’s Heisman-winning season.
But Stanford is more than just one diminutive running back who is supremely delightful to watch. The Cardinal boast a dozen plays of 40 yards or more, which is more than double that of their 2014 total and more than any team in the conference. Their last four games have featured totals of 41, 42, 55 and 56 points, which includes two ranked opponents and an Arizona team that was supposed to be a dark horse this season.
And the best part? Stanford has virtually no difficult games left.
The Cardinal will be heavy favorites against Wazzou, Colorado, Oregon, Cal and Notre Dame, and the only three games that may present some level of difficulty – the final three – are all in Palo Alto, where Stanford has outscored teams by 83 this season.
I may not have been correct that day back in September, when Stanford’s offense regressed into a plodding punt-fest. But look at the Cardinal now, and indeed, they are really, really good.