Two of the nation’s top running backs will be on the sidelines come their respective bowl games, and they’re smart as hell for sitting.
Stanford running back and 2015 Heisman finalist Christian McCaffrey announced Monday morning that he will skip the Cardinal’s upcoming bowl game against North Carolina in favor of beginning his NFL draft prep. The move was presumably made as an attempt to avoid the risk of injury in an otherwise meaningless game that will decide whether Stanford finishes 9-4 or 10-3.
In three years at Stanford, McCaffrey racked up 3,922 rushing yards, 1,859 return yards, and 1,206 receiving yards; he found the end zone 31 times in his last 25 outings. His 2015 season will go down as one of the most electrifying individual campaigns in college football history, as he broke Barry Sanders’s single-season all-purpose yards record with 3,684 yards. Like the entire Cardinal team, McCaffrey slipped a bit this year; he still entered bowl season leading the nation in all-purpose yardage at 2,327 yards.
McCaffrey’s decision was the second of its kind this year, as he followed LSU running back Leonard Fournette in bypassing the postseason. Fournette announced his intentions to skip the Citrus Bowl at a press conference last Friday, saying that his left ankle is at “85 to 90" percent. After a spectacular sophomore campaign, Fournette spent the majority of a season that could have ended with a run at the Heisman working his way back from a nagging ankle sprain. He missed four games after initially injuring the ankle in LSU preseason practice and finished the season with 843 yards and eight scores in seven appearances. Fournette closes his career with several LSU school records, including average rushing yards per game (119.3), 200-yard rushing games (five), and single-season rushing yards (1,953 yards in 2015).
The duo’s early exit from college football brought about the expected outcry from those still clinging dearly to made-up moral guidelines that for some reason don’t apply to coaches who do this all the time. Meanwhile, it’s good to remember the example of Jaylon Smith, the projected first-round pick and Notre Dame linebacker who played in last season’s Fiesta Bowl only to suffer a knee injury that dropped him to the 34th overall selection.
It should go without saying, but: Fournette is the father of a young child and a still-injured football player with millions to potentially lose by further injuring himself in the Citrus Bowl; McCaffrey, childless that we know of, is in a similar situation with the Sun Bowl in El Paso, as he, like his LSU counterpart, has now spent close to two full season demonstrating his talents to NFL scouts. Unlike the coaches who make similar decisions ever year—many of which are paid tens of thousands of dollars just for taking their teams to a bowl game—neither player is going to show NFL scouts anything in the Citrus or Sun Bowl that isn’t already known: Fournette is big and strong and maybe God; McCaffrey is slippery, versatile, and magical. They were both very fun to watch while they built their résumés; now, they are making the wise decision to skip their teams’s end-of-year exhibition games and focus on getting a job.