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5 Plays That Shaped Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey's Heisman Campaign


Christian McCaffrey finished second to Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry on Saturday, as the Stanford running back earned his recognition as a finalist on the strength of a series of electric moments.

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As an explosive ball carrier, sure-handed pass catcher and dynamite kick returner, McCaffrey compiled a highlight reel in the 2015 season that could have filled the Heisman presentation's entire hour-and-a-half broadcast time.

Why, his 461 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns in the Pac-12 Championship Game alone were punctuated with enough dazzling moments to make up an entire season's worth of highlights. Paring it down to just five is no easy task -- so I didn't.

The following are McCaffrey's five defining plays of his record-setting season, with a bonus, sixth highlight thrown in.

A Tightrope Walk on Halloween

Washington State hosted Stanford Halloween night, with Pac-12 North supremacy on the line. After falling behind big in the first half, the Cardinal rallied to trade the lead with the Cougars throughout the second half.

Washington State grabbed the advantage late, but this McCaffrey run set up the eventual game-winning field goal. McCaffrey's ability to stay inbounds and extend the play proved critical.

"That's just natural ability. Few human beings would stay inbounds there," Stanford head coach David Shaw said. "To be going that fast towards the sideline, and turn up vertical, get hit by someone and still stay inbounds, it doesn't make sense."

Note: Referenced play begins around the 2:10 mark in the video below

Running The Bruins Into Ruins

McCaffrey emerged on the national radar with a record-setting performance in Stanford's rout of UCLA on a Thursday night. He went for 70 of his 243 yards and scored on of his four touchdowns on this run.

Going to the Air

Enjoy a two-for-one with each of McCaffrey's two touchdown passes thrown this season.

To The House and For The Ax

Shaw remarked that big-time players make their bones in big games, and for Stanford, none is bigger than The Big Game. That's the annual rivalry tilt with neighbor Cal, which included McCaffrey's 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

"He was phenomenal," Shaw said. "They go down and kick a field goal to make the game tighter, he returns the next kickoff... You run out of adjectives to describe him. He's that good, he can take over any game we play."

67 Yards into the Heart of Troy

USC scored 16 points in the second and third quarters of the Pac-12 Championship Game to seize momentum and the lead. Facing third down, Stanford needed a big play to regain control. Who else but McCaffrey?

McCaffrey turned a short completion into a game-changing play when he turned on the jets and broke upfield, setting up the Cardinal in the red zone for a touchdown on the subsequent play.

Stanford did not cede the lead from that point, which makes this reception, ostensibly, the Cardinal's conference championship-sealing play.

Note: Referenced play begins around the 1:28 mark in the video below

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.