Originally Published: December 19, 2015 6 a.m.
Christian McCaffrey showed off his explosiveness in Stanford's final three games in 2014 after being an afterthought for most of his freshman season. That ratcheted up expectations for this season, though there were still concerns whether he could handle the rigors of being a featured running back.
He handled that and so much more, running and catching his way into the NCAA record book.
Stanford's do-everything running back was a unanimous pick as offensive player of the year in The Associated Press All-Pac-12 team announced on Friday, capping off a big week for the sophomore. McCaffrey finished runner-up to Alabama's Derrick Henry in the Heisman Trophy voting on Saturday and was named the first-team all-purpose player on the AP All-America team the next day.
Oregon's DeForest Buckner was a unanimous pick as the defensive player of the year in the AP's first all-Pac-12 team since 1977. Washington State's Mike Leach was named the coach of the year, edging Stanford's David Shaw, and UCLA freshman quarterback Josh Rosen was voted as newcomer of the year
McCaffrey was the obvious choice as the Pac-12's top offensive player after breaking Barry Sanders' 37-year-old record for all-purpose yards in a season. McCaffrey finished with 3,496 total yards and though Sanders set the mark in two fewer games, it was still an impressive feat for the 6-foot, 201-pound sophomore from Stanford who also was the first-team all-purpose player.
"This is an historic year," Shaw said. "He did something that no one has ever done and has done it better than everyone who has ever won a Heisman. It's phenomenal."
Conference champion Stanford led the voting with six first-team selections, followed by Utah with four. Joining McCaffrey on the first team for the Cardinal were tackle Kyle Murphy, center Joshua Garnett, tight end Austin Hooper, defensive end Aziz Shittu and linebacker Blake Martinez.
Buckner was named an All-American and picked up the Pac-12 defensive player of the year vote after leading Oregon with 16 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks and 76 total tackles. The 6-foot-7, 300-pound defensive end has been projected as a top-10 pick in next year's NFL draft after deciding to remain with the Ducks for his senior season this year.
"I think I've had a really good career here at Oregon, it's been fun, it's been a good ride, it's been too fast," Buckner said. "I just want to go out with everybody knowing I give it my all every time."
Leach led an improbable turnaround in Pullman to earn coaching honors.
After 11 straight losing seasons, the Cougars were not expected to make many waves in the Pac-12 this season, picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12 North.
But behind Leach and Luke Falk, the first-team all-Pac-12 quarterback, Washington State was one of the conference's biggest surprises, knocking off Oregon, Arizona and UCLA on the road. The Cougars finished the regular season 8-4 - their most wins since 2003 - and earned a spot in the Sun Bowl against Miami.
"We had a lot of guys that had never played a game before and I think the adjustment to the moment being out there, it took us a few games to adjust to that," Leach told a Florida radio station this week. "But we had a great work ethic and just got better and better."
Rosen was good out of the gate, drawing attention to Southern California with a crisp, 351-yard, three-touchdown performance in his debut against Virginia.
The highly touted freshman had rough games against BYU and rival USC, but had a strong first season, throwing for 3,349 yards and 20 touchdowns with nine interceptions while leading the Bruins to the Foster Farms Bowl against Nebraska.
"This guy is for real," Cornhuskers coach Mike Riley said of Rosen.