The 2015 Heisman Trophy winner won't be announced until today at 5 p.m. on ESPN, but former USC running back Reggie Bush, who earned college football's highest individual honor in 2005, thinks the award should go to Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey.
"In my mind, he's the best player," said Bush, a member of the San Francisco 49ers, who is rehabbing from knee surgery. "And he's only a sophomore, which is scary."
The record-setting McCaffrey is one of three finalists, along with junior running back Derrick Henry of Alabama and sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson of Clemson.
Much like Bush, a long-time idol of McCaffrey, Stanford's explosive back is a game-breaker and does it all on a football field. He has a rare combination of speed, power, toughness, vision, determination, instinct and versatility. Bush saw McCaffrey play last Saturday night in the Pac-12 Championship Game against USC at Levi's Stadium, which he attended to support his alma mater, and to be recognized as a member of the Pac-12's All-Century Team.
Making a rare prime-time appearance on national television, McCaffrey showed off his skills to fans across the country by piling up 461 all-purpose yards -- the fifth-most in FBS history -- in Stanford's 41-22 victory against the Trojans, clinching the school's third Rose Bowl Game appearance in the past four years.
McCaffrey rushed for 207 yards, tallied 105 in receiving, 120 in kickoff returns and 29 in punt returns. Although it didn't count toward all-purpose yards, he also threw an 11-yard scoring pass, his second of the season. McCaffrey became just the fifth player in FBS history to reach 200 yards rushing and 100 receiving in the same game.
"He can do so many things," Bush said. "We saw that firsthand. It's hard (being a former Trojan), but I have to give props where props are due. He's one of the best."
McCaffrey's monster performance surpassed Barry Sanders as the NCAA's all-time single-season leader in all-purpose yards with 3,496, and he still has one game remaining against Iowa in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. Sanders set his mark (3,250) in 1988 at Oklahoma State and went on to claim the Heisman Trophy.
McCaffrey wore No. 5 in high school in honor of Bush, and is wearing it again this year. He had a poster of Bush in his room growing up.
In 2005, the dynamic Bush rushed for 1,740 yards and 18 touchdowns. In a game against Fresno State, he chalked up a Pac-10 record 513 all-purpose yards, rushing for 294, added 68 receiving and 151 in returns. Bush averaged 222.3 yards per game.
McCaffrey has averaged a nation-leading 268.92 yards per game this season, compared to 160.23 by Henry. The latter ranks first in rushing with 1,986, but McCaffrey is second with 1,847.
"It's very rare that you find an athlete that's able to play multiple positions," said Bush. "My idols growing up were Marshall Falk, Barry Sanders and Deion Sanders. To me, Marshall was the most complete player because he could do everything. I tried to pattern my game after those guys."
McCaffrey has done the same with Bush.
"The only time we've met was in a gym two years ago in Miami," Bush said. "I was on vacation, working out with my wife, and I see these three kids really getting after it. I think they asked for a picture or maybe I said 'Hi'. They gave me their Instagram names and all of them had McCaffrey after it.
"They told me they played football and were from Denver. I started putting all the pieces of the puzzle together and said, 'Are you guys related to Ed McCaffrey?' I thought it was pretty cool. Christian told me he was getting a full scholarship to Stanford and I was blown away."
Ed, a consensus All-American wide receiver at Stanford in 1990, played 13 seasons in the NFL and earned three Super Bowl rings. He and his wife Lisa, a former women's soccer standout at Stanford, have three other sons, Max, Dylan and Luke. Max is a senior wide receiver at Duke, while Dylan is a junior at Valor Christian, where Christian starred, and Luke is a freshman and quarterbacked the junior varsity team.
After watching McCaffrey play last Saturday, Bush had several takeaways.
"He's an extraordinary kid and has great talent," he said. "One thing his dad did was pass on the work ethic and football knowledge. You can see Christian was raised the right way."
Bush said being a multi-threat -- some have called McCaffrey the Swiss Army Knife of college football -- has advantages and disadvantages.
"When you play many positions, you don't rack up as many stats in one," said Bush. "As a quarterback, you're always throwing the ball and know what you're going to get. For a player who is playing multiple positions, your energy is used in a lot of different ways and sometimes that can hurt you. That doesn't mean you aren't as good."
Bush will follow Saturday's ceremony and will pull for McCaffrey. But no matter how things turn out, he's already a fan.
"He's making his university proud and we'll see if he wins it," Bush said. "I think he's got as good a chance as anybody else."