SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Run, pass and catch. Christian McCaffrey did it all in a record-setting performance that should send him to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony and Stanford to a third Rose Bowl in four years.
The only thing McCaffrey couldn't pull off was an upset in one of the other conference championship games that could have sent the Cardinal to the playoff.
McCaffrey ran for 207 yards and a score, threw a touchdown pass, caught another and broke Barry Sanders' single-season all-purpose yards record to lead No. 7 Stanford to the Pac-12 championship with a 41-22 win over No. 24 Southern California on Saturday.
"To my left here is the best player in the nation," coach David Shaw said. "I don't know if that's even a question. There's nobody in the nation doing what he's been doing. It's not even a debate."
Kevin Hogan caught the TD pass from McCaffrey, threw one and ran for a third and Solomon Thomas scored on a 34-yard fumble return for the Cardinal (11-2, No. 7 CFP). Stanford will play in the Rose Bowl as Pac-12 champion after losing an outside chance to make the four-team playoff when No. 1 Clemson held off North Carolina in the ACC championship.
"If the worst thing we do is go to the Rose Bowl, I think that's pretty cool," Shaw said. "We're not in charge of that. We'll go where they tell us to go."
Cody Kessler threw for 187 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score for the Trojans (8-5, No. 20 CFP), who lost in their first game since removing the interim tag from coach Clay Helton.
"Got some hurt kids in that locker room," Helton said. "They've given tremendous effort to get to this point and obviously are extremely saddened by not finishing the job."
Stanford took control of the game with a pair of touchdowns in a span of just over 3 minutes late in the third quarter. After blowing an early 13-point lead, the Cardinal faced a third-down in their own territory. Hogan then found McCaffrey open in the middle of the field and he ran with for a 67-yard reception down to the USC 7. Hogan ran it in on the next play to put Stanford back on top.
Blake Martinez, playing with a bum ankle, then sacked Kessler and caused a fumble on the next possession that Thomas scooped up and ran in for the score that made it 27-16.
"The center came up on me and tried to wall me off and I just went right around him," Martinez said. "I saw the quarterback still had the ball and I was like, 'All right, time to make a play.' When I saw the ball on the ground, I was like, 'Pick it up, pick it up.' I saw Solly pick it up and I was like, 'Yes!' He scored and it was amazing."
After USC scored to make it a one-possession game, McCaffrey put the capper on another Stanford win with a 27-yard touchdown reception when he was left wide open in the middle of the field.
McCaffrey added 105 yards receiving and 149 return yards to give him a Stanford record 461 all-purpose yards for the game and 3,496 for the season. That broke Sanders' single-season record of 3,250 yards set in 1988, although McCaffrey took two extra games to do it.
"That's a guy I had posters on my wall of growing up," McCaffrey said. "Even to be mentioned in the same category is definitely an honor."
After being thoroughly outplayed for the first 25 minutes, the Trojans got right back into the game with three straight scoring drives. Kessler led a 15-play drive in the closing minutes of the half to lead to a 40-yard field goal by Alex Wood that cut Stanford's lead to 13-3.
Kessler then threw a 1-yard TD pass to Jahleel Pinner to open the third quarter to cut it to 13-9 and Ronald Jones II scored on a 27-yard run on the next possession to give the Trojans their first lead at 16-13.
The Cardinal dominated the game early but led only 13-0 because of problems converting in the red zone. Stanford held a 210-9 advantage in yards gained but was unable to break the game open.
A holding penalty on Rollins Stallworth negated a TD on the first drive, forcing Stanford to settle for a field goal. Stanford later was stopped at the 1-yard line, leading to another short field goal by Conrad Ukropina and Hogan got sacked on a fourth down from the 1.
The only touchdown in the first half came on McCaffrey's trick play. Hogan pitched to Barry Sanders Jr., who then flipped it to McCaffrey, who had lined up as a receiver. McCaffrey then threw to a wide-open Hogan for his second TD pass of the season.
"My job was easy," McCaffrey said. "Those are the scariest ones when he's that wide open you're praying that you can get it to him."
AP college football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org