SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Another season, another Stanford player as a Heisman Trophy finalist. With Cardinal players making the trip to New York five times since 2009, it's become as predictable as anything in college football.
Running back Bryce Love is the latest. But unlike his predecessor Christian McCaffrey, Love will be joining his teammates for what could be his last bowl game.
McCaffrey, a Heisman finalist in 2015, bolted for the NFL after his junior season in 2016, opting to skip his bowl game to prepare for the NFL draft. Love, a junior, will lead the Cardinal (9-4) into Thursday night's Alamo Bowl (10-3) against TCU.
Love hasn't decided yet if he will return to Stanford for his senior season, Cardinal coach David Shaw said Wednesday.
"He's just thought about the bowl game. After the bowl game I'm sure he'll talk to his family ... He's just excited to go and play," Shaw said.
Even with 1,973 yards and 17 touchdowns — he needs just 57 against TCU to break McCaffrey's school record set in 2015 — Love's season still has a flavor of what might have been. Love has been dogged by a sprained ankle since midseason.
He still piled up huge numbers and ended the season with four consecutive 100-yard games, somehow running for 125 yards despite being barely able to walk in a loss to USC in the Pac-12 title game. The Doak Walker Award winner averaged a stunning 8.3 yards this season.
Love has said this week his ankle feels "amazing" and the "best it's felt in a while."
"I'm really excited about that," TCU coach Gary Patterson said with a tinge of sarcasm. "Four weeks of rest. A healthy Bryce Love."
Pity TCU. For the second consecutive game, the Horned Frogs faces a Heisman finalist. Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield — the Heisman winner — shredded TCU in the Big 12 title game, and now they get to face the best running back in the country.
TCU had arguably the top defense in the Big 12, but Love brings something special behind a punishing offensive line, Horned Frogs linebacker Ty Summers said.
"To be able to run for almost 2,000 yards like he did, it just shows he's got grit,"" Summers said. "I mean, his skill, he's shifty, really elusive. You can't go in there and break him down. He'll make you miss."
Alamo Bowl, San Antonio
Stanford (9-4) vs. TCU (10-3), Thursday, 9 p.m. Eastern (ESPN)
The Stanford offense revolves around Love. But if his ankle gives him problems again, that puts more pressure on the arm of redshirt freshman quarterback K.J. Costello. He's a move-the-chains QB who wasn't called on to put up big numbers in a grinding offense. He averaged 174 yards passing with seven touchdowns and two interceptions over the last five games as Love was battling the ankle problem.
LONG RUN LOVE
If the ankle is in good shape, Love's big-play ability is unmatched. Love had 12 runs of 50 yards or more, and 11 of them went for touchdowns.
SWAN SONG FOR "TRILL"
TCU quarterback Kenny Hill started his career at Texas A&M where a quick start earned him the nickname "Trill." The fun with the Aggies didn't last, however, and he transferred to TCU, where he's been the starter the last two seasons without the nickname. Hill passed for 21 touchdowns and threw six interceptions this season. His final game is his last chance for the same sort of fireworks and highlights his career started with.
The Horned Frogs' most dangerous player might be do-it-all KaVontae Turpin, if they can get him the ball. Turpin has exceptional speed and his 38 catches rank second on the team. He also has 15 punt returns with one for a touchdown. Get Turpin in space and he can get to the end zone in a hurry.
"A very explosive player," Stanford safety Justin Reid said. "They just try to find unique ways to get him the ball so he can do what he does and try and create yards ... Going against him will be fun."
EYES ON THE NFL
Stanford defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, the Cardinal's leading tackler, hinted strongly he'll be leaving the program for the NFL after the bowl, and could make a big statement for scouts with a big game.. Phillips has 100 tackles, and also leads the defense in sacks (7 ½) and tackles for loss (17).