STANFORD, Calif. (AP) Coach David Shaw understands that Stanford junior running back Christian McCaffrey may have played his final home game in Saturday's 41-17 nonconference win over Rice.
But while fielding a question about how sophomore backup Bryce Love might fare as the starter in 2017, Shaw interrupted and said, ''If he wants to leave, that's fine. But let's not push (McCaffrey) out the door.''
McCaffrey rushed for 204 yards and scored two touchdowns as the Cardinal (9-3) won their fifth straight game in front of a sparse crowd that braved drizzly weather at Stanford Stadium.
The 2015 Heisman Trophy runner-up wound up with 271 all-purpose yards, including a 23-yard touchdown reception and a 19-yard TD run. After his 19th career 100-yard rushing game and fifth 200-yard effort, McCaffrey eluded the big question about his future.
''I haven't made a decision. I have people in my life I trust, but it's my decision,'' he said. ''As of now, I'm going to get back to practice Monday and get back to working on my craft.''
Everyone who watched McCaffrey on Saturday night was impressed.
''I've done this for 33 years and I have not seen a young man who is capable of doing what he can do with a football in hand,'' said Rice coach David Bailiff, whose team finished the season 3-9. ''We knew coming in here, you had to tackle Christian and not let him have a big game. We didn't do that. Not a lot of people have done that.''
Shaw called McCaffrey ''a special, special football player.''
''Every time he touched the ball there was a collective gasp to see what he's going to do next,'' Shaw said.
It hasn't been an easy season for McCaffrey or the Cardinal. He missed portions of two games with an unspecified lower-body injury and operated in an offense struggled at times behind a rebuilt line, then made a mid-season quarterback change, going to Kelly Chryst.
By the time the Cardinal were 4-3 after a loss to Colorado, McCaffrey was realistically out of the Heisman race. But he has 991 rushing yards and 10 rushing TDs the past five games, pushing his season total to 1,603 yards.
Asked if he'd cast a Heisman vote for McCaffrey, Shaw said, ''The short answer is absolutely. But I would have voted for him last year, too.''
Rice: The Owls' two-game win streak died without a whimper. No match for Stanford, Rice totaled 14 yards and no first downs in the first quarter and trailed 20-3 by halftime. Stanford's 41 points represented the seventh time this season the Owls allowed at least 40 points.
Stanford: The Cardinal continue to hum along after their fifth straight victory. Their season once considered a major disappointment after a 4-3 start, has recovered nicely and Stanford is now positioned, with a potential bowl victory, to claim a fifth 10-win season in Shaw's six years.
ON THE RUN
The Cardinal finished with 373 rushing yards, including a 62-yard TD dash by Chryst and a 50-yard scoring run by Bryce Love. Stanford has 1,377 rushing yards over the past four games. Chryst's first-quarter TD run was the longest by a Stanford quarterback in at least 20 years. Love finished with 111 rushing yards.
Stanford won for the 16th straight time at home against a nonconference foe in a game that originally was scheduled for September 10. The contest was moved so the Cardinal wouldn't play 12 straight weeks without a bye and end the regular season with an open date.
Rice: Believe it or not, the Owls' next game is against ... Stanford. Rice is done this season, but is scheduled to open its 2017 campaign at home against the Cardinal on Sept. 2. The Owls can only hope that Christian McCaffrey is playing in the NFL by then.
Stanford: Its regular season complete, Stanford awaits its bowl assignment, to be announced on Dec. 4. Nothing is certain, but the best bets are the Dec. 17 Las Vegas Bowl, the Dec. 28 Foster Farms Bowl in Santa Clara, California, or the Dec. 30 Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, depending on the final College Football Playoff standings.