WHO: Stanford (8-4) vs. Pitt (7-6)
WHAT: The 85th Sun Bowl
WHEN: 2 p.m. ET on CBS
WHERE: Sun Bowl Stadium, El Paso, Texas
THE SKINNY: Both the Panthers and the Cardinal have made some pretty interesting memories over the years while competing in the Sun Bowl so it’s appropriate that the two programs who love to run the ball and play defense will met for the first time in recent history way out in West Texas.
For the Cardinal, their season has been full of up’s (like coming back to beat Oregon) and downs, like their struggles to keep star tailback Bryce Love going (he’ll miss this one to get healthy for the NFL Draft). Some time off and a few extra practices offer the opportunity to end the year on a high note though — as well as the chance to get a ninth win for the eighth time in the last nine seasons.
With Love in and out of the lineup and the ground game generally struggling overall, Stanford’s offense has been carried by the arm of QB K.J. Costello. He’s made big strides in his second year as a starter and threw for over 3,400 yards and 29 touchdowns in 2018. He’s got a diverse group of pass catchers to find down the field, whether it’s jump ball machine J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, the reliable slot guy in Trenton Irwin or the latest in a long line of future draft picks at the tight end position in Kaden Smith. While the play-calling can be conservative at times, Stanford can really sneak up and surprise you with their version of an Air Raid attack and put up points in a hurry.
The Cardinal’s defense will also play a big role in the Sun Bowl too. The team is a perfect 8-0 on the year when forcing at least one turnover and 0-4 when they fail to record a takeaway.
Hoping to protect the ball and make a few plays of their own is a Pitt team who took some lumps along the way but still managed to emerge atop the ACC Coastal. Their offense leans heavily on their senior tandem in the backfield as both Qadree Ollison (1,190) and Darrin Hall (1,021) topped the 1,000 yard mark on the ground. Sophomore quarterback Kenny Pickett has shown flashes with 14 starts under his belt and has thrown just one interception in his past seven games.
It should all make for a fairly compelling bowl game between the two teams and put a premium on taking care of the football and making the most of big plays down the field. The Pac-12 needs postseason wins in the worst way and the Cardinal’s only losses are to teams in the top 20 so something says they do just enough to leave El Paso with a comfortable win.
THE PICK: Stanford 31, Pitt 17