Photo credit: youtube.com
By: Ana Kieu
Sure, the playoff semifinals are set for Saturday, but that isn’t the end of the 2018 bowl season. There are two full days of bowl games set for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, respectively. In the Sun Bowl, it’s an ACC and Pac-12 showdown as Pat Narduzzi’s Pitt Panthers meet David Shaw’s Stanford Cardinal at the University of Texas at El Paso on New Year’s Eve.
Here’s what you need to know about the Sun Bowl.
Stanford is the clear favorite, while Pitt is the obvious underdog. Pitt started out the season just 3-4 before pulling off four straight conference wins to win a division title and a trip to the ACC Championship Game. The Panthers’ rushing attack was dominant, as Darrin Hall and Qadree Ollison combined for over 2,200 yards and 20 touchdowns. The backs had their fair share of explosive plays, which helped drive an offense that didn’t have quite the passing game it hoped with quarterback Kenny Pickett. The Panthers’ problems came on defense when they were prone to giving up the explosive plays and ranked 106th in Bill Connelly’s Isolated Points Per Play metric with 1.26.
As you can see, that’s not good news against a Cardinal offense that ranked 19th with a similar metric of 1.28. The Cardinal faded away from the limelight following a 4-0 start when they coughed up four losses in a five-game skid. But Shaw’s team finished strong with three straight wins heading into the Sun Bowl. Running back Bryce Love didn’t have the Heisman-caliber season that we had hoped for, but quarterback K.J. Costello stepped up in his absence. Costello threw for 3,435 yards for the third-highest single season total in Stanford history, trailing just Andrew Luck and Steve Stenstrom. Costello must continue that kind of output in the Sun Bowl as Love decided to skip the Sun Bowl to prepare for the 2019 NFL Draft.
Like the Panthers, the Cardinal have weak points of their own. This year, it was their defense. We’re used to seeing stout units from Shaw and company, but this year’s team ranked 51st in S&P+ and struggled against the run and pass. Still, Stanford has a slight edge in record against the spread as they’ve gone 6-3-1 as a favorite this season, while Pitt has gone just 5-4 as an underdog. I think the Panthers’ running game can prevent the Sun Bowl from getting out of hand, but I doubt the Panthers can stop the Cardinal’s passing attack.