One of the oldest college football bowl games in existence is the Sun Bowl. The Sun Bowl has been played continuously since 1935, and it is the second-oldest bowl game in the country along with the Sugar Bowl and the Orange Bowl. The Pittsburgh Panthers are no strangers to the Sun Bowl. This is the ten year anniversary of their last trip to El Paso, and that was an experience they’d like to forget. Pitt had the ignominious honor of losing what many consider to be the worst bowl game ever, losing 3-0 to Oregon State. They will look to make amends against the Stanford Cardinal this time around.
Stanford Cardinal vs. Pittsburgh Panthers Sun Bowl Betting Odds: Stanford -6.5, O/U 52 Location: Sun Bowl, El Paso, Texas Date and Time: Monday, December 31, 2018, 2 p.m. ET Sun Bowl TV Coverage: CBS
The Cardinal got off to a very good start this year. Stanford won its first four games and skyrocketed up the AP Top 25 after coming from behind to stun Oregon in overtime in Autzen Stadium. However, the team was undone due to an inability to run the ball, as Bryce Love dealt with injuries that knocked him out of games and left him severely limited in others. That led to Stanford losing four out of five at one point. The Cardinal rallied to win their last three games to close out the year to finish 8-4.
It’s been a successful season for Pitt even if they lose this game. Expectations were somewhat low for the team coming into the year, but the Panthers ended up playing well enough to win the ACC Coastal despite losing by 45 to Penn State and 31 to UCF. That earned the Panthers the right to play Clemson in the ACC Championship Game, and that went about as well as you’d expect. Pitt managed to score just 10 points in a blowout loss.
Injuries and Absences
Stanford will be without S Ben Edwards and DE Dylan Jackson for this game, and the Cardinal may be short-handed in the linebacking corps too. Casey Toohill, Andrew Pryts, and Mustafa Branch are all questionable to play and that could be a problem for a defense that had some bad moments over the course of the season.
The Panthers will be without at least three players for this game. LB Quentin Wirginis and DT Keyshon Camp were both starters in the front seven before succumbing to season-ending injuries in October. The biggest loss may be the most recent one though as center Jimmy Morrissey won’t play in this game due to an ankle injury.
David Shaw’s motto seems to be NFL or bust. Shaw has been the coach of Stanford since Jim Harbaugh left in 2011, and there have been numerous jobs dangled in front of him. However, he has yet to take the bait and leave Palo Alto. Shaw has been very picky and he seems to only want to leave if he has the right opportunity in the NFL. It’s unlikely that we will see him leave this offseason though. This is Shaw’s eighth straight eight-win season at Stanford.
Pat Narduzzi is looking for his first bowl victory as a head coach. This is his fourth year, and third bowl appearance, in charge of Pitt. He has been somewhat successful during his time on campus, posting a 28-23 record, but most importantly he halted what had been a revolving door at head coach. From 2010 to 2012, five different people coached Pittsburgh for at least one game and another was hired and fired in less than a week due to domestic violence charges. Narduzzi seems to have no designs on leaving Pitt in the near future, and that has given the program stability.
Player to Watch
Love seems healthy and ready to play for the Cardinal, and that’s huge. He was the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy coming into the season, but injuries hampered him to the point where he finished with just one 100-yard game and totaled just a third of the stats he did last season. Love was healthy enough to carry the ball a season-high 22 times in each of the last two games of the season, but he couldn’t crack four yards per carry either time. For Stanford to feel good about its chances, Love needs to be successful, but this offensive line likely won’t be able to block Pitt’s front four well enough.
Sun Bowl Pick
KJ Costello ended up having a great year for Stanford. Costello was asked to do a lot because the run game continuously faltered, and he was able to make a lot of plays with his arm. He ended up as one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the country, completing nearly two-thirds of his passes for 8.7 yards per attempt. Costello was significantly more reliable than Pitt’s Kenny Pickett, and that will be the difference in a Stanford win.