2016 Sun Bowl Preview
The 2016 Sun Bowl features two teams that entered the season with high expectations.
North Carolina Tar Heels
After a loss in the ACC Championship, many expected the Tar Heels to challenge Clemson again. After an opening day loss to Georgia, North Carolina went on a four-game winning streak, including a last minute upset over Florida State. However, the Tar Heels could not duplicate last year’s success, going 5-3 in the ACC with a home loss to rival North Carolina State during rivalry week.
The 2015 Pac-12 Champs, the Stanford Cardinal, were expected to compete for a National Title. Christian McCaffrey was a Heisman favorite. Stanford began the season on a three-game winning streak before suffering consecutive blowout losses to Washington and Washington State. The Cardinal finished the season strong and are currently riding a five-game winning streak.
Tale of The Tape
Though not as high powered as they were last year, the Tar Heel offense is averaging 442 yards a game. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky has been impressive in his first year as a starter. Passing for 3,468 yards with 28 touchdowns against only four interceptions. He’s been helped out by the explosiveness of hit number one receiver Ryan Switzer. Switzer caught 91 passes for 1,027 yards, setting a program record in the process.
Stanford will be one of the tougher defenses the Tar Heels will face this year. This does not bode well for co-coordinators Gunter Brewer and Chris Kapolovic. With the exception of Duke, every North Carolina loss has come against a Top-30 defense. Though averaging 30 points per game, the Cardinal have only allowed 30 points three times. Two of those came in their losses to Washington and Wazzu, and against Cal in The Big Game. For the rest of the season, they have not allowed teams to come within 10 points of their lead.
The Tar Heel defense has been tested severely this season. If it wasn’t for the strength of the offense and some luck, they would have failed. They have allowed 418 yards a game and nearly six yards per play. North Carolina’s run defense is nearly abysmal, giving up 235 yards a game.
Stanford has one of the better rushing attacks in the country. Orchestrated by McCaffrey, the Cardinal have 215 yards on the ground. McCaffrey has controversially decided to forego the Sun Bowl. Sophomore Bryce Love steps as starter to take on his home-state team. Love has played in 11 of Stanford’s games this season. Though he is not McCaffrey, he will be able to keep the Cardinal offense rolling against a weak Tar Heel defense.
This game will be a tough one for North Carolina. A tough Stanford team playing somewhat close to home and with something to prove would be a challenge for even better teams. However, you never know what to expect in bowl games. The Tar Heel offense can score, but it is ultimately up to the defense to keep them from falling behind. Love may not be McCaffrey, but the Tar Heels must make him the focus of their strategy as if he was. If North Carolina can keep it close early, they can gain an advantage on the Cardinal who have the ability to pull-away from opponents.