Like so many post season match-ups, the Hyuandi Sun Bowl features one team that had lofty aspirations when the season began, and another team that frankly is happy to be playing in a New Year’s Eve bowl game.
Sun Bowl Preview: Pitt vs. Stanford
What: 2018 Hyundai Sun Bowl
Who: Stanford (8-4) vs. Pittsburgh (7-6)
When: Monday December 31st; 2:30pm eastern time
Stanford has Pac 12 championship goals when the season started. The Cardinal started 4-0 before back-to-back losses to Notre Dame and Utah put them on their heels a little. They would lose back-to-back games again in the middle of the season to Washington State and Washington. They closed strong with wins against Oregon State, UCLA and the annual Big Game against Cal. It was enough to finish 6-3 in conference and in third in the Pac 12 North, well below what expectations have become for the Cardinal.
This is not the Stanford team casual fans have gotten used to. Running back Bryce Love was hobbled much of the season, and it took away a lot of the physical running game the Cardinal have become known for. Love missed two games and had only one 100-yard rushing game all season. He came back for his senior year for academic reasons and went into the season as a Heisman contender. Only one of the two segments lived up to its promise. He finished the regular season with 739 yards and only six touchdowns. That is nearly 1,400 yards less than last season. He will be sitting out the Sun Bowl.
Stanford wound up relying on quarterback K.J. Costello to open up the offense a little more. He responded with more than 3,400 yards passing with 29 touchdowns against 11 interceptions. That is more than double last year’s yardage stats when he was sharing the quarterback duties. He has found J.J. Arecga-Whiteside the most this season. The big wide-out has 60 catches for 969 yards and 19 touchdowns.
The fact that the Panthers are here after starting the season 3-4 and are in a bowl is surprising enough. After the loss to Notre Dame in week seven, the Panthers went on a four-game winning streak. They lost the regular season finale to Miami but still had the ACC Coastal Division locked up. They took a beating from Clemson (42-10) in the conference championship game. Still, after the start they had, being in a New Year’s Eve bowl game is a good season for Pitt, although they did beat six bowl teams in 2018.
The Panthers are a run-first offense. They have not one, but two one-thousand-yard rushers in case you need proof. Qadtree Ollison had 1,222 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns on the season. Darrin Hall finished the regular season with 1,046 yards and nine touchdowns. That’s not to say they can’t throw. Quarterback Kenny Pickett has a 60% completion rate, but he never even got to 2,000 yards passing on the year, (1,833), and had only 281 attempts. He passed for 12 touchdowns and six interceptions. The results are what you would expect. The Panthers averaged 229 yards per game on the ground and 142 passing. Ground and clock control will be the order of the day for Pitt. The numbers can be there when needed. They put up 492 yards of total offense in a 30-point win over Virginia Tech.
- The Sun Bowl is tied for the second oldest of the bowl games, along with the Orange and Sugar Bowls, behind the Rose Bowl. The first Sun Bowl was in 1935.
- It wasn’t until 1936 that the game was played between two college teams. Played in New Year’s Day in 1935, the first Sun Bowl featured two Texas high school teams.
- The game has been held in its present location, on the campus of the University of Texas, El Paso since 1963.
- This is only the second meeting between the two teams ever and the first in nearly 90 years. The previous meeting was in the 1928 Rose Bowl. Stanford, coached by Pop Warner, won that game in Pasadena, CA 7-6.
- Both teams are El Paso veterans. Stanford is 3-1 in the Sun Bowl. Pitt is 2-1.
- Pitt’s last bowl win was in 2013. That in the now defunct Little Caesar’s Bowl, (which is now the Quick Lane Bowl).
- Stanford needs this win for their fifth straight nine-win season.