Sun Bowl: (18) Stanford (-3, 54 o/u) vs. North Carolina
The Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, has been an annual tradition since 1935. For decades it was played on New Years Eve, but this season it’s slated for December 30th. For most of the past 20 years the Pac-12 has sent a representative, and recently that squad has been successful. This year, Stanford makes the trip for the Conference of Champions, while North Carolina is the ACC entrant.
Last season Washington State downed Miami 20-14 in the Sun Bowl. It was a third straight victory for the Pac-12, and fourth in the last five years. Stanford is 2-1 all time in this event, winning in 1977 and 1996, but losing in 2009. Meanwhile, the Tar Heels are 2-2 in the Sun Bowl. UNC went 1-1 in the 1970’s, beat Texas in 1982, and fell to the Longhorns in 1994.
The Cardinal went 9-3 during the regular season with five straight victories to close the year. They are 7-5 against the spread. Stanford started 3-0 with wins over Kansas State, USC, and UCLA. They lost in lopsided games against both Washington schools. After beating Notre Dame, and losing to Colorado in tight low scoring contests, the Cardinal rolled off wins against the middle and bottom of the Pac-12, before crushing Rice in their finale.
Stanford’s top offensive weapon, running back Christian McCaffrey, is sitting out the Sun Bowl to ensure his health prior to the NFL Draft. Backup tailback Bryce Love averaged over seven yards a carry and was used regularly throughout the season. Coach David Shaw is 3-2 in bowl games including last seasons 45-16 win over Iowa in the Rose Bowl. Shaw is 63-17 since taking over from Jim Harbaugh in Palo Alto. In that span the Cardinal are 51-29 for betting purposes, the second best mark in the nation. Only Temple has covered more frequently in the last six years.
North Carolina lost two of its final three regular season games to finish 8-4. After a 33-24 loss to Georgia in the opener, the Tar Heels won four straight, including a 37-35 victory at Florida State. Following a loss to Virginia Tech, UNC rolled off wins over Miami, Virginia, and Georgia Tech. They fell at Duke 28-27, and at home to NC State 28-21 down the stretch. They were 7-5 against the number.
Mitch Trubisky, UNC’s quarterback, is likely to be a top 10 pick in the NFL draft. He completed just shy of 67-percent of his passes this year for nearly 3,500 yards. The Ohio native tossed 28 touchdown passes and was intercepted just four times. He added five scores on the ground and another 270 yards rushing. Trubisky’s coach, Larry Fedora, went 2-2 in bowl games when running the Southern Miss program, and is 1-2 at North Carolina. Last year the Heels fell to Baylor 49-38 in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Fedora is 40-24 at UNC, and 34-30 against the spread.
Stanford is a three point favorite despite McCaffrey’s absence. Betting on the Cardinal has been very good business under Shaw, and his track record in the postseason is stronger than Fedora. That said, the two teams have fairly similar resumes, and there is no reason not to expect a close game. I lean towards taking the points in what feels like a toss up contest.
Photo credit: By Brian Cantoni (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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