Stanford Cardinal Battle North Carolina in Hyundai Sun Bowl

November 26, 2016; Stanford, CA, USA; Stanford Cardinal quarterback Keller Chryst (10) passes the football against Rice Owls defensive end Brian Womac (44) during the second quarter at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
November 26, 2016; Stanford, CA, USA; Stanford Cardinal quarterback Keller Chryst (10) passes the football against Rice Owls defensive end Brian Womac (44) during the second quarter at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

The Stanford Cardinal will look to end the season on a high against the North Carolina Tar Heels. El Paso, Texas will have beautiful weather, but both teams will be missing some flare offensively.

The Stanford Cardinal have been the hottest team in college football since a change in quarterback. A once vanilla offense under Ryan Burns has seen better results with Keller Chryst taking snaps under center. Expectations may have fallen short this season for the Cardinal, but they have a bright future knowing Chryst will be back next season.

Although Chryst will be leading the offense, Stanford’s most dynamic player will not be seen making explosive plays. Christian McCaffrey announced his decision to enter the NFL Draft, forgoing his final year of eligibility. Also, he chose not to participate in the Sun Bowl to protect his draft stock. He will go down as one of the all-time greats to wear a Stanford jersey.

McCaffrey’s decision to not be part of the team in preparing for the Sun Bowl is disappointing. Regardless of not making the College Football Playoff, finishing the season by playing has greater value over the draft. Not choosing to play by focusing on the draft questions a player’s character and commitment to the team and the game. No disrespect to McCaffrey, as he will be a dynamic player in the NFL, not playing is a disservice to current Stanford players.

Stanford’s opponent, North Carolina, is in a similar position with a talented player on offense. Running back Elijah Hood is set to miss the Sun Bowl due to medical reasons. Injuries have been an issue for Hood, and they do not want to risk further setbacks. Despite not playing, Hood has stated his intentions to return to North Carolina next year. His performance will benefit the Tar Heels as he could be an important piece to their success next season.

Regardless of McCaffrey not playing, Chryst has plenty of options to keep the Cardinal offense churning. Bryce Love will be front and center carrying the load at running back. Love had stepped up when McCaffrey went down early in the season. He will look to show head coach David Shaw that he has the capability of being Stanford’s primary running back for next season. Also, sophomore Cameron Scarlett will look to make an impression to play a bigger role next season possibly.

Success on the ground opens the option for throwing down the field. JJ Arcega-Whiteside emerged as a reliable receiver after his game-winning heroics against UCLA. He will hope to end the season on a positive and carry the momentum into spring camp. Also, receivers Trent Irwin and Michael Rector will both look to contribute with big plays which will hopefully result in touchdowns.

North Carolina come into the matchup against Stanford with an 8-4 record. The Tar Heels had big expectations with a favorable schedule. However, losses against Georgia, Virginia Tech, Duke, and NC State derailed dreams, much like Stanford. A tall task is at hand for the Tar Heels on both sides of the ball against the Cardinal.

Even without Hood, North Carolina has plenty of talent to challenge Stanford’s defense. Backup T.J. Logan has carried the load in Hood’s absence, rushing for 578 yards and seven touchdowns. The question will be how long Logan can keep the run attack moving before wearing down. North Carolina is thin at running back without Hood being in the game.

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Quarterback Mitch Trubisky must factor both air and foot to keep the Tar Heel offense on the field. The junior is certainly capable of handling the pressure, boasting a 68.9 percent completion rate. Trubisky has thrown for 3,468 yards with 28 touchdowns. On the ground, he has rushed for five touchdowns on the season.

Trubisky’s success has contributed to his receivers having big seasons in the air. Ryan Switzer leads all Tar Heel receivers with 1,027 yards. Bug Howard leads in touchdowns with seven. Along with receivers Mack Hollins and Thomas Jackson, the four have combined for 20 touchdowns.

Perhaps the biggest growth since losses to the Washington schools has been Stanford’s defense. Solomon Thomas is the leader of the defense, and he certainly has a future on Sundays when he decides to make the transition. A player to keep an eye on is Justin Reid, who has improved dramatically each game. Reid will certainly be critical to Stanford’s success defensively next season.

The Tar Heels are ranked 70th in total defense this season, allowing about 25 points per game this season. Sophomores Andre Smith and Cole Holcomb have been important players all season. Although the Tar Heel defense has recovered 13 fumbles on the season, interceptions have been lacking with only one recorded this season. Perhaps Stanford will take note and find success in the air.

Next: McCaffrey Catching Heat For Making Smart Decision

Despite a few dynamic players not dressing, the Sun Bowl should provide an exciting matchup between the Pac-12 and ACC. Both entered the season with big expectations with a few hiccups derailing the initial plan. In any case, both Stanford and North Carolina will hope to end the season on a positive.