Stanford vs. Pittsburgh: Sun Bowl preview and score prediction

Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images /

On Monday, the Stanford Cardinal and Pittsburgh Panthers meet for the first time in 90 years in what should be an exciting Sun Bowl showdown.

Time: December 31, 2PM ET

Where to watch: CBS

Spread: Stanford -5.5

Team records: Stanford (8-4), Pittsburgh (7-6)

It’s been an underwhelming season for the Stanford Cardinal. They came into the year as favorites to contend for the Pac-12 crown, but instead watched things fall apart midway through the season. Despite that, they still earned themselves a trip to the Sun Bowl to face the Pittsburgh Panthers.

Meanwhile, the Panthers have been a pleasant surprise. Despite stumbling out of the gates, they managed to rattle off a few midseason wins and secure the ACC Coastal Division. Although they got run over by Clemson in the ACC title game, they’ve shown a drive to overcome adversity and play above their level of talent.

Could that prove problematic for the Cardinal, who go into Monday’s game without Bryce Love, their former Heisman Trophy runner-up?

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Love, Stanford’s explosive running back and touchdown machine, has opted to sit the game out as he prepares for the 2019 NFL Draft. That, however, doesn’t mean the Cardinal will abandon the run. Up against Pitt’s middling run defense (87th in rushing yards per game), Stanford will likely lean on Cameron Scarlett and Trevor Speights to get things moving on the ground.

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More importantly, though, it’ll be up to breakout quarterback K.J. Costello to carry the Cardinal offense to the win. Although he’s had an up-and-down junior season, he’s proven himself to be an outstanding arm talent in 2018. His 3,435 passing yards, 66.4 completion percentage and 29:11 touchdown-to-interception ratio provide evidence of that.

Don’t be surprised if he connects with his favorite receiver, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, early and often.

On the defensive side of the ball, it’ll be imperative for Stanford to slow down the two-headed monster at running back of Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall. The two have combined for 2,211 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground this season. Stanford’s 40th-ranked run defense will absolutely have its hands full.

Chances are the Panthers will do a good job of keeping things interesting for all 60 minutes on New Year’s Eve. However, when it really comes down to it, Stanford is superior on nearly every front. They’ve got more talent under center, are more disciplined and offer more upside on defense.

That leads me to believe the Cardinal will come away victorious on Monday. It may not be a dominating win, which Stanford hasn’t had many of this season. And yet, in the end, a win is a win.

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This will be Stanford’s second Sun Bowl appearance in the last three years. Unlike last year when they were trounced by the TCU Horned Frogs in the Alamo Bowl, though, the Cardinal should walk away with the W to cap off what’s been a forgettable 2018 campaign.

Final Score Prediction: Stanford wins 34-31