Stanford vs. Pitt: Four Opening Storylines for Sun Bowl Matchup
The game is set and the countdown is alive for the 85th annual Hyundai Sun Bowl between Pitt (7-6) and Stanford (8-4).
This will be an opportunity for two Power-5 teams to square off in the Sun Bowl on Dec. 31 at noon. Here are four opening storylines for the two squads:
Stanford: Will Bryce Love play?
Narratives in non-New Years Eve bowl games have shifted from how to stop the star player to will the star player even be on the same field as his team? It's sad to see these stud athletes not play in their bowl game, but their reasoning is to be saving themselves from a potential injury. For the Sun Bowl, this narrative has become a yearly occurrence.
Stanford running back Bryce Love is one of the top NFL running back prospects for the upcoming draft and critics have already questioned as to why he even played for the Cardinal in the first place this season. Love has juggled a poor offensive line and injuries all season long, which brings up the question, why would he play at the Sun Bowl?
But maybe Love feels different than his predecessor, Christian McCaffrey, who didn't even travel with the team to El Paso two seasons ago for the Sun Bowl. Maybe Love wants to finish out his career where he broke through in his college tenure: at the Sun Bowl. Love was a star in Stanford's 25-23 victory over North Carolina in 2016, where he rushed for 119 yards and caught a 49-yard touchdown pass in place of McCaffrey.
Maybe Love simply feels that he owes it to the team, who he seems to have a deep sense of pride for. Nevertheless, his decision to play is one of the hottest topics that we will follow closely.
Pitt: Will third time be the charm for coach Pat Narduzzi?
Pitt enters the Sun Bowl with a 1-4 bowl game record since 2011, and 0-2 record under head coach Pat Naduzzi. A loss to Stanford would mean back-to-back seasons of a non-winning record for the Panthers.
They will also be making their fourth Sun Bowl appearance, having recently lost in the infamous low-scoring 3-0 game to Oregon State. At that point, Narduzzi was the defensive coordinator at Michigan State.
“I don’t know about those zero points that were scored the last time,” Narduzzi told Triblive.com. “We certainly have to score more than that against a great Stanford team.”
The Panthers lost their final two games in rather unsettling conditions. They were blown out against Miami (24-3) and Clemson stomped all over them in the ACC title game (42-10). However, three of their six losses came from undefeated opponents (Clemson, Notre Dame and UCF), while their other losses come from No. 12 Penn State and an upset loss to North Carolina (38-35).
“Some people picked us to win four games this season because of our schedule,” Narduzzi said.
Stanford: The Cardinal holds the hotter hand
Despite a mid-season slump, Stanford picked it up after losing back-to-back games to Washington State (41-38) and Washington (27-23). They closed out their season winning three games in a row, which included wins against Oregon State (48-17), UCLA (49-42) and Cal (23-13).
Stanford head coach David Shaw has also favored the pass over the run this season, contrary to popular belief that the team rides out Love as their tailback.
They haven't averaged more passing yards than rushing since 2014, as they currently average 287 passing yards and 108 rushing yards per game.
Junior quarterback K.J. Costello has stepped up for the Cardinal this season, finishing with 3,198 passing yards, 28 passing touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Pitt: Panthers will slow the game, but Stanford will too
This matchup will be like looking into a time machine and watching a 2005 college football matchup. There will be huddling, pounding it down by means of a rush game and old school, grind-it-out football.
"This is going to be like an old 1985 bowl game," Narduzzi said in a telephone conference yesterday. "Both teams line up with two backs in the backfield and run the ball. This is two teams that both huddle, fans might not know what that is."
Pitt enters the game averaging 26.6 points per game. They favor the rush, unlike the Cardinal, and put up 229.5 rushing yards to their 142.2 passing yards per game.
They are led by a dual-threat at tailback with Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall. Ollison leads the Panthers with 1,222 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns, while Darrin Hall totaled 1,046 rushing yards with nine touchdowns.