Bettors will have to choose between two good football teams that were challenged by tough schedules which is why I’m here with a 2018 Sun Bowl free pick to guide one of the final bets of the calendar year. Stanford will try to snap the Pac-12’s bowl struggles from last year (1-8 SU) and the 0-3 start to this year’s Pac-12 bowl season. The Pitt Panthers won the ACC Coastal division, but lost their last two games to Miami and Clemson in the ACC Championship while scoring a combined 13 points.
Stanford running back Bryce Love started the season as one of the Heisman Trophy favorites after he rushed for 2,118 yards in 2017. But early-season injuries curtailed Love’s season and production and he enters the Sun Bowl with 739 rushing yards. The Cardinals surprisingly have one of the worst rushing attacks in college football averaging 105.7 yards per game. Stanford became a passing team and Cardinal quarterback K.J. Costello picked up the slack passing 3,429 yards and 29 touchdowns. Wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside was on the business end for 14 of those touchdown passes from Costello. For the first time since 2014, Stanford had more passing yards than rushing yards as the team struggled to get players healthy throughout the season and especially with RB Love.
2018 Sun Bowl
Pitt Panthers (7-6) vs. Stanford Cardinal (8-4)
Monday, December 31st – El Paso, TX – 2:00pm ET (CBS)
Betting Line: Stanford -5 (52)
The Pitt Panthers are not a passing threat with Kenny Pickett throwing for 1,833 yards. Pickett had one game passing for more than 200 yards, and was pathetic in a number of contests including the ACC Championship game when he completed 4-of-16 passes for 8 yards. You read that correctly. How was Pitt playing in the ACC Championship game? Clemson pounded Pitt 42-10 in that game. The Panthers’ one-dimensional offensive attack includes a rushing game that averaged 228.8 yards per game against FBS foes to rank top-20 in the country. For the first time in school history, Pitt had two 1,000 yard rushers in Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall, who both averaged better than 6.2 yards per rush and scored a combined 20 rushing touchdowns. The Panthers run the ball 62.0% of their plays which is top-10 in the country.
Both Stanford and Pitt played among the toughest schedules in the country with FBS opponents win percentages of .616 and .613 respectively. The Panthers went 6-5 SU and 7-4 ATS but were out-gained by an average of 34 yards per game. The Panthers did beat bowl teams like Duke, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech and Syracuse (OT) at home and Virginia on the road. But Pitt lost on the road at Notre Dame 19-14 and were blasted by both Penn State early and Clemson to close the season in the ACC Championship. Another loss to UCF means Pitt lost three games to undefeated teams this season, which makes it tough to grade them as a 2018 Sun Bowl free pick side.
Stanford was 4-4 SU and 5-3 ATS against bowl teams but out-gained by 54 yards per game. The Cardinal won their final three games including two on the road at UCLA and the Big Game at Cal, 23-13. A 4-0 start with wins over USC and on the road at Oregon offered hope for a big season. But the 38-17 beatdown at Notre Dame followed by a 40-21 home loss to Utah set Stanford straight. Back to back losses to Washington State and at Washington was more indicative of this modest Stanford team before the 3-0 finish to the season.
Stanford has advantages at QB, WR and smaller edges on all three levels of the defensive side. The Panthers will try to impose their will using their rushing attack, and if they can control the clock enough, this game should have less scoring than expected. More points than the infamous 2008 Sun Bowl when Pitt lost 3-0, as both teams allowed at least 400 yards per game on defense. I don’t see noteworthy edges in motivation, distractions, location or coaching. Thus no worthy opinion on the winner, but still noting that Stanford is 4-2 SU and 5-1 ATS the past six season in December under coach Shaw and split their last two bowl games each decided by 2 points.
ATS Notes: ACC teams are just 2-11 SU and 5-8 ATS against Pac-12 teams since 2007. But Pac-12 teams went 1-8 SU and 2-7 ATS in last seasons bowl games with six teams in the underdog role. This 2018-2019 bowl season Pac-12 teams are 0-3 SU/ATS.
2018 Sun Bowl Free Pick – UNDER 52 Points
Fairway Jay is a professional handicapper based out of Las Vegas. He focuses primarily on the four majors along with college football and college basketball. You can follow him on Twitter @FairwayJay.