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No Love for Cardinal in Sun Bowl Clash vs Pitt

Obi Eboh

The Stanford Cardinal hope the absence of two of their most productive seniors won’t cripple their potent passing game when they take on the Pitt Panthers in the Hyundai Sun Bowl on December 31 in El Paso. Former Heisman Trophy candidate running back Bryce Love has already been ruled out for Stanford, as has wideout Trent Irwin, who tied for the team lead in receptions this season.

Still, the Cardinal (8-4 overall, 6-3 Pac-12) ride the momentum of a three-game winning streak into bowl season, while Pittsburgh (7-6 overall, 6-3 ACC) has lost its last two games by a combined margin of 66-13. Stanford is a 6-point favorite in the first-ever matchup between these two programs, and the OVER/UNDER has been set at 52 points.

  • Stanford is 7-2 ATS in its last nine games in the playoffs.
  • Pittsburgh is 6-2 ATS in its last eight games.
  • Stanford is 5-0 SU and 4-1 ATS in its last five games vs the Atlantic Coast.

Pittsburgh vs Stanford Sun Bowl Game Center


News of Love’s absence had to be music to the ears of the Pitt defenders, who have struggled to stop the run all season. The Panthers allowed opposing runners to gain nearly five yards per carry and reach the end zone on 22 occasions, with four of those rushing touchdowns coming in their blowout loss to Clemson in the ACC championship game.

With Love out, the best running backs in this contest belong to Pittsburgh. The Panthers feature a powerful two-pronged ground attack in Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall Jr., both 225-pounders who ran for more than 1,000 yards this season. Whether Pitt can exert its will on the ground against a decent Stanford run defense will likely determine the Panthers’ success in this game, since Pittsburgh had one of the worst pass games in the nation this year.


If you haven’t been paying attention to Stanford all season, you may be surprised by the type of football you see out of the Cardinal in the Sun Bowl. Unlike past years under David Shaw, when Stanford won with the ground game and defense, any success the Cardinal enjoyed this season began and ended with the pass game. Quarterback K.J. Costello directed an offense that put up the 19th-most passing yards in the nation, and Stanford has put up 38 points or more in four of its last nine games. The Cardinal are also aggressive with taking shots down the field and probably won’t fear a Pitt secondary that has failed to record an interception in five of its last six outings. And while Stanford will be without Irwin, the Cardinal still have three other players who caught 20-plus balls this year, most notably J.J. Arega-Whiteside (team-leading 14 touchdown catches and 969 receiving yards).

Stanford’s aerial prowess could minimize the impact of Love’s absence, not that the NFL-bound tailback was having a banner season anyway. One year after running for 2,118 yards and averaging 8.1 yards per carry, Love managed just 739 yards and a 4.5-yard average in 2018. Some of that can be attributed to injuries, but it’s also no secret that the Stanford offensive line isn’t what it used to be.


Whether it’s been under Shaw or predecessor Jim Harbaugh, Stanford has been a tough out in bowl season over the past decade. The Cardinal have covered the number in seven of their last nine bowl appearances, and they haven’t lost a bowl game by more than four points during that span. Clearly, this is a program that puts a big emphasis on playing in December.

Meanwhile, bowl games have been a nightmare for Pittsburgh. The Panthers have lost five of their last six games in postseason play and 13 of 19 overall. And in their last trip to El Paso, Pitt played in what is widely considered to be the worst Sun Bowl ever, losing 3-0 to Oregon State in 2008.

That result from 10 years ago obviously won’t have any impact on this year’s matchup, but I do think we see the Panthers suffer another bowl disappointment here. Pitt can’t feel too good about itself right now following lopsided losses to Miami and Clemson (the latter coming in the ACC championship game), while Stanford has the big-play ability on offense to jump on the Panthers early. If the Cardinal do open an early lead on Pittsburgh, the Panthers don’t have the pass attack to get them back into the game. Look for Stanford to win one for Love, sending its former star out with a bowl game victory – and a point-spread cover.