It could be said that Pittsburgh is a lesser version of Stanford, but they were much closer this year than previous campaigns. For the Sun Bowl, where the Cardinal beat NC State by two points two years ago, they are again favored by -7 points with an over/under of 52 (at 5Dimes Sportsbook) a week before the Game in El Paso.
This wasn’t a good season for Stanford (7-4-1 ATS) given its lofty expectations, but it still managed to close on a good note with three straight wins, albeit two of those were against non-bowl teams. When faced with the best teams on the Schedule, Stanford struggled to defend and that led to Four Games in which it allowed at least 38 points.
Pittsburgh (7-6 ATS) won the ACC Coastal division, but that’s not saying much with how down the Conference was as a whole. The Panthers were throttled by Penn State and UCF in non-Conference play, and also lost their final two Games by at least 21 points, the worst of them being the Game at Miami where they scored three. Six of their seven wins came against bowl teams, but that’s mostly because all but one team in the Coastal division got into a bowl as they all beat up on each other.
With Stanford involved, it feels like a defensive Game, but that may not be how it goes. The Cardinal were mediocre defensively and gave up 7.5 yards per pass and 274 passing yards per Game, and that’s why they gave up 42 points to UCLA. The issue for Pitt is that it wants to run the ball between two senior running backs that both surpassed 1,000 yards and combined for 20 touchdowns in Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall. Stanford defended the run well and only allowed 3.9 yards per carry so that could be an issue. Quarterback Kenny Pickett simply wasn’t asked to do much and when he was, he struggled. His 6.52 yards per pass attempt was one of the worst rates in the country and he managed only 12 touchdowns despite starting every Game. Even worse is that he threw for over 200 yards only once.
The other problem for Pitt is that its defense doesn’t rate that well as it gave up a ton of points to a lot of mediocre teams (35 to UNC, 45 to Duke), allowing 28.8 points per Game. Stanford surprisingly got poor offensive line play all season and Bryce Love is skipping this Game, but the offense should be fine with Cameron SCarlett and Trevor Speights splitting carries. That may not matter because quarterback K.J. Costello has been the reason this team has eight wins with 8.67 yards per attempt to go with 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Top wide out JJ Arcega-Whiteside (969 yards, 14 TDs) is too much for most secondaries in college and Trenton Irwin has been solid in the slot. Pitt has a slightly better pass defense, yet still allowed 24 touchdowns compared to only nine interceptions, while it allowed a poor 4.9 yards per carry.
Stanford has a few more advantages in this Game and that’s why it’s favored by a touchdown. Pat Narduzzi has been a positive for Pitt, but this is his third bowl Game and he didn’t win the prior two. The Cardinal are 6-1 ATS in their last seven on a neutral site and 8-3 ATS vs. a team with a winning record. The Panthers are 6-2 ATS in their last eight overall, but 1-5 ATS in their last six bowl Games.
Our Pick – Pitt +5.5