EL PASO, Texas – The 85th edition of the Hyundai Sun Bowl features, the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Pittsburgh Panthers meeting the Pac-12’s Stanford Cardinal. The two storied programs look to add another winning chapter to their history in the Hyundai Sun Bowl, the second-oldest bowl game in the nation.
Pitt, who finished the 7-6, was the ACC-runner up after losing in the ACC Championship game to undefeated and current No. 2 in College Football Playoff, Clemson. Stanford finished third in the Pac-12 at 8-4, ending the season on a three-game winning streak.
Three of Pittsburgh’s losses were to undefeated teams, two currently in the CFP, the aforementioned Clemson, No. 3 Notre Dame and eighth ranked University of Central Florida (UCF). The Tigers and Fighting Irish are set to play each other in the CFP Semifinal on Dec. 29, while UCF will be facing LSU in the Fiesta Bowl. In addition to playing three top-10 ranked CFP teams, Stanford will be the 11th bowl participant on Pitt’s schedule this year.
“Our invitation to the Hyundai Sun Bowl presents us with a tremendous challenge as well as an exciting opportunity,” Narduzzi said. “I have a great deal of respect for Coach Shaw and the outstanding program he has built at Stanford. They are entering this game with a lot of momentum, having won their last three games. I know our team will be excited about facing a strong Pac-12 program like Stanford.”
Stanford started the season with four straight wins, capped off with an improbable comeback victory in overtime at Oregon, 38-31. Despite the hot start and ranking as high as No. 7, the Cardinal would end up losing four of their next five games, beginning with a loss at Notre Dame 38-17. Notre Dame also defeated Pitt 19-14 earlier this season.
“They’re always talented. They’re physical, and they’ve always got great quarterbacks and fullbacks, so it’s going to be a great game,” said Narduzzi. “I’m honored to be able to get a chance to go play Stanford again.”
This will be the first meeting between the two programs since 1932, and the fourth meeting overall. Pitt leads the series 2-1, Pitt won the first meeting 16-7 at Stanford in 1922, while Stanford won the rematch, 7-0 in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2, 1928. Pitt’s only loss in 10 games that season. Four years later, Pitt responded with a 7-0 victory over Stanford at Pitt Stadium in 1932.
Pop Warner, legendary football pioneer, coached both programs, Pitt from 1915-23 and Stanford from 1924-32. Warner led Pitt to 29 straight victories and three National Championships (1915, 1916 and 1918). Warner also led Stanford to a National Championship in 1926.
Warner led Stanford to its lone victory over Pitt in the 1928 Rose Bowl, the win over his former team was his last appearance in the Rose Bowl. Warner’s name is also associated with the “Pop Warner Little Scholars program”, a nonprofit youth football organization for kids aged 5-to-16 in the United States. He started the program in 1929 to keep kids busy and out of trouble.
Pitt returns to a bowl this year after missing a bowl for the first time in 10 years. This will be the 34th bowl game for Pitt (13-20 overall), and fourth Sun Bowl for a team looking to give coach Pat Narduzzi his first bowl win (0-2). Pitt is also looking to avenge an infamous 3-0 loss to Oregon State in 2008, their last Sun Bowl appearance. The lowest scoring bowl game since Air Force and TCU played to a scoreless draw at the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 1, 1959.
Although, Narduzzi has yet to win a bowl game as Pitt’s coach, he did top Stanford in the 2014 Rose Bowl, 24-20, as Michigan State’s defensive coordinator. This will be Narduzzi’s first Sun Bowl.
On the other side of the field, Stanford is making their 30th appearance in a bowl, going 14-14-1 all time in bowl games. They are making a school record 10th straight trip to a bowl game. The Cardinal will be playing in Texas for the third year in a row, returning to the Sun Bowl it won in 2016, for the fifth time. Stanford is 3-1 in previous Sun Bowl appearances. Stanford went to the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio in 2017.
Stanford head coach, David Shaw, 4-3 in bowls, has been named Pac-12 Coach of the Year four times (2011, 2012, 2015 and 2017). He has also coached three Heisman Trophy finalists – quarterback Andrew Luck, RB’s Christian McCaffrey and Bryce Love. Stanford will seek their fourth straight victory and fourth straight season of at least nine wins.
“Our players had a great time in El Paso,” Coach Shaw said on a conference call on Selection Sunday, “The hospitality was off the charts. The reception (for the players and coaches) is the best of all the bowls.”
Sun Bowl fans could witness a high scoring affair as teams put up over 400 yards of total offense and 23 points a game. Pitt allowed 401.4 total yards per game and 28.8 points, while Stanford allowed 415.6 yards per game and 23.75 points per game.
Both teams averaged over 370 yards of offense and 25 points a game. This will be a clash of offensive approaches, as Pitt loves to run the ball. For the first time in school history, Pitt had two 1,000-yard rushers, Qadree Ollison (1,222) and Darrin Hall (1,046).
Pitt’s success is due to its tremendous ground game, averaging over 229 yards per game. While the Panthers have found success on the ground, the Cardinal is winning through their air attack, averaging over 287 yards per game.
Stanford has not averaged more passing yards than rushing yards per game since 2014, but had to adapt and become pass-focused due to Love struggling with injuries.
“Well the biggest thing for us, after this difficult season we had,” said Shaw, “is getting our guys healthy.”
Stanford saw the return of junior guard Nate Herbig and team MVP senior wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside last week in the rivalry game, against California and will hope to return junior tight end Kaden Smith and senior wide receiver Trenton Irwin, among others.
Love previously had success playing in the 2016 Sun Bowl, filling in for Christian McCaffrey and finishing with 119 yards on the ground and a 49-yard touchdown reception. However, this season an ankle injury limited Love to 834 total yards (739 rushing and 99 receiving) and six touchdowns.
Leading the newfound Stanford air attack is junior K.J. Costello who passed for 3,429 yards and 29 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. Costello took over as the leader of the offense when 2017 Heisman runner-up Bryce Love, went down with an injury early in the season.
JJ Arcega-Whiteside, quickly established himself as Costello’s favorite target, leading the team with 60 receptions, 969 yards and 14 touchdowns. The Cardinal’s jump ball specialist is looking to be one of the first wide receivers drafted next season.
Despite the injury setback suffered by Love, many draft insiders project him as one of the first running backs that will be selected. If this were to happen, it would add to the long line of Sun Bowl participants being selected early in the NFL draft.
Whether you are turning in to see the bright futures of pro prospects or are a fan of either of these esteemed programs, the 85th Annual Hyundai Sun Bowl is sure to entertain diehard football fans in a matchup that has been decades in the making.