(KDKA/CBS Local) The playoff semifinals are set for Saturday, but that isn’t the end of bowl season. There are two full days of bowl games set for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. In the Sun Bowl, it’s an ACC and Pac-12 showdown as Pat Narduzzi’s Pitt Panthers meet David Shaw’s Stanford Cardinal.
Spread: Stanford -4.5
Pitt started out the year just 3-4 before ripping off four straight conference wins to earn a division title and a trip to the ACC Championship Game. The Panthers rushing attack was dominant, with Darrin Hall and Qadree Ollison combining for over 2,200 yards and 20 touchdowns. The backs had their share of explosive plays which helped drive an offense that didn’t have quite the passing game it hoped with quarterback Kenny Pickett. The problems came on defense where the Panthers were prone to giving up those same types of explosive plays, ranking 106th in Bill Connelly’s Isolated Points Per Play metric (1.26).
That is not good news against a Stanford offense that ranked in the Top 20 in that same metric (1.28; 19th). The Cardinal faded from national consciousness a bit after a 4-0 start gave way to a four losses in five games skid. But, David Shaw’s group finished strong with three straight wins heading into the bowl game. Running back Bryce Love didn’t have the Heisman-caliber season that many were expecting, but quarterback K.J. Costello stepped up in his absence. The junior threw for 3,435 yards, which is the 3rd-highest single season total in program history behind Andrew Luck and Steve Stenstrom. He’ll have to continue that kind of output in the Sun Bowl as Love has declared he will be skipping the game to prepare for the NFL Draft.
The Cardinal do have weak points of their own, and this year it was the defense. We’re used to seeing stout units from David Shaw and company, but this year’s group ranked 51st in S&P+ and struggled against the run and pass. Ollison and Hall will present a big threat to this defense and could also help the Panthers to control the clock.
Stanford has a slight edge in record against the spread, going 6-3-1 as a favorite this season while Pitt has gone just 5-4 as an underdog. Overall, the Pitt running game should keep this game from getting out of hand, but I’m not sure the Panthers can stop the Cardinal passing attack. Stanford -4.5; Over 52.
Local Expert Take: Rich Walsh, KDKA Sports Anchor
“Pitt is a big underdog in this game but I think the Pitt Panthers can win. They are coming off of two big losses. One, against Miami, they should have won as they were heavily favored, and then they got blown out by Clemson in the ACC championship game. I do like the Panthers to win this game because of their running game. They have had a really good running attack all year long because of Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall, two 1,000 yard backs, the first time that has happened in I like the Panthers to beat Stanford in this game in an upset, 27-20.”