Monday, Dec. 31, 2 p.m. ET (CBS)
Sun Bowl Stadium, El Paso, Texas
Free NCAAF Pick: Cardinal ATS
Best Line Offered: Pinnacle
Reputation in postseason games is at stake. Pitt’s Pat Narduzzi is 0-2 SU and ATS in bowl games after Pitt got blown out as a small underdog in 2015 and lost straight-up as a favorite in 2016. Conversely, Stanford coach David Shaw is 3-1 SU and 3-0-1 ATS in bowl games. The one loss came in a wild back-and-forth against ranked TCU.
How They Got Here
Pitt enjoyed a six-game cover streak from October 6 to November 17, during which it ran for over 200 yards in four of those games and took Notre Dame to the wire when midterms were approaching the Irish. It tapered off, though, against the strong defenses of Clemson and Miami, losing both games by a combined score of 66-13. Conversely, Stanford comes into bowl season strong, having won its last three games, and covering or pushing its last four.
Why Pitt Can Win/Cover
The Panthers boast an elite rushing attack that ranks 11th in averaging 5.6 YPC. Darrin Hall and Qadree Ollison have accrued over 1,000 yards rushing on over six YPC. Both exhibit breakaway speed and are capable of breaking big runs. They are the main reason why Pitt has managed to score over 30 points on six different occasions. Quarterback Kenny Pickett is awful, but they only need him to avoid turnovers and help manage the offense. Pitt has covered four in a row when it’s rushed for over 200 yards and it will surely outrun a Cardinal team without Bryce Love. Stanford’s running back star has declared for the NFL draft.
Why Stanford Can Win/Cover
Quarterback K.J. Costello has become more more efficient and also can also push the ball downfield. He’s completed 66 percent of his passes for 3,400 yards and 29 touchdowns on 8.7 YPA. His top receiver is J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who is a weapon downfield and in the red zone with his 6″3 height. He’s caught 14 touchdowns and averages 16 yards per reception. He’ll tower over Pitt’s defensive backs, as will teammate Trenton Irwin. Stanford’s offensive line has kept Love from being effective, so that is absence is meaningless. The o-line ranks outside the top 100 in run-blocking, but it ranks 27th in rate of sacks allowed, so Costello will have time to throw. Stanford has only two ATS losses in the seven games in which Costello threw for over 300 yards.
Common Opponent/Series History
Both teams faced Notre Dame. Stanford could not maintain much time of possession against Notre Dame’s elite pass defense and with its meager rush attack. Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book torched Stanford’s secondary and the Irish offense was effective with its pass-run balance. The Panthers got Notre Dame ahead of midterms. Pitt couldn’t run against Notre Dame’s defense, but the Irish offense was stagnant and barely escaped with a 19-14 win.
Stanford’s run defense ranks a respectable 41st in opposing YPC. It struggled against offenses that feature balance. Notre Dame’s for instance, forces defenses to account for both a very accurate passer and a dangerous running game. Oregon’s power run benefitted from the same balance in its offense. But Stanford has also shut down some solid running backs. It held USC’s Aca’Cedric Ware to 3.3 YPC, although in every other game in which he carried the ball at least 10 times he averaged at least 4.9 YPC. The Cardinal also held Arizona State’s Eno Benjamin to 38 yards on 11 carries, although Benjamin has run for over 1,600 yards this season. In those games, Stanford didn’t have to worry about the opposing quarterback. Against Pitt, Stanford can focus on stopping the run without Pitt’s lackluster pass attack making it pay.
Less optimism is appropriate for Pitt’s secondary that has been gashed by every good opposing quarterback that it faced. Quarterbacks such as Ryan Willis of Virginia Tech and Daniel Jones of Duke each had one of his best games against Pitt, although neither team boasts the same talent as Stanford at wide receiver and both were pass-heavy. Stanford’s receiving crew is unique for its size and ability to box out defenders and go up for 50-50 balls.