The Stanford Cardinal (8-4) are set to take on the Pittsburgh Panthers (7-6) in the Hyundai Sun Bowl. Kickoff is set for 2:00 EST on Monday, December 31st at the Sun Bowl in El Paso, TX. The game will be televised nationally on CBS.

Oddsmakers opened up the game with Stanford at -6.5, but the line is going the other way, as the Cardinal are anywhere from -5.5 to -4.5 depending on where you shop. The total for this matchup is currently sitting at 52 points.

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Sun Bowl Vegas Spread Preview: Stanford vs Pittsburgh

The Cardinal closed out the regular-season with 3-straight wins, including a 23-13 win over rival Cal, but the season didn’t go as planned. Stanford came in expecting to compete for not only a Pac-12 title, but a spot in the playoffs, as they returned 15 starters, including starting quarterback K.J. Costello and running back Bryce Love.

The Cardinal got off to a 4-0 start, only to lose 38-17 at Notre Dame and 40-21 at home to Utah in their next two. Two more losses would follow against Washington and Washington State to all but knock them out of the North race. It will be interesting to see how Stanford treats this game. The Cardinal are 4-3 in bowl games under David Shaw. Last year they lost 39-37 to TCU to snap a 3-game bowl winning streak.

When experts were making their ACC predictions, no one thought it would be Pittsburgh that would represent the Coastal in the title game. The Panthers only had 13 starters back (just 4 on offense) and were coming off a 5-7 campaign. It definitely wasn’t your typical run to a division title in for a Power 5 Conference. Pitt started the year just 2-3 with blowout losses to both Penn State (51-6) and UCF (45-14). They basically won the Coastal by default and it showed when they were dominated 42-10 by Clemson in the ACC Championship.

Regardless of how fortunate the Panthers were, this was a big step in the right direction under head coach Pat Narduzzi. Now let’s see if Narduzzi can deliver in the postseason. Pitt is 0-2 under him in bowl games, including a 31-24 loss in the 2016 Pinstripe Bowl as a 4-point favorite vs Northwestern.

2018 Sun Bowl Free Betting Pick & Odds Predictions: Stanford -4.5

My early lean here would be to lay the short number here with Cardinal. While I’m not high on the Pac-12, I have a ton of respect for Stanford head coach David Shaw. Even with Bryce Love sitting this one out, I’m confident the Cardinal will be the more prepared team when these two take the field on Monday. Not to mention, Stanford is the more talented team and have key edges at quarterback and on the line of scrimmage.

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Not to take anything away from what Pitt accomplished, but I do think they are getting some unwarranted love for winning a horrible ACC Coastal. Keep in mind we have already seen two of the better teams in the Coastal get absolutely annihilated in their bowl. Georgia Tech lost 34-10 to a very mediocre Minnesota team and Miami was embarrassed 35-3 by Wisconsin.

I get that the Panthers played Notre Dame tough on the road, but they also had just 242 yards in that game and were outgained by 100 yards and lost despite a +2 turnover margin. I get the Cardinal stunk it up at Notre Dame, but this team has at least shown they can compete with the top tier teams and I like how the finished the season strong.

Keep in mind that Stanford lost by 3-points to Washington State and by 4 points at Washington. Had they won those two, they would have won the Pac-12 North and likely been headed to the Rose Bowl.

Another key here is how the two teams matchup. Pitt is a very run dominated team. They averaged almost twice as many runs (41) as they did passes (22). Even though this wasn’t a great Stanford defense, they only gave up 3.9 yards/carry and just 141 ypg. Most of their struggles came against the pass. 

On the flip side of this, the Cardinal have a great solid quarterback in Costello, but really struggled to get the running game going. Pitt gave up almost 5 yards/carry. In their last two they gave up a combined 594 rushing yards to Miami and Clemson. Stanford didn’t lose a game when the rushed for at least 125. Give me the Cardinal -4.5!