The North Carolina Tar Heels take on the Stanford Cardinal on Friday, December 30th in the 2016 Hyundai Sun Bowl. Kickoff inside the Sun bowl in El Paso is set for 2:00 EST Friday afternoon with CBS providing the television coverage.
Stanford (9-3) had a down season for its standards, but finished the season strong with five straight victories and now has a shot at 10 wins again. But if they do get that 10th victory, it will come without the services of star running back Christian McCaffrey, who is skipping the Sun Bowl to get ready for the NFL Draft.
North Carolina (8-4) wasn’t able to get back to the ACC title game for a second consecutive season. The Tar Heels lost their final two ACC games in upset fashion, falling 27-28 at Duke as 11.5-point favorites and 21-28 at home to NC State as 10-point favorites.
According to the latest NCAA football lines, Stanford is a 3-point favorite over North Carolina with a total set of 54 points. Check out my bowl predictions article to get my straight up picks for every postseason game.
I know that Stanford will not have Christian McCaffrey, but I don’t think it’s going to matter. I actually think it motivates them even more because there will be a bunch of naysayers out there thinking they can’t win without him. This team is already motivated to get to 10 wins for the sixth time in the last seven seasons.
It’s not like backup Bryce Love is incapable, either. Love had 111 yards in the final regular-season game, he had 82 yards on five carries against Oregon and a season-high 129 yards in the win at Notre Dame. He is actually averaging 7.4 yards per carry compared to 6.3 per carry for McCaffrey.
And Love is primed for a big game on the ground against a UNC defense that cannot stop the run, which is going to be the difference in this game. The Tar Heels allowed a ridiculous 236 rushing yards per game, 28 touchdowns and 4.5 yards per carry this season. They were blitzed by Baylor in their bowl game last year and gave up over 600 rushing yards in the loss.
Stanford comes in playing well having won five in a row. Its offense has averaged over 543 yards per game over the past three contests. The difference was replacing Ryan Burns with sophomore Keller Chryst, who led the Cardinal to those five wins while throwing nine touchdowns and only one interception. And the Cardinals have been great in bowl games, covering six of their last seven, including winning the last two by 24 and 29 points as favorites.
The Tar Heels allowed a ridiculous 236 rushing yards per game, 28 touchdowns and 4.5 yards per carry this season.
Mitch Trubisky is a heck of a quarterback for the Tar Heels, but he’s more concerned about staying healthy and possibly being the top QB taken in the draft. And I don’t know how invested the Tar Heels will really be for this game after losing to rivals Duke and NC State to finish the season despite being double-digits favorites in both games. Those losses cost them a potential berth in the ACC Championship Game. ACC teams have lost five of the last six Sun Bowls.
And the strength of the Cardinal defense is the pass D, which ranks 10th in the country in pass defense efficiency. The defensive backfield was banged up early in the season but is healthy now. The Cardinal only allow 54.3% completions, 219 passing yards per game and 6.6 per attempt. So the UNC offensive strength is the strength of the Stanford D, while the UNC defensive weakness is the strength of the Stanford offense. That makes this a great matchup for the Cardinal, which is the main reason I like them here.
Stanford is 30-13 ATS in its last 43 road games vs teams who average at least 425 yards per game on offense. The Cardinal are 6-0 ATS vs. poor ball control teams who possess the ball for 28 or fewer minutes per game over the last two seasons. The Cardinal are 7-1 ATS in their last eight neutral site games and 7-0 ATS in their last seven December games. Stanford is 20-6 ATS in its last 26 games following an ATS loss. TheTar Heels are 0-5 ATS in their last five neutral site games.