For the eighth straight season, Stanford will be going bowling as the No. 18 Cardinal (9-3, 6-3 Pac 12) have accepted an invitation to the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, for a tilt with the North Carolina Tarheels (8-4, 5-3 ACC) on Dec. 30.
The game will mark Stanford’s fourth appearance in the Sun Bowl in school history. The Cardinal last made the trip to El Paso in 2009 to face Oklahoma, a matchup that became the start of a school-record streak of eight consecutive seasons of postseason football.
North Carolina, which finished second in the ACC Coastal Division, will return to the Sun Bowl for the fifth time in school history. The two schools have met twice before through a home-and-home series in late 1990s with the Tarheels first prevailing in Chapel Hill in 1997 and the Cardinal emerging victorious at Stanford Stadium in 1998.
After beginning the season on a high note, with wins over a gritty non-conference foe in Kansas State and in-state rivals USC and UCLA, the Stanford season took a steep turn south as the Cardinal were beset by injuries and offensive struggles and suffered blowout losses at the hands of Washington and Washington State as well as an ugly 10-5 defeat against Colorado.
However, after falling to 4-3 following the loss to the Buffaloes, the Cardinal were able to rally and take advantage of a considerably easier schedule in the second half to the season to close with five straight wins. In the process, running back Christian McCaffrey, who was limited with injuries throughout much of the Cardinal’s struggles in the middle of the season, returned to form and finished the regular season as the nation’s leader all-purpose yardage for the second straight year.
North Carolina began its season with a narrow 33-24 loss to Georgia in Atlanta before hitting its stride with four consecutive wins, including a 37-35 triumph over then-No. 12 Florida State in Tallahassee. However, losses to Virginia Tech, Duke and North Carolina State down the stretch derailed the Tarheels’ chances of repeating as ACC Coastal Division champions and set up their meeting with the Cardinal in El Paso.
With a Sun Bowl victory, the Cardinal will finish with a 10-win season for the sixth time in the last seven years. Meanwhile, the Tarheels will be looking for their first bowl victory since a 2013 win over Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl.
Kickoff from Sun Bowl Stadium has been set for 11 a.m. on Dec. 30. The game will be televised nationally on CBS.
Contact Vihan Lakshman at vihan ‘at’ stanford.edu.