When the sun sets on 2018, Stanford football (8-4, 6-3 Pac-12) will look for its first win over Pitt (7-6, 6-2 ACC) in 90 years. For the second time in three years, the Cardinal will fly to El Paso, Texas for the Hyundai Sun Bowl on New Year’s Eve.
Stanford is 1-2 all-time against Pitt, with the lone victory coming in the 1928 Rose Bowl Game. Pitt won the first meeting 16-7 in 1922 and the most recent meeting 7-0 in 1932.
The Redbox Bowl, played in Levi’s Stadium, passed on Stanford to take an Oregon (8-4, 5-4 Pac-12) team with an inferior conference record and a home loss to the Cardinal. Executive director Ryan Oppelt indicated that because the Cardinal had played in the stadium three of the last four years, the Redbox Bowl was inclined to invite Oregon, which has never participated in the bowl.
“I don’t worry about those things,” said Stanford head coach David Shaw. “I’m excited about where we’re going.”
Stanford played in the Sun Bowl as recently as 2016, when senior running back Bryce Love, starting in place of Christian McCaffrey (who was sitting out in preparation for the NFL Draft), ran for 119 yards and caught a 49-yard touchdown pass en route to a 25-23 victory over North Carolina. The Cardinal’s most recent bowl was also played in the state of Texas, a 39-37 loss to TCU in the Alamo Bowl.
Those two games are part of a school-record 10-year stretch of bowl appearances for Stanford, with the program going 5-4 in those games. The Cardinal are 14-14-1 all-time in bowl games, and their 30th overall appearance will be their fifth in the Sun Bowl. Stanford has fared well in the second-longest-running bowl, to the tune of a 3-1 overall record.
Stanford will challenge ACC Coastal Division Champ Pitt, which played 11 bowl-eligible teams this year, including undefeated College Football Playoff selections Clemson and Notre Dame, as well as an undefeated UCF team that finished No. 8 in the final CFP rankings. Of course, the Panthers lost all of those games, and their only win over a Top 25 team came over Syracuse in overtime. Most recently, the Panthers were routed 42-10 by Clemson in the ACC championship game.
Pitt has played in 33 bowl games in its history with a 13-20 record. The Panthers had their own run of nine consecutive bowl appearances, which began with a 3-0 loss to Oregon State in Pitt’s most recent dalliance with the Sun Bowl. During the streak, the Panthers went 3-6 before missing postseason play in 2017.
Despite the Panthers playing in a conference dominated by the spread, Pitt had two 1,000-yard rushers for the first time in school history. Qadree Ollison ran for 1,222 while Darrin Hall added 1,046 yards of his own.
Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi is excited for the matchup between two teams that still huddle. “This is going to be a game where the two teams both huddle,” said Narduzzi. “I think fans might get a kick out of that. They might not know what that is.”
“The officials might not know what to do between plays,” joked Shaw.
“They’re always talented. They’re physical, and they’ve always got great quarterbacks and fullbacks, so it’s going to be a great game,” said Narduzzi. “I’m honored to be able to get a chance to go play Stanford again.” Narduzzi beat Stanford as the defensive coordinator of Michigan State in the 2014 Rose Bowl.
“Well the biggest thing for us, after this difficult season we had,” said Shaw, “is getting our guys healthy.” Stanford saw the return of junior guard Nate Herbig and team MVP senior wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside last week in the Big Game and will hope to return junior tight end Kaden Smith and senior wide receiver Trenton Irwin, among others.
The Cardinal will seek their fourth straight victory and fourth straight season of at least nine wins on Dec. 31 in El Paso, Texas, starting with kickoff at 11 a.m. PST.
Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.