North Carolina Tar Heels (8-4 SU, 7-5 ATS) vs. Stanford Cardinal (9-3 SU, 7-5 ATS)
Date/Time: Friday, December 30, 2016 at 2PM EST
Where: Sun Bowl, El Paso, Texas
By Loot, NCAA Football Handicapper, Lootmeister.com
Betting Odds: UNC +3/STAN -3
Over/Under Total: 54.5
In the Sun Bowl, the North Carolina Tar Heels take on the Stanford Cardinal on December 30 in El Paso. Stanford is looking to notch their tenth win of the season. They have managed to somewhat quietly resurrect a season that had gotten haywire with five straight wins entering this game. They will have to beat a potentially-powerful North Carolina team whose season ended on a slightly less-positive note, with two losses in their last three games. They beat some good teams this season and look to do so again with this Stanford team. In an interesting matchup, let's see if we can figure out who will cover the spread.
This wasn't one the greatest Cardinal seasons and maybe it was even a notch below what some expected. But it was one of their more-resourceful seasons, storming back from a rough patch where they lost 3 of 4 games—a 44-6 roasting by Washington, followed by home losses to Washington State, 42-16, and Colorado, 10-5. That patch saw all confidence on the Cardinal vanish. And with all the other drama in the Pac-12, it was easy to stop paying attention to Stanford even as they won five straight to end the season. Heisman frontrunner Christian McCaffrey faded from the hunt and pretty soon, there were more-interesting things to follow in the conference other than Stanford.
But as Stanford picked up momentum over the season, McCaffrey started cooking, winding up with 1603 yards on the ground, while leading the nation in all-purpose yardage per game. He has decided to forgo this game in anticipation of the NFL draft. QB Keller Chryst might not have lit the world on fire, but he was effective in leading the offense and ended the season showing more of an overall flair through the air. Finally, a neglected receiver-package is being brought more into the mix. This side of the offense is ending the season with some of the best form they've shown all season and their late-season work at least makes them a team to watch in what should be a wide-open Pac-12 next season.
The Cardinal "D" had some strong moments on the season, though they were perhaps a tick off late. Their pass-rush was pretty robust with guys like Solomon Thomas, Harrison Phillips, and Joey Alfieri. They held good teams like Colorado and USC to ten points. There were games where they were anything but a vintage Stanford defense, but more often than not, they played in a way that was in keeping with the typical robust Cardinal defense. They allowed 20.2 points on average per game and with this break before the Sun Bowl, they were able to rest some weary legs.
The Tar Heels hold wins over Pittsburgh, Florida State, Miami, and Georgia Tech. They have proven their mettle against good opponents, while not thriving in some games where they should have. As big favorites against both Duke and NC State late in the season, they lost outright. They can really cook on offense, but on defense, they've given up gobs of yardage against opposing running backs, an obvious-enough matchup-related snag in the fence for this game. They didn't look very good to end the season, with their 28-21 loss to North Carolina State their last game.
The Tar Heels feature an offense that can do damage. QB Mitch Trubisky was good enough this season to become one of the NFL's top QB properties, as this might be his last game for UNC. Look for him to consider this game an audition of sorts, not to mention wanting to just get the big win for the team. He threw for almost 3500 yards and 28 touchdowns. On the season, he threw only four interceptions. At the same time, the offense didn't thrive late with two subpar performances over Duke and North Carolina State. And against the Stanford defense, a close-to-peak Tar Heels' offense will be required if they look to win this game.
Trubisky didn't do it all himself this season, boosted by a nice arsenal of artillery on the ground and through the air, He has some nice receiving talent, with Ryan Switzer leading the way with over 1000 yards. Bug Howard is a big target and clutch receiver, with Austin Proehl adding some contributions. Elijah Hood and TJ Logan make for an interesting X-factor on the ground, a sleeper 1-2 punch that could deliver. With Trubisky able to be cute with his legs, the UNC ground game has caught some by surprise this season.
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For as much of an edge the North Carolina offense might have on Stanford's, that gap is wider when it comes to defenses—and not in North Carolina's favor. They were a group that was stubborn in not becoming what you could call a really bad defense. In other words, they weren't prone to being humiliated. At the same time, the run-stop was laughable at times. They were pretty good through the air, though that's not Stanford's forte. And with one pick all season and a pass-rush that would disappear for quarters on end, their playmaking ability was not up-to-snuff.
While the urge will be to look at North Carolina' shortcomings, like their shoddy run-defense, there are matchup concerns going the other way, as well. North Carolina has an offense that can do damage and the Cardinal "D" was hardly at its peak late in the season. While McCaffrey should have a good game, the versatility of the North Carolina offense should present issues, enabling the Tar Heels to cover the spread in the Sun Bowl.
Loot's Prediction to Cover the Point Spread: I'm betting on the North Carolina Tar Heels plus 3.5 points. Did you know... that you could be wagering on the North Carolina vs. Stanford game at discounted odds from the comfort of your home? There's a better than good chance that you're laying -110 odds (or more) with your book. Stop overpaying TODAY by making the switch to 5Dimes Sportsbook! You will be so glad that you did!