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Neither the Stanford Cardinal nor the North Carolina Tar Heels had aspirations of being in El Paso, Texas on December 30. Sometimes things don’t work out quite the way that they are planned. A year removed from a trip to the Rose Bowl and a trip to the ACC Championship Game, these two respective teams have to take the field at the Sun Bowl for the Hyundai Sun Bowl. Stanford is the favorite, even though Christian McCaffrey has both eyes on the prize of an NFL contract and will sit this one out.

Stanford vs. North Carolina College Football Preview

Date/Time: Friday December 30, 2:00 p.m. ET


College Football Betting Odds from 5Dimes

College Football Betting Favorite: Stanford -3

Total: 54

Stanford had a very fine season and has the opportunity to win 10 games again this season, but it still feels like the year was a bit of a disappointment for the boys from Palo Alto. Stanford was 9-3 against the number and racked up 46 points per game over the last three games, all big straight up wins. The Cardinal actually rattled off five straight wins to end the regular season, but only covered in three of those contests. North Carolina limped into its bowl game after losing to North Carolina State. That win allowed the Wolfpack to become bowl eligible and they trounced Vanderbilt in their bowl game. The Tar Heels finished up the regular season 8-4 and 5-7 against the spread, but their performance included wins over Florida State and Miami.

Stanford Cardinal:

All you need to know about this game is that the line barely moved with Christian McCaffrey’s announcement. Oddsmakers basically shrugged off McCaffrey’s absence, even though he touched the ball 290 times during the regular season and accounted for over 1,900 offensive yards. Keller Chryst was a bit of a savior down the stretch for Stanford with a 7/0 TD/INT ratio in the lopsided wins over Oregon, Cal, and Rice. Chryst may have a little bit more on his plate with McCaffrey out of the lineup. It is a chance for sophomore Bryce Love to shine. The Wake Forest native was offered by North Carolina, but decided to head west as a four-star recruit. He averaged 7.4 yards per carry this season, so the running game should be in good hands. The biggest advantage for Stanford here is that North Carolina can’t match up physically and there’s really no way to simulate that strength and power running game in practice.

Defensively, the Cardinal progressed a little bit, but it was nothing to get overly excited about. Stanford allowed 20.2 points per game and over four yards per carry for the second straight season, which is a far cry from the 16.4 points and 3.1 yards per carry during the 2014 campaign. After allowing 44 to Washington and 42 to Washington State, the Cardinal allowed just 17 points per game over the final seven games. This will be a good test for Stanford’s defense against a spread, up-tempo Tar Heels bunch, but it’s not like it will be a foreign scheme to Stanford. Many of the Pac-12 teams like to play with tempo and spread out the opposition. That could be an advantage to the Cardinal in this type of game.

North Carolina Tar Heels:

Junior Mitch Trubisky will have a decision to make after the season. It is a pretty weak quarterback class and the Mentor, Ohio native has had the chance to shine while taking over for Marquise Williams. Trubisky has completed nearly 69 percent of his passes with a 28/4 TD/INT ratio in Larry Fedora’s offense. A big showing here could really elevate his draft stock and could cause him to bypass his senior season. He’ll have to do it without a key cog on offense, as running back Elijah Hood and his 858 yards will be a spectator in this one. TJ Logan, the change-of-pace back and also the better receiver, will take the starting role. Ryan Switzer has caught 91 balls for over 1,000 yards and he’ll be the focal point for this UNC aerial attack.

North Carolina’s defense has really played well over the last two years under Gene Chizik. After allowing 39 points per game in 2014, the Tar Heels have held opponents around 24 points each of the last two seasons. North Carolina’s defense really had some issues early on in the season by allowing at least 23 points per game over the first six games. They only allowed more than that twice over the final six games. Stopping the run is going to be a concern. UNC allowed 232 yards per game on the ground this year. To make matters worse, North Carolina’s up-tempo offense is prone to some three-and-outs or quick-strike drives, so Stanford’s ball control offense matches up very well. The UNC defense averaged nearly 36 minutes per game on the field.

Free College Football Pick: Stanford Cardinal -3

This is a game that Stanford should dominate at the line of scrimmage and that should be the difference in the contest. The Cardinal are so much more physical than just about every team that UNC played this season and also last season. It’s hard to account for that in practice. North Carolina could score some points here, but sustaining time of possession is not a strong suit and that means Stanford should wear the Tar Heels down on defense and come away with the cover.

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