The Sun Bowl – Oklahoma Sooners (7-5, 5-6-1 ATS) vs. Stanford Cardinal (8-4, 7-5 ATS), Sun Bowl Stadium, El Paso, Thursday, Dec. 31, 2 PM Eastern, CBS
By Z-Man of Predictem.com
Point Spread: Sooners -7 1/2/Cardinal +7 1/2
Over/Under: 55 1/2
The Oklahoma Sooners entered this season as popular choices to play for the national championship. Instead, after an injury-plagued 7-5 campaign, OU will take on the upstart 8-4 Stanford Cardinal in the Sun Bowl on New Year’s Eve day.
Most online sportsbooks opened this game with Oklahoma favored by 9 or 10 points, with an over/under of between 56 and 57. But early action on Stanford has pushed the line down to 7 at most outlets, and the total has been bet down to 55 .
The Sooners are also giving about -320 on most moneylines, with the Cardinal getting upwards of +265 as the underdogs.
With 17 starters back from a 5-7 team of last season, and in its third season under Coach Harbaugh, Stanford was fully expected to make a run at its first bowl berth in almost a decade. And they’ve done just that. The Cardinal started 4-1, then lost a couple of games in a row at Oregon State and at Arizona. But they then won three straight, including back-to-backers over Oregon and USC, piling up 106 points in those two games together. Stanford then suffered a letdown, though, and lost the Big Game to Cal, but ended the season with a 45-38 win over Notre Dame Nov. 28.
So the Cardinal ended up in a three-way tie for second place in the PAC 10, two games behind first-place Oregon, and will play in their first bowl since losing the 2001 Seattle Bowl to Georgia Tech.
On the strength of Heisman runner-up Toby Gerhart’s legs and drive, Stanford ranked 11th in FBS in rushing, averaging 224 YPG on the ground.
With 14 starters back from a national runner-up campaign of last year, Oklahoma began the season ranked third in the two major polls. But disaster struck in the season opener, when Heisman-winning quarterback Sam Bradford got drilled into the ground in a 14-13 loss vs. BYU, and was lost for the season. And injuries continued to devastate the offense as the season progressed. The Sooners later lost by a point to Miami, by three points to Texas, and by a touchdown at Nebraska. They did manage, though, to end their regular-season on a high note, shutting out rival OK State 27-0 in the annual Bedlam game.
So OU, disappointingly, finished tied for third in the Big 12 South at 5-3.
Last season, Oklahoma’s explosive offensive attack averaged 548 YPG and 51 PPG; this season, the Sooners averaged 419 YPG and 31 PPG.
Nonetheless, Oklahoma is playing in a bowl game for the 11th straight season. But they’ve lost their last three bowls in a row. Last year, the Sooners lost to Florida in the BCS championship game 24-14.
Defensively, Oklahoma ranked seventh in FBS this season both overall, allowing 274 YPG, and vs. the run, at 89 YPG.
Stanford outgained opponents on average this season by a 441-397 YPG margin.
Playing in place of the injured Bradford, freshman Landry Jones completed 58% of his passes this season for nearly 2,900 yards, with 23 TD passes but 13 interceptions.
The Stanford QB situation is a bit up in the air. Freshman Andrew Luck had surgery on his throwing finger earlier this month, and his availability for Dec. 31 is uncertain. If Luck can’t go, Tavita Pritchard, who engineered that shocking win at USC a couple of years ago, and who started all 12 games last season, would take over.
The over/unders went 7-5 in Cardinal games this season, which averaged a healthy 62 points. Meanwhile, as the Sooners allowed just 13.5 PPG, and their games averaged about 45 points, the totals went 2-10 in Oklahoma games.
The Sagarin PREDICTOR ratings at USAToday.com rate the Sooners at 89.1, the Cardinal at 83.1. So Oklahoma is -6 over Stanford on the Sagarin line.
These two teams last met 25 years ago.
Sagarin also ranks the PAC 10 as the second-best conference in FBS, with an average team rating of 78.2, while the Big 12 ranks fifth, with an average team rating of 75.1.
Z-Man’s Pick: I like Oklahoma to cover the spread.