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Football looks to finish season on high note versus Tar Heels
With Christian McCaffrey sitting out to prepare for the NFL Draft, sophomore running back Bryce Love will get the start for the Cardinal in Friday's bowl game. (RAHIM ULLAH/The Stanford Daily)

Football looks to finish season on high note versus Tar Heels

No. 18 Stanford football (9-3, 6-3 Pac-12) will look to cap off the 2016 season with a victory in the Hyundai Sun Bowl against the North Carolina Tar Heels (8-4, 5-3 ACC) Friday at Sun Bowl Stadium in El Paso, Texas.

The game will mark Stanford’s eighth-consecutive bowl appearance, the longest active streak in the Pac-12 that began when the Cardinal squared off against the Oklahoma Sooners in the Sun Bowl in 2009.

A win for Stanford would give the team its sixth 10-win season in the last seven years and give head coach David Shaw his fourth bowl win, which would put him past Bill Walsh for most in school history.

The Cardinal will have to do so without star junior running back Christian McCaffrey, who has declared for the 2017 NFL Draft and has opted not to participate in the Sun Bowl since Stanford’s last game against Rice.

Coaches, players and fans will all get a better preview of next year’s Cardinal squad as Stanford will move on with running back Bryce Love. The speedy sophomore will look to lead the Cardinal rushing attack in the same manner he did the last time Stanford was without McCaffrey against Notre Dame in October, a game in which he racked up 130 rushing yards and scored the game-winning touchdown.

“He’s an every down back,” Shaw said. “He’s a physical, explosive runner. He’s not a small back by any stretch of the imagination. He runs through tackles and he’s tough. For a guy who’s under six foot, he can push the pile and drive his legs.”

Love accumulated 664 yards on the ground over the course of the regular season and led the Cardinal with 7.4 yards per carry.

“He’s played in a lot of football games,” Shaw said. “He knows what his capability is.”

North Carolina will also have to compete without its leading rusher Friday, as junior running back Elijah Hood will not be participating for medical reasons.

But luckily for the Tar Heels, college football fans and NFL scouts, North Carolina’s real offensive star will be on the field Friday, as junior quarterback Mitch Trubisky will be putting on a Tar Heel uniform for what might be the last time.

Trubisky is widely considered the No. 1 quarterback prospect in college football despite this season being his first as a starter for the Tar Heels. He passed for 3,468 yards in the regular season along with 28 touchdowns to just four interceptions.

“You can see him going in the first round,” said Cardinal defensive coordinator Lance Anderson. “You watch him and see that he’s improved as the year has gone on. You see him make better decisions. He has good footwork, he can keep the ball in the zone read, he’s accurate, and he can make all the throws. He’s got a lot of tools.”

Trubisky has not announced if he will enter the 2017 NFL Draft yet, but is expected to soon after the Sun Bowl, as the deadline for early-entry players to enter is Jan. 16.

Defensively, North Carolina has proven to be able to stop the pass, as it ranks 14th nationally in pass defense. The Tar Heels struggle to stop the run, however, and give up 235.5 rushing yards a game on average, which ranks 113th nationally.

The Tar Heel defense is led by junior defensive tackle Nazair Jones, who has recorded 62 tackles—including 7.5 for loss—this season and has declared for the 2017 NFL Draft.

Stanford will search for its sixth consecutive win, while the Tar Heels will ultimately look to end their season with a win after losing two of their last three games to rivals Duke and North Carolina State.

North Carolina built its resume this season with wins against Florida State, Miami and Pittsburgh, which somewhat overshadowed tough losses to Georgia, Virginia Tech—a 34-3 rout—and the Tar Heels’ aforementioned rivals en route to receiving an invitation to El Paso.

The Tar Heels may have a chip on their shoulders this bowl season, as they search for their first bowl win since 2013 after losing to Rutgers and Baylor in the Quick Lane Bowl and Russell Athletic Bowl, respectively.

“That’s been one of our goals, to win our last game and to beat a big name like Stanford, that’s going to be a quality win,” Trubisky said. “So we’re preparing as hard as we possibly can. We’re doing this for each other and for the program as well. This is a big game for us. We need to get this win.”

Stanford and North Carolina will kick off at Sun Bowl Stadium at 11 a.m. Pacific Time. The game will be televised nationally on CBS.

 

Contact Samuel Curry at currys ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Samuel Curry

Sam Curry '20 is a sophomore desk editor for The Daily. Most of the time, people can find him cheering for all of the teams they probably hate, like the New England Patriots and the New York Yankees. Sam is a proud native of Big Timber, Montana, where he enjoys the great outdoors with his family and friends.