Stanford is set to take on the North Carolina Tar Heels in the Hyundai Sun Bowl, so here are some storylines and predictions for the Cardinal ahead of the game.
David Shaw certainly didn’t have the easiest time leading his team to a 9-3 record. Stanford was riddled with injuries to a lot of key players this season, but the Cardinal still found a way to make it work.
After losing three of four games in between September and October, Stanford won its last five games to close out the regular season on a high note.
With that finish, a spot in the Hyundai Sun Bowl was secured, as the Cardinal will take on North Carolina at 2 p.m. ET on Dec. 30. Here are some storylines to keep in mind as we look ahead to the game.
1. Missing McCaffrey
Clearly, this is the biggest storyline of this game between the Cardinal and Tar Heels. It’s currently one of the biggest storylines in all of college football. But missing Christian McCaffrey from the offense will definitely hurt Stanford. Things didn’t go so well for the Cardinal during the middle of the season when McCaffrey was hurt. Let’s see David Shaw’s team performs offensively without its best player.
2. McCaffrey’s NFL Draft Stock
Look, if you’re all bent out of shape about McCaffrey skipping the bowl game to prepare for the NFL Draft, get over it. It’s the way things are. McCaffrey is going to be a late first-round pick, and his choice to skip the Sun Bowl won’t affect that. On all accounts based on his time at Stanford, he’s been a great teammate. Football is a business first, and McCaffrey, very wisely, is choosing not to play in an exhibition game. If this were a College Football Playoff game, he’d most likely play. But it isn’t, and he isn’t.
3. Solomon Thomas’ NFL Draft Stock
He’s one of the nastiest defenders in college football. And, in a draft filled with elite defensive players like Myles Garrett and Jonathan Allen, Solomon Thomas might fall into the hands of a playoff team — assuming he declares for the 2017 NFL Draft. Keep a close eye on him against North Carolina. If he gets to Mitch Trubisky, who’s projected as a top-10 pick, then we’ll be hearing about it and seeing highlights of this game come April when the NFL Draft arrives.
4. Bowl Streak
Stanford has played in a bowl game every season since 2009 and has won its last two. In 2015, the Cardinal took down Iowa in the Rose Bowl, 45-16. The year before, it beat Maryland in the Foster Farms Bowl, 45-21. It would be the first time Stanford has won three bowl games in a row since it won four bowls in a row in between 1970 and 1978. The Cardinal won back-to-back Rose Bowls (1970-71) and then took the Sun Bowl in 1977 before winning the Bluebonnet Bowl in 1978.
5. David Shaw’s Time Coming To An End?
Shaw took what Jim Harbaugh had going and sustained that level of elite success. But now may be the time for him to cash in on an NFL job just like Harbaugh did. Stanford is losing McCaffrey and likely losing Thomas as well. Sure, the Cardinal has some talented recruits coming in, including 5-star quarterback Davis Mills, but there are a few NFL jobs opening up this offseason. Los Angeles and Jacksonville are already looking for new coaches, and San Diego will possibly be joining the hunt soon, too. Shaw will likely take a few interviews to try his hand at the pros.