The Cardinal will be making their second Sun Bowl appearance in three years when they take on Athletic Coast Conference runner-up Pittsburgh in the 85th Hyundai Sun Bowl on New Year’s Eve at Sun Bowl Stadium.
This year’s Sun Bowl appearance will also be Stanford’s third-consecutive bowl game in the state of Texas. The Cardinal played in last year’s Valero Alamo Bowl in San Antonio.
“It’s a lot of excitement,” Stanford head coach David Shaw, who is in his eighth-year, said. “It’s one of the most fun periods that we had the last few years. The people at the (Sun) bowl are unbelievable.”
The Cardinal began the season ranked No. 13 in the AP rankings and immediately proved their worth starting 4-0. That quick start to the season included a 17-3 win against Southern California and a 38-31 thrilling overtime victory at Oregon, both were ranked in the top 25 when they fell to Stanford.
In Week five, Stanford had its biggest test of the season, traveling to South Bend, Indiana to face No. 3 Norte Dame, who will be playing in the College Football Playoff. The Cardinal were within one possession for most of the game until the Irish ultimately pulled away to win 38-17.
After a loss to Utah, which played in the Pac-12 title game, the Cardinal rebounded with a 20-13 win at Arizona State. That win was followed by back-to-back tough losses against the Pac-12’s toughest opponents.
Stanford hosted Washington State, which was ranked No. 14 that week in the College Football Playoff rankings. After a back-and-forth affair, the Cougars walked out of Stanford Stadium with 41-38 victory and propelling them to the top 10 for the next few weeks.
The following week, Stanford went on the road to take on eventual Pac-12 champion Washington and came close to upending the Huskies but lost, 27-23.
Stanford wrapped up its regular season campaign by defeating rival California on the road, 23-13. The win clinched Stanford’s 10th-straight eight-win season.
“The biggest thing for us after this difficult season that we have is getting everyone healthy,” Shaw said. “So, we give our guys some time off, jump into school, stay in the training room and get away from football for a little bit.”
A lot of Stanford’s success came through its attention to detail on both sides of the ball. Offensively, the Cardinal finished in fifth in scoring offense and defense in the Pac-12.
Stanford was led by junior quarterback K.J. Costello, who finished with 3,435 passing yards, which was second best in the conference.
The defensive side was just as effective for the Cardinal, especially the team’s front seven. Stanford’s defense tallied a remarkable 33 sacks this season, third best in the Pac-12.
The Cardinal secondary was among the best in the country and it was led by stand-out defensive back Paulson Adebo. The sophomore led the conference with four interceptions and earned first team all-conference honors and was named a second-team All-American by the Football Writers Association.
“There’s always one big factor for me,” Shaw said. “And that’s being resilient. I think this is the most injuries we’ve had in one season. But we always bounce back. The next guy goes in and works extremely hard.”
It will be an exciting return to the Sun City for Stanford, who left El Paso in 2016 with a 25-23 win against North Carolina in the 83rd Hyundai Sun Bowl.
Tickets for this year’s Hyundai Sun Bowl can be purchased by calling 915-533-4416 or by visiting ticketmaster.com. Kick-off is at noon (MT).