2008 Sun Bowl Preview
by Nicholas Tolomeo - 12/19/2008
No. 21 Pittsburgh (9-3) vs No. 25 Oregon State (8-4)
Conference Matchup: Big East vs Pac-10
Date: Dec. 31
Location: Sun Bowl Stadium, El Paso, Texas
Spread: Oregon State -2.5, Over 53
Opening Line: Oregon State -3.5, Over 56
A game that has traditionally been the redheaded stepchild when compared to the Rose Bowl, the Sun Bowl had normally invited the Rose Bowl's leftovers by picking the runner ups from the Big Ten and the Pac-10 to play on New Year's Eve. The last two years, however, a team from the Big 12 and Big East has replaced the Big Ten representative. This year another team from the Big East, Pitt, makes the trip to El Paso to face the Pac-10 runner up, Oregon State.
Oregon State dropped down to 2.5-point favorites after seeing the line open at over a field goal. The total continues to drop, getting as low as 53 after starting as high as 56.
Close, But No Conference Championship
Pitt has had a little more time to get over its close call with a potential BCS game but Oregon State is still probably able to smell the roses from how close it came to reaching the Rose Bowl. A late November blowout loss as home favorites in the regular season finale to hated rival Oregon cost the Beavers a trip to Pasadena. Pitt, on the other hand, lost its chance for an Orange Bowl bid three games ago with a loss on the road as an underdog. Since the loss to Cincinnati, the eventual Big East champion, Pitt won back-to-back games to close out the season.
First Time Four Everything
Four years into the Dave Wannstedt era and finally Pitt finds itself in a bowl game. After a four-year stretch of bowl games under former coach Walt Harris, the Panthers had been 0-3 in continuing their season beyond early December, but a nine-win season has the Panthers going bowling for the first time since the 2004 Fiesta Bowl.
West Coast Bowl Success
Oregon State could get used to playing in bowl games out west. The Beavers have won four consecutive bowl games including the 2006 Sun Bowl and the Emerald Bowl last season that was played in San Francisco. Before that Oregon State won bowl games in Phoenix and Las Vegas. The last time Oregon State lost a bowl game was in 2002 to a Pitt team that featured Larry Fitzgerald.
Against the Spread
The Beavers have had considerable success against the number, posting an 8-3 record including a 4-1 ATS record at home. Pitt has broken even at 6-6 ATS this season but has rewarded its backers when on the road, going 4-2 ATS away from Pittsburgh.
Pitt is 1-4 ATS in its last four bowl games while the Beavers have covered five of the last six spreads in their bowl games.
The Big East and Pac-10 have not faced each other this season. Overall ATS the Big East has gone 41-49 while the Pac-10 is right around .500 with a 59-58 ATS mark. Excluding the underachieving Washington and Washington State teams the Pac-10 is 54-39 ATS. Last season in the Sun Bowl, Oregon blew past Big East representative South Florida, 56-21.
The Sun Bowl has been a perfect fit for the West Texas town of El Paso. Shootouts have been just about as consistent as the New Year's Eve date the game gets. Six of the past seven Sun Bowls have played over the total. The game has averaged just over 80 points per game in the last three Sun Bowls. The Pac-10 has won four consecutive Sun Bowl's including Oregon State's 39-38 win over Missouri two years ago.
Remind You of Anyone?
Jacquizz Rodgers emerged on the scene this year as one of the premier freshmen players in the country. He missed the devastating end of the regular season loss to Oregon with an injury but before that Rodgers racked up 1,253 yards rushing with an average rush of 4.8 yards.
It's very similar to the kind of year that second-year Pitt running back LeSean McCoy had as a freshman last year. McCoy set a Big East Freshman record last season with 1,328 total rushing yards. He has no let down this year, surpassing that total with a 1,403 yard season and 21 touchdowns.
Rodgers health has been a question, however, after a shoulder injury he sustained in a game against Arizona. He is listed as doubtful on the injury report but many expect him to play in the Sun Bowl. This game will surely be hyped as a matchup of two of the premier young running backs in the country.
Both teams have come a long way since the first week of the season. Both teams suffered upsets that now seem almost unthinkable. Pitt lost at home to Bowling Green in the first week of the season, 27-17. The Panthers were two touchdown favorites. Oregon State lost as field goal favorites at Stanford, 36-28, to open its season.
Pitt has one more win but Oregon State has played a daunting schedule that featured three teams that made a BCS bowl game. After a 45-14 loss at Penn State earlier in the year, Oregon State pulled off the biggest upset of the football season with a 27-21 win over USC as 24-point underdogs. USC and Penn State will meet in the Rose Bowl. The week after the USC upset the Beavers lost a close game, 31-28, at Sugar Bowl-bound Utah, as 12-point underdogs.