The line in this game is correct as my math model favors Stanford by three points after taking into account the absence of running backs Christian McCaffrey (Stanford) and Elijah Hood (North Carolina).
However, I still like North Carolina enough to make the Tar Heels my Free Sports Pick for Friday, December 30. McCaffrey has decided to bail on his teammates by skipping the Hyundai Sun Bowl to prepare for the NFL combine, a decision predicated upon self interests and financial gain.
Hood is out with an undisclosed medical issue but has stated that he’ll be returning to Chapel Hill next year. The absence of McCaffrey is obviously significant in that he has racked up 6.191 all-purpose yards since 2015, the most by any player over a two-year stretch in FBS history.
However, McCaffrey battled injuries all season and garnered just 570 yards in Stanford’s first seven games before compiling 991 rushing yards in his final five games of the regular season, including posting a school record 284 rushing yards versus California.
Stanford’s coaching staff is really excited about the future of running back Bryce Love, who averaged an impressive 7.4 yards per rush attempt this season (McCaffrey averaged 6.4 yards per rush attempt).
In Stanford’s final five games, its ground attack averaged 337 rushing yards at 7.7 yards per rush attempt against teams that would combine to allow just 6.1 yards per rush play to a mediocre group of running backs.
The Cardinal should have success moving the chains on the ground this season against a decent North Carolina run defense that is 0.1 yards per play better than average (4.5 yards per rush attempt to teams that would combine to average 4.6 yards per rush attempt).
The issue facing Stanford is the coaching staff’s inexplicable decision to replace starting quarterback Ryan Burns with Keller Chryst. Burns rated 0.4 yards per pass play better than average during his starts, whereas Chryst has been 1.1 yards per pass attempt worse than average as a starter. Chryst will once again struggle against a solid North Carolina secondary that is 0.2 yards per pass attempt better than average in 2016.
Meanwhile, North Carolina enters postseason play with a potent offense that is averaging 33.1 points and 442 total yards per game at 6.8 yards per play against teams that would combine to allow just 6.0 yards per play to a mediocre offense. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky has been prolific through the air, throwing for 294 yards per game (23rd in country) with an incredible 28-4 ratio.
Trubisky’s breakout campaign has resulted in having his name mentioned as a potential First Round pick in the NFL Draft. he absence of Hood definitely hurts, but the Tar Heels have been impressed with TJ Logan, who has rushed for 578 yards at 5.7 yards per carry this season. Hood had rushed for 858 yards at 5.9 yards per carry before getting injured.
From a technical standpoint, North Carolina is 4-1 ATS in its last five games following a loss, 4-1 ATS in its last five games versus teams with a winning record and 3-0-1 ATS as an underdog versus Pac-12 Conference opponents. ACC bowl underdogs off an upset loss are a perfect 6-0 ATS against foes off consecutive wins.
Finally, college bowl underdogs of at least three points off an upset loss in their season finale are 28-5-1 ATS versus an opponent off back-to-back wins, with the last victory coming by 6+ points.
Take North Carolina plus the points as Oskeim Sports’ Free Sports Pick for Friday, December 30.
Oskeim Sports’ Free Sports Pick: North Carolina (+3)