9:00 PM EST, ESPN – Line: TCU -3, Over/Under: 49
As we get closer to the College Football Playoff, the matchups are beginning to become even more intriguing with ranked opponents duking it out on (mostly) neutral fields, which brings us to tonight’s Alamo Bowl featuring the Thirteenth-Ranked Stanford Cardinal and the Fifteenth-Ranked Texas Christian Horned Frogs at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. Overcoming a disappointing 1-2 start to the campaign, Stanford (9-4, 7-3 in Pac-12) rounded into shape as they typically do, and as a result have placed themselves on the verge of winning their tenth game of the season for the seventh time in the last eight years. Consistency is the name of the game for the Cardinal, who under the steady hand of David Shaw have progressed to seven consecutive Bowls, winning each of their last three. Of course, 2017 was a tale of two seasons for this Program, whom caught fire over the final half of the term, and very nearly upended Southern California in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Transition would probably have been the word best associated with this particular Stanford team, with a number of new faces emerging to lift them out of the early season doldrums. With Heisman Finalist Christian McCaffrey ascending to the NFL, Shaw had the unenviable task of replacing a school legend, though he admittedly didn’t have too look far, for Bryce Love (237 CAR, 1,973 YDS, 17 TD) became a legend in his own right, being selected as a finalist for that prestigious award a year after his mentor. The Junior has been amazing in his first real opportunity as the team’s featured rusher, leading the conference in both Rushing Yards (1,973) and Yards per Carry (7.9), en route to claiming both the Doak Walker Award (given to the nation’s top Rusher) and the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year Award. This was made all the more impressive given the fact that he played through the majority of the second half of the term with a nagging high ankle sprain; in spite of oftentimes playing in considerable pain, Love was explosive nonetheless, ripping a myriad of huge runs, including at least one 50-Yard scamper in each of the twelve games he appeared in. Another huge change happened a bit later, but was no less significant, as Shaw benched an ineffective Keller Chryst (53.8%, 937 YDS, 6.6 Y/A, 8 TD, 4 INT) in favor of his young understudy KJ Costello (59.8%, 1,386 YDS, 7.5 Y/A, 11 TD, 2 INT), ultimately providing the Cardinal with a wellspring of energy at the game’s most important position, Quarterback. The Sophomore immediately won over his team with his energy and leadership, while impressing the Coaching Staff with his ability to stretch the field, which was a real issue with Chryst under Center. Costello has frequently made good use of the deep ball to Stanford’s enormous Receivers, led by JJ Arcega-Whiteside (43 REC, 720 YDS, 6 TD) and Tight End Kaden Smith (23 REC, 414 YDS, 5 TD), who have produced a number of highlight-worthy jump balls, with the duo measuring in at 6-3, 222 lbs and 6-5, 240 lbs respectively. Throw the 6-2, 205 lb. Trenton Irwin (40 REC, 444 YDS, 2 TD) into the mix and you have a Receiving Corps that can be a bonafide nightmare to matchup with, particularly in the Red Zone. Defensively, the Cardinal have oftentimes been shredded for a plethora of yardage, but have typically stiffened up in the Red Zone, yielding a solid 21.5 Points per Game (30th Overall) despite permitting nearly 400 Total Yards (399.2). Shaw’s charges have relinquished 400 Yards or more on six occasions this year, including a cumulative 1,151 Yards in two meetings with USC, but have managed to compensate for all those Yards by forcing Twenty-Five Turnovers, including at least two in eight games. Couple that with their usual efficiency on the opposite side of the ball, and much of Stanford’s success can be attributed to a very healthy Plus-15 Turnover Differential. Justin Reid (92 TKL, 6.5 TFL, 1.0 SK, 5 INT, 4 PD, 1 FR) has been the proverbial Johnny On the Spot for this unit, with the Junior Safety registering a team-best Six Takeaways, including Five Interceptions, while Senior Defensive Lineman Harrison Phillips (89 TKL, 14.5 TFL, 7.5 SK, 2 FF, 2 FR) lead the Cardinal with 14.5 Tackles for Loss and 7.5 Sacks.
Meanwhile, 2017 has been a season of redemption of sorts for Texas Christian (10-3, 7-2 in Big XII), who after a disappointing 6-7 campaign, rebounded as well as anyone could have predicted en route to an appearance in the Big XII Championship Game. Despite getting blown out by Playoff-Bound Oklahoma (41-17) in that contest, Gary Patterson’s charges nonetheless earned their third 10-Win Season in four years, an impressive feat for a program that initially struggled when they joined the conference after a decade of success in the Mountain West. Aside from their two defeats to the Sooners, the Horned Frogs remained on the fringes of the Playoff discussion for much the year, thanks in large part to an athletic, aggressive Defense, and greatly improved play from their Quarterback, Kenny Hill (67.2%, 2,838 YDS, 7.9 Y/A, 21 TD, 6 INT). During Patterson’s incredibly successful 18-Year Tenure in Fort Worth (159-57, .736) he’s generally had very good Defenses, with this current incarnation being no different, allowing just 17.6 Points per Game (11th Overall) on 328.5 Total Yards, including 228.7 Yards versus the Pass, and a superb 99.8 Yards against the Run. This is where they’ve been particularly staunch, with opponents only gaining a mere 2.9 Yards per Carry, making their matchup with the likes of Bryce Love so intriguing. Pressure is this unit’s calling card, with a staggering Forty-One Sacks to their credit (4th Overall), with Edge-Rushers Mat Boesen (57 TKL, 14.5 TFL, 11.5 SK, 3 FF) and Ben Banogu (51 TKL, 15.5 TFL, 8.5, 3 FF) leading the charge with a cumulative 30.0 Tackles for Loss, 20.0 Sacks, and Six Forced Fumbles. On the opposite side of the ball, TCU has rebounded from the train-wreck that they were in 2016, a campaign marred by sloppy play, including Twenty Turnovers, leading to a dismal Minus-4 Turnover Differential. At the center of the chaos was the aforementioned Hill, who was a part of the mass exodus of Quarterbacks who transferred away from Texas A&M following the 2015 season, only to disappoint mightily after sitting out an entire year due to NCAA Transfer Protocols. Whether it was the Offseason Hype, a lingering injury, or simply a difficult time acclimating to new surroundings, Hill struggled mightily in his first foray with the Horned Frogs, completing 61.1% of his Attempts for 3,208 Yards on 7.3 Yards per Attempt, with Seventeen Touchdowns in comparison to Thirteen Interceptions, contributing to his team’s turnover issues in a major way. However, the Senior from West Lake, Texas has found his redemption in 2017, proving to be far more efficient with Twenty-One Touchdowns opposed to just Six Interceptions, while completing nearly 70.0% of his Passes. He’s exhibited great maturity in the Pocket, choosing to sit tight and progress through his reads instead of recklessly tucking the ball and escaping his protection when his first read is covered. Of course, even though he’s been much more patient in this regard, the kid remains lethal with his feet, which is something that hasn’t changed no matter the jersey he wears; Hill, who once backed up Johnny Manziel for the Aggies, rushed for 266 Yards and Four more Scores on ninety-One Carries, a far departure from the 609 Rushing Yards and Ten Touchdowns he totaled in the previous term. With that said, it’s been a case of less being more for this Offense, which has been extremely productive averaging 33.2 Points (34th Overall) on a balanced 414.0 Total Yards, including 237.7 Yards through the air, and another 176.3 on the ground. Patterson has gone with a committee-like approach in the Backfield, with four different players accounting for at least 200 Rushing Yards, including Hill, with the likes of Darius Anderson (128 CAR, 768 YDS, 8 TD), Kyle Hicks (133 CAR, 597 YDS, 4 TD), and Sewo Olonilua (59 CAR, 272 YDS, 7 TD) shouldering the load for the Ground Game. Unfortunately, Anderson is unlikely to play much (if at all) in tonight’s contest after suffering an injury to his right foot in the Big XII Title Game against Oklahoma, leaving in all likelihood Hicks to pick up the slack. the Senior Tailback would in all likelihood relish the opportunity to end his collegiate career as the team’s Starter after leading Texas Christian with 1,042 Yards and a Dozen Touchdowns in 2016 before giving way to the more explosive Anderson this year.