On paper, this year’s Valero Alamo Bowl is a pretty good matchup of contrasting styles. Both programs come from a background of considerable success, though in the last few years neither has been able to make the last big jump to the College Football Playoff. Both teams also come into this game off of losses in their respective conference championship game.
Stanford lost a nip-and-tuck battle with USC, 31-28, in the Pac-12 title game in Santa Clara. It was the second time the Cardinal-Trojans had hooked up. Back in the second week of the season Stanford went down to Los Angeles and lost to the Men of Troy 42-24. TCU also lost a pair of games to a single opponent. Oklahoma defeated the Horned Frogs 41-17 decision in the Big 12 Championship Game after also beating them 38-20 in Norman in early November. So both teams are looking to end the season on a high note here in the Alamo City.
Valero Alamo Bowl: Stanford vs. TCU
Kickoff: Thursday, Dec. 28 at 9 p.m. ET
Where: Alamodome (San Antonio)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: TCU -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Quarterback play
This is the most intriguing part of this matchup, K.J. Costello vs. Kenny Hill (above, right), mostly because we have no idea what will transpire. Both QBs have had their moments of inconsistency and frustration, while also having their moments of brilliance. Neither defensive secondary is one you want to bring home and introduce to your parents as the teams rank No. 77 (Stanford) and No. 52 (TCU) in passing efficiency defense. But at the same time, both defenses do a good job of pressuring quarterbacks as the Cardinal have recorded 32 sacks and the Horned Frogs have 41, the fourth most in the FBS. That’s why each QB’s play, and particularly their sense of “cool” in the pocket will be so vital. Due to the ominous sack-master Mat Boesen (11.5 sacks) haunting Mr. Costello, give the slight advantage to the Frogs on this one.
2. No glove, no Love.
One of the areas that separates these two programs is in run defense. TCU, notoriously stingy in giving up yards on the ground, is ranked fourth in the country at just 99 rushing yards per game allowed. Stanford’s D gives up nearly 180 yards. Obviously, Stanford wants to get Bryce Love cranked up and establishing the running game early since setting up the passing game with the run is always the Cardinal M.O. The Heisman runner-up enters the game with 1,973 yards, good for second in the country, and a ridiculous 8.3 yards per carry. So the TCU defense must get their gloves on the Cardinal running back and keep him from breaking 50-plus yard runs, as he’s done in 10 of his 12 games he’s played. The Frogs’ front seven is stout, led by LB Travin Howard and the previously mentioned Boesen. And if they can hold the Cardinal phenom in check, advantage Frogs.
3. Simply, who wants to be there more?
You know how bowl games are. They are freakish exhibitions that are played nearly a full month after the regular season is done. After a long, arduous 12- or 13-game season, half the time players aren’t even sure they want to play another game after that long of a layoff. So be sure to keep an eye on the body language and the energy each team is possessing. Stanford head coach David Shaw always takes such a business-like, non-emotional attitude to each game, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cardinal keep playing that way. Remember when head coach Gary Patterson was stalking the TCU sideline in the first quarter vs. Baylor yelling “Wake up! Wake up!” to his team? Let’s hope the Purple Gang doesn’t need that kind of prodding here, especially coming off getting skunked in the Big 12 title game.
I know the first two of the “Three Things to Watch” were inching toward TCU, but there is just something about the calm and cool demeanor that envelopes the Cardinal as they approach big games. That’s the mindset you want when playing in a pre-New Year’s Day bowl game.
For TCU’s Kenny Hill, erstwhile known as “Kenny Trill” back in the days when he was at Texas A&M and trying to fill the shoes of Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, this is his last game as a collegian in a career that got off to a record-setting start, throwing for a school-record 511 yards in his first game. Hill ends his college career a little more quietly than he began, but he still gives the Frogs a chance to end the season with a big-time win in a (semi) high-profile bowl game.
But K.J. Costello and Co. have proven that they can be effective through the air as he has moved the offense a little bit better than Keller Chryst did before his injury. Still, if Bryce Love can’t break through in the ground game, the Cardinal will find the going tough. But something tells me he will.
Prediction: Stanford 31, TCU 24
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.