((HT: BASTA/Ben Leonard))
Stanford was officially given a berth in the Foster Farms Bowl on Sunday, which has previously been dubbed the Emerald Bowl, the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, and the Fight Hunger Bowl. It was held at AT&T Park for all of its previous existence, and now is being moved to Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. The bowl will remain at the venue for at least the next six years, after the Big Ten and Pac-12 Conferences signed a pact for the aforementioned time. The game will pit the Cardinal and the Maryland Terrapins on December 30th, a foe that Stanford has never played.
Both teams come into the bowl game with identical 7-5 records, although they can not be treated as equal. Maryland, for some reason, is geographically “close enough” to fellow Big Ten schools to become affiliated with the inferior conference. Some of their marquee victories include Syracuse, Penn State, and Iowa, not exactly world-beaters. Stanford would be the clear favorite in this matchup, independent from the fact that the bowl amounts to a home game.
The Cardinal will come into the game with tremendous confidence, after blowing out Cal and #9 UCLA in consecutive weeks. They also are much more physically talented than their record indicates, as 2014 was a season of gross underachievement for a team with one of the best defenses in the country. Maryland is particularly weak running the ball, as they are 106th in the nation in rushing yards per game. They are comparatively not as terrible through the air, but are still a modest 74th in the country in passing yards per game. Stanford should be able to bottle up the Terp’s poor rushing, and key in on shifty quarterback C.J. Brown. Brown is somewhat of a dual-threat quarterback, who has been mediocre through the air, but excels at running the ball and improvising. He is a sixth-year senior, stemming from a medical redshirt that he obtained after tearing his ACL in 2012, and brings experience to the table for the Terps. Despite Brown’s experience, the Cardinal defense will likely be too much for an underwhelming Maryland offense.
Stanford’s offense also holds a major advantage over Maryland’s defense. Maryland has been dreadful against the run, allowing over two hundred yards on the ground per game. Their secondary has been similarly mediocre, 80th in the nation in allowing 236.5 yards per game through the air. Quarterback Kevin Hogan and Stanford’s offense finally found its stride last Saturday against UCLA, a lethal combination of accurate passing and establishing the running game. Stanford controlled the game so well that Hogan only had to throw three passes in the second half. UCLA’s defense was no joke, second in the Pac-12 in total defense heading into the game, yet Stanford had their best game of the season against the unit. Once a weakness, Stanford’s offense should now be considered a strength, if Hogan continues to play at a high level. Stanford fans should hope that he does, which would help both in the short and the long term. Hogan has one more year of eligibility remaining, but could elect to spurn Palo Alto for the NFL with a quality performance in the Foster Farms Bowl. Stanford fans would certainly welcome his departure, as highly-touted recruits Keller Chryst and Ryan Burns would get to duke it out for the starting job.