Stanford will play North Carolina in the Sun Bowl.
With Stanford becoming a staple of the Rose Bowl in three of the past four years, it seems fitting that if Stanford can't be in the Granddaddy of Them All, at least it would find a place in a bowl game tied for the second-oldest in existence. The three other bowls as old or older than the Sun Bowl (Rose, Orange, Sugar) are all now a part of the New Year's Six.
It's official!!! @TarHeelFootball will take on @StanfordFball on Dec. 30, 2016 at noon!— Hyundai Sun Bowl (@HyundaiSunBowl) December 4, 2016
How Did We Get Here?
For the first time ever, Stanford was favored during the preseason to win the Pac-12 Championship by both the Pac-12 media and the oddsmakers. Unfortunately, Stanford never quite performed up to those lofty expectations. Although Stanford's running game was still dominant and the defense took a step forward, unfortunately, the passing game and the offensive line took a step back. Stanford's offensive line allowed sacks on 10% of plays, ranking them 118th (out of 128) in FBS, while the passing game could only put up 6.6 yards per play, ranking them 95th (out of 128) in FBS.
Although Stanford eliminated itself early from the Pac-12 Championship discussion, the team overall was still quite strong, and is currently ranked 18th in the country and fourth-best in the Pac-12 (only behind Pac-12 Champion Washington, a surging USC team, and Pac-12 South Champion Colorado).
Despite being the fourth-best team, though, due to a confluence of political factors, Stanford was the last bowl-eligible team selected to a bowl game. WSU was selected over Stanford to the Holiday Bowl because it won the head-to-head against Stanford (although Mike Leach's celebrity no doubt holds an influence over the selection process as well), and Utah was selected by the Foster Farms Bowl because Stanford had just appeared in this bowl game two years ago and the selection committee was not interested in returning Stanford so soon.
Who Will Stanford Play?
UNC completed the season 8-4, with dramatic comeback wins against ranked Pitt and Florida State teams. The 37-36 victory over Pitt was especially thrilling as QB Mitch Trubisky complete the winning TD pass to Bug Howard with just seconds to spare.