Stanford vs. Pittsburgh odds, line: 2018 Sun Bowl picks, top predictions from expert who's 11-1

Even with star running back Bryce Love sitting out, the Stanford Cardinal (8-4) look to continue their run of recent bowl success when they take on the Pittsburgh Panthers (7-6) in the 2018 Hyundai Sun Bowl on Dec. 31. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. ET from Sun Bowl Stadium in El Paso, Texas. The key matchup will see Stanford's stout defense tested by one of the top rushing attacks in the nation. The Panthers have two players who clipped the 1,000-yard mark on their way to the No. 18-ranked rushing game in the country. The Cardinal are four-point favorites in the latest Stanford vs. Pittsburgh odds, down from an opener of -6.5 in most markets. The over-under for total points is set at 51.5. Before you lock in any Stanford vs. Pittsburgh picks of your own, be sure to check out the 2018 Sun Bowl predictions from SportsLine senior analyst Josh Nagel. 

A Nevada-based expert with more than 20 years of experience in the sports wagering industry, Nagel specializes in handicapping college athletics. He has had another strong year, hitting 61 percent of his spread selections for SportsLine members. He heads into bowl season on a 20-6 run with his college football picks. What's more, he has had a keen eye for the tendencies of these programs and boasts an insane record of 11-1 on spread picks involving Pittsburgh or Stanford. Anyone who has followed him is way up.

In Week 12, Nagel advised SportsLine members that Pittsburgh (+5), which had already clinched its ACC title-game berth, was due for a letdown spot against a Miami team seeking revenge for an upset loss to the Panthers last season. The result: the Hurricanes rolled to a decisive 24-3 victory, and anyone who followed Nagel's advice booked another easy winner.

Now, he has analyzed the latest 2018 Sun Bowl odds and released a confident point-spread selection that is only available at SportsLine. 

A stifling defense has been a hallmark under coach David Shaw, but his youth-laden unit struggled against upper-tier competition. The Cardinal allowed 38 or more points in three of their four losses. But they improved as the season wore on and limited California to 13 points and 352 total yards in a season-ending victory.

The Cardinal's defensive scoring average of 23.8 ranks No. 41 in the country. Speaking to a historically strong run defense, Stanford is 9-1 against the spread versus teams that average 5.9 yards or more per run over the past two seasons. It also has covered two of its last three December bowl games. 

In the Sun Bowl 2018, the Cardinal will need to be at their best to cover against a Pittsburgh club that has thrived as an underdog.

Pittsburgh (7-6) was viewed as something of an afterthought following a 2-3 start that included blowout losses to Penn State and Central Florida. But the Panthers rebounded with a five-game win streak in ACC play, including four by double-figures. 

The Panthers' defense had been a major liability over the past few seasons, but they made strides in that department this season. They held opponents to 22 or fewer points in seven games, and allowed just 19 in their near-upset of Notre Dame. With Love out, they'll look to hold Stanford to a similar number to help get this cover. 

We can tell you Nagel is leaning toward the under, but his much stronger play is on the spread. He has dissected this matchup and unearthed a critical factor that causes one side of the spread to hit hard. He's only sharing what it is, and who to back, at SportsLine.

Who covers Stanford vs. Pittsburgh? And what critical factor makes one side of the spread a must-back? Visit SportsLine right now to see which side you need to jump all over in the 2018 Sun Bowl, all from the senior analyst who's 11-1 on his picks involving these teams, and find out.

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