The Illinois Fighting Illini will appear in their first bowl game since 2014 in the Redbox Bowl versus the California Golden Bears.
Lovie Smith’s team is attempting to finish above .500 for the first time since 2011. In 2014, it entered the Heart of Dallas Bowl at 6-6, but fell to the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs.
Cal experienced an up-and-down season because of injuries at quarterback, with Chase Garbers and Devon Modster rotating time under center.
After struggling at the start of Pac-12 play, Cal finished with three wins in its final four and was rewarded with a postseason game close to home at Levi’s Stadium.
Redbox Bowl Information
Date: Monday, December 30
Start Time: 4 p.m. ET
Odds: Cal (-6); Over/Under: 43.5
Inconsistency has been the biggest issue for both teams.
Cal started 4-0, then lost four straight and then won three of four in November, while Illinois opened 2-4, won four in a row and then dropped its final two Big Ten contests.
The best win earned by either side was the Fighting Illini’s upset of the Wisconsin Badgers October 19 that sparked their longest victorious run.
Despite entering on worse form and at .500, the Big Ten squad may be better suited to win Monday in Santa Clara, California.
Cal’s offense only produces 20.1 points per contest, which is the lowest total of any bowl participant. The Golden Bears also allow 22.1 points per game.
In all five of its losses, Justin Wilcox’s team failed to reach its season average, and it barely eclipsed it in the last two games.
The Pac-12 squad may not be able to take advantage of the Illinois rushing defense that lets up 201.6 yards per game, as leading rusher Christopher Brown Jr. only has two triple-digit totals.
The sophomore is the only Cal player with more than 500 yards on the ground and its second-leading rushing leader is Garbers, who missed all of October with an injury.
Garbers is back under center, but he has not shined on a consistent basis to be trusted in a tight game. In eight outings, the sophomore has a pair of multi-score performances, and his best receiver totaled 477 receiving yards.
Illinois’ connection of quarterback Brandon Peters and wide receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe combined for 634 yards and nine touchdowns. Along with running backs Reggie Corbin and Dre Brown, the Big Ten side may have enough firepower to outperform Cal.
On six occasions, Illinois has put up 30 points, four times in wins and twice in defeats, and if it produces at that clip Monday, it could be too much for Cal to handle.
If the Illini control the pace, the over of 43 has a chance to hit, but if Cal dictates the direction of the contest, the under could stay alive.
Basically, betting on this game comes down to how much you can trust the Golden Bears and how effective you believe their offense can be.