The Redbox Bowl comes to Santa Clara, CA to see the Pac12 take on the B1G. The California Golden Bears will kickoff against the Illinois Fighting Illini on December 30 at 4 pm EST. We’ll take a look at each team here.
California Golden Bears: 7-5 (4-5)
For California, it was a season of what could have been. The Golden Bears jumped out to a nice 4-0 start and earned a No.15 ranking. They had nice wins at then No.14 Washington as well as at Ole Miss. In their fifth game of the season disaster would strike.
Starting quarterback Chase Garbers went out with injury in the Arizona State game and the course of the season changed. The Golden Bears would go 1-5 over the next six games while Garbers was injured. The backup eventually got injured himself and resulted in the third string quarterback running the offense.
The good news is that the starter is healthy. With Garbers back under center Cal won on the road against rivals Stanford and UCLA to finish the season. He’s backed by a solid top 35 overall defense which is particularly good defending the run.
Illinois Fighting Illini: 6-6 (4-5)
Illinois started the season strong at 2-0 but hit a brick wall after that. The four game losing streak that followed included a head scratcher against Eastern Michigan. They turned it around with a huge upset against then No.6 Wisconsin which led to a four game winning streak. The Fighting Illini dropped their final two games including an embarrassing loss at home to the Big Ten West’s worst team Northwestern.
All that however has led them to a rare bowl appearance. The Redbox Bowl is Illinois’s first bowl appearance since 2014 and just their sixth since 2001.
Illinois doesn’t boast much on either side of the ball coming in. The offense sputters in outside of the top 75 in scoring offense as well in the bottom 120 in offensive yards per game. They’ll need to rely heavily on their defense which defends the pass very well but gives up a boatload on the ground.
There are some open windows that Illinois will need to hit in order to get a win. The California offensive line is very bad, allowing the most sacks in the Pac12. Illinois will need to take advantage of this and get some pressure on Garbers to keep him out of any rhythm.
Illinois will also need to force turnovers. There isn’t enough offense for them to do it themselves and they’ll need to rely on the defense giving them as many chances as possible. California is -14 in the turnover column in their losses – though it’s important to remember those games were without their starting quarterback.
California getting Chase Garbers back will be a huge difference-maker. They are undefeated in games he finishes and are much better than the 7-5 team their record shows. The offense clicks differently with him under center.
Garbers is facing a good Illinois pass defense but his presence will allow sophomore runningback Christopher Brown Jr. to be much more effective. Brown Jr. is the only Cal back with 100 yard rushing games. If the offensive line can be even marginally effective, the Bears should comfortably win.
California: 31, Illinois: 17
Make sure to check out our college football page for more updates and rankings.