WHO: Illinois (6-6) vs. California (7-5)
WHAT: The 18th RedBox Bowl
WHEN: Monday, Dec. 30 at 4 p.m. ET on Fox
WHERE: Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
BUY TICKETS: Click here
THE SKINNY: Last year’s RedBox Bowl between Michigan State and Oregon was an exercise in offensive futility combined with a bit of defensive dominance. The 7-6 final score perfectly summed up the game without knowing what went on between the lines and would have been among the more lackluster postseason efforts in 2018 had it not been overshadowed by the Cheez-It Bowl.
Well, as luck would have it, the Cal team that played in the latter bowl is now ticketed to play in this season’s edition of the former. Hopefully for everybody watching, let’s just pray there will be some actual, productive offense involved this time around. When it comes to the Bears’ own offense, the good news is that QB Chase Garbers should be healthy and starting. The team’s overall numbers were much better with him in the lineup and he’s plenty capable of providing a threat with his arm and his legs.
One issue though? Both defenses involved in this game have been pretty stout. Cal has one of the better secondaries in the country and that should still ring true even with the loss of Ashtyn Davis for this game. Justin Wilcox has been one of the best in the country at drawing up a scheme and has an on-field general leading the charge in tackling machine Evan Weaver. The team should also be plenty motivated to secure a bowl victory for the first time since 2015.
Speaking of long postseason droughts, the Illini enter without a bowl win dating back to 2011 and haven’t even played in one since 2014. Lovie Smith’s beard has garnered plenty of attention the last few years, but it’s overshadowed a nice turnaround in 2019 that included an improbable upset of Wisconsin early in conference play. Thanks to QB Brandon Peters and company, the offense has made strides in Champaign and this is a much more balanced group than years past.
While this one won’t be anything close to a barnburner given the two evenly-matched teams involved, this year’s RedBox Bowl should at least provide plenty of intrigue for this Big Ten/Pac-12 battle and worth watching as the year winds down. The Bears were slightly better overall this season and, playing in front of a home crowd on the other side of the Bay Area, should be able to sneak out a win in a bowl that has nowhere to go but up compared to its previous iteration.
The Pick: Cal 24, Illinois 20