The 18th installment of the Redbox Bowl will feature the California Golden Bears (7-5, Pac-12) and the Illinois Fighting Illini (6-6, Big Ten). The game will be played at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, and it will kick off December 30th, at 4 p.m. EST. It will be televised on FOX. Here is a Redbox Bowl preview.
Redbox Bowl Preview
The Golden Bears are led by head coach Justin Wilcox, who is finishing up his third season in Berkeley. Cal got off to a respectable 4-0 start in 2019, with wins over UC-Davis, Washington, North Texas, and Ole Miss. However, their offense sputtered over the next four games, and as a result, Cal was sitting with a 4-4 record. However, the team managed to finish the last four games with a 3-1 record and became bowl eligible for the second straight season.
The Golden Bears offense has been a concern throughout the 2019 season. As a result, they have only scored 30+ points in one game this year. That came in a 33-20 win over Washington State. Although they finished Pac-12 play with a 4-5 record, they were the lowest-scoring team in the conference.
Injuries at wide receiver have hurt the Golden Bears. Talented receivers Kekoa Crawford and Jeremiah Hawkins have been on the shelf for most of the year. In their absence, freshmen receivers Nikko Remigio and Makai Polk have stepped up and given Cal a lift. The Golden Bears running game is powered by Christopher Brown Jr., who is averaging 4.2 yards per carry. At quarterback, redshirt sophomore Chase Garbers has played well when healthy. He is able to keep defenses off-balance with his dual-threat capability.
As on display all of this season, Cal’s defense is the strength of the team. They finished the regular season ranked 25th in sacks (34), 24th in yards per run (3.5), and only gave up an average of 22.1 points per game. Only two teams (Utah and USC) managed to hang 30+ points on the Golden Bears defense.
Cal’s stable defensive unit is led by a very formidable front seven. That starts up front with veterans Luc Bequette, Zeandae Johnson, and Lone Toailoa. Junior linebacker Cameron Goode led the team in both sacks and tackles for loss, while senior linebacker Evan Weaver continued his excellent run at Cal by leading the country from start to finish with 172 tackles.
The Fighting Illini are led by head coach Lovie Smith, who is finishing up his fourth season in Champaign. After starting the season 2-0, Illinois went on to lose four straight games. Those losses were to Eastern Michigan, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Michigan. But right when it looked like things were going south, Illinois shocked the world by beating then-ranked No. 6 Wisconsin. This win sparked a four-game winning streak, which made Illinois bowl eligible for the first time since 2014. However, they went on to lose their last two games against Iowa and Northwestern.
The Illini’s offense had plenty of bright spots this season. They managed to score 20+ points in nine out of 12 games and scored 30+ points six times. On the season, they averaged 27.1 points per game.
The Fighting Illini feature quarterback Brandon Peters. Peters, a transfer from Michigan, completed 130 of 237 passes for 1,611 yards and threw 17 touchdowns. He also had seven interceptions in 10 games. He rushed for 145 yards and three scores. The running game consists of the productive duo between seniors Reggie Corbin and Dre Brown. The two have combined to rush for 1,179 yards and 11 touchdowns. Junior running back Ra’Von Bonner has also pitched in with 208 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
The Illinois defense has allowed 20+ plus points in eight games, and 30+ points in five games. Despite this, they have had great defensive efforts against Akron, Purdue, Rutgers, and Iowa. The main weakness for the Illini has been containing the run. Consequently, they have allowed an average of 201.6 rushing yards per game.
Illinois is led defensively by senior linebacker Dele Harding. Harding has forced three fumbles, three interceptions, scored two defensive touchdowns. Further, he ranks second nationally with 148 tackles. His head coach has referred to him “as productive a linebacker as there was in college football.” As a result, he was named an All-Big Ten Conference first-team selection by the league’s media. Sophomore defensive back Sydney Brown has also contributed with three interceptions and a defensive touchdown. Junior defensive lineman Oluwole Betiku Jr. leads the team with eight sacks.
Now that we have a Redbox Bowl preview, let’s get a prediction. This matchup features two of the best defensive players in the nation, as well as two offenses that have been inconsistent at times throughout the regular season. Cal will have the advantage of staying in-state, while Illinois will make the 2,156-mile trek to Santa Clara. With the track record of these two teams, expect a low-scoring defensive battle. Prediction: Cal wins the Redbox Bowl 21-17.