California (7-5) is going to a bowl for the second straight year after losing in the Cheez-It Bowl to TCU last season. The Golden Bears opened the season with four consecutive wins but stumbled down the stretch before closing the year with back-to-back-wins over Stanford and UCLA to get bowl eligible. Cal has struggled mightily to move the ball this season but has a stout defense allowing just 22.1 points per game. Linebacker Evan Weaver leads the nation with 173 tackles.
Illinois (6-6) had a resurgent season under head coach Lovie Smith, who led the program to its first bowl berth since 2014. The signature win this season came back on October 19 in a 24-23 upset over then-unbeaten and sixth-ranked Wisconsin. Quarterback Brandon Peters threw two touchdowns in the win over the Badgers and is expected to be back in the lineup in the bowl game after missing the season finale due to a concussion. Linebacker Dele Harding was an All-Big 10 selection and ranks second in the nation in tackles with 148.
ESPN’s FPI gives California a 62.6% chance of winning this game. We break down the line and offer our best bets and analysis for Monday’s Redbox Bowl between the Golden Bears and Fighting Illini.
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California vs. Illinois Game Details
Date: Monday, December 30
Time: 4:00 p.m. ET
Location: Levi’s Stadium (Santa Clara, California)
Spread: California -6.5
This line opened at California -4.5 and has been bet up to California -6.5 despite the slight majority of the bets and money coming in on Illinois. This indicates a slight reverse line move favoring the Golden Bears.
- California is 7-5 SU and 6-6 ATS this season
- Illinois is 7-7 SU and 8-4 ATS this season
- Under is 8-4 in California games this season
- Under is 7-5 in Illinois games this season
Analysis & Pick
This will be a virtual home game for Cal as the Golden Bears’ campus is less than an hour away from Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. Both teams have questions at quarterback, with Peters getting set to return from a concussion and Chase Garbers still finding his groove after missing significant time this season with a shoulder injury. Garbers led the Bears to a 4-0 start, but has just two touchdowns and one interception in three games since returning from a shoulder injury that cost him two months of the season. I think the time off will serve Garbers well, as his shoulder should be fully healthy entering the bowl game. Meanwhile, Cal’s defense has been one of the best units in the country this season, and I believe that’s where the Golden Bears will be able to find traction in this matchup. Illinois offense doesn’t have any legit game-breaking playmakers, and with Peters trying to shake off some early rust, this could be a good spot for Cal to win in blowout fashion.
PICK: California -6.5
Follow Jared Smith on Twitter: @jaredleesmith