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California will face Illinois in the Redbox Bowl

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Bears to stay local and face a team with Cal ties.

Illinois v Michigan State Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

We officially know how the California Golden Bears will be spending our winter break—at home, but still bowling.

The Golden Bears (7–5, 4–5 Pac-12) will face the Illinois Fighting Illini (6–6, 4–5 Big Ten) in the Redbox Bowl in Santa Clara, CA on December 30 with kickoff at 1 p.m. Pacific, airing on Fox. This will be Cal’s 24th bowl game in our program’s history, which currently sits at 11 bowl wins, 11 bowl losses, and 1 tie. This is Justin Wilcox’s second bowl as a head coach in three years and the first time we’ve been to back-to-back bowls since the 2008–09 seasons. The bowl game for that 2008 season was the Emerald Bowl—now known as the Redbox Bowl. That game set a record for attendance in this bowl game since it’s right in our backyard, which is believed to be a reason why the Redbox Bowl selected the Bears.

Illinois’s high-point of the season was an upset over the then-sixth-ranked Wisconsin Badgers; they reached their highest ranking in the polls by receiving votes in Week 11 (before embarking on a two-game losing streak). On the other end of the spectrum, their nadir was falling to the three-win, Fitz-coached Northwestern Wildcats.

There’s actually a surprising amount of strange connections between Cal and Illinois. Very, very loosely, Illinois features three transfers from the USC Trojans—WR Josh Imatorbhebhe, WR Trevon Sidney, and OLB Oluwole Betiku Jr.—who either played against California or may have studied us in preparation. Very loosely, the Illini are coached by Lovie Smith in his fourth year; when Smith led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he hired Jeff Tedford as his offensive coordinator. Loosely, former Cal players Hardy Nickerson and his son Hardy Nickerson Jr. coached at and played for Illinois in 2016–2018 and 2018, respectively; Evan Weaver just broke Nickerson’s school record for tackles in a season. Arguably, the most relevant connection between our two schools is that their defensive line coach, Austin Clark, was a Golden Bear from 2009–2014.

Illinois and California have played each other ten times with Illinois leading the series 7–3; the Illini won the first five games (spanning 1955–1973), but the Golden Bears won the last two meetings (2003 and 2005).

In 2018, the Redbox Bowl “rivaled” the infamous Cheez-It Bowl for being the best at “being so bad they were good” due to extreme sloppiness in the case of the former and utter offensive ineptitude for the latter. Well, the potential exists for the 2019 Redbox Bowl to continue its facepalming streak for Cheez-It-y reasons as the California and Illinois offenses are ranked among the worst in the nation.

Check back here for more in-depth coverage of the Fighting Illini in the lead to the Redbox Bowl—including some actual, meaningful analysis.