ILLINOIS vs. CAL (MON 12-30) BOWL GAME PREVIEW

ILLINOIS GOES TO FIRST BOWL GAME UNDER HC SMITH TO FACE CAL BEARS ON THEIR HOME TURF!

VEGAS ODDS:  CALIFORNIA (-6) vs. ILLINOIS  ~  TOTAL: (46 1/2)

ILLINOIS OFFENSE (#119) ~ (142 RUSH, 177 PASS)  vs.  CAL DEFENSE (#63) ~ (123 RUSH, 262 PASS allowed)

CAL OFFENSE (#117) ~ (132 RUSH, 191 PASS)   vs.  ILLINOIS DEFENSE (#71) ~ (196 RUSH, 197 PASS allowed)

Well folks this isn’t one of the more juicy or fun type of Bowl match ups this year as we have two of the worst 13 Offenses in all of CFB facing off against each other. Give credit to Illinois HC Lovie Smith for doing something I never saw coming: a Bowl Bid. This guy is one of the worst Head Coaches in CFB today and it’s truly a miracle he got this team to a Bowl. Not like (6-6) is much to hang your hat on, but hey he got them here. On the other side, the Cal Bears have one of the brightest young Head Coaches in Justin Wilcox. His team finished (7-5), but caught some bad luck when his top QB got hurt after a great start, only to lose and lose with him out. The Bears did get gifted a nice Home game though playing at nearby Levi’s Stadium. Wilcox lost his only Bowl game 10-7 to TCU. 

Illinois was a money making machine winning 6 straight against the Vegas spread, before losing it’s finale against hapless Northwestern 29-10. They only played 5 Road games this season and won 3 of them. They did finish the season with the Offense sputtering badly, with just 10 points in both of the final two games. This team is as Jekyll and Hyde as you will ever see. They upset a solid Wisconsin team and get blown out at Home by a horrible Northwestern team. Illinois did score over 30 points six times this season, and their QB Peters has some talent, but he’s the TB Bucs Winston of CFB as he will throw into tight coverage over and over. He will drive you insane if you bet the Illini….get a box of Tums if you bet on him. He’s at (54%) pass completions on the season, as accuracy not his bet trait.

Cal is a team that has some really strong NFL type talent with LB Weaver one of the best Defensive players in the nation (173 Tackles this year). He led the Defense to allowing over 21 points only 3 times all season. They did really come on at the end of the season as they allowed only 48 Rushing yards per game. The Defense almost must play lights out as the Offense has scored over 30 points just one time all season. The Defense has 34 Sacks and puts tons of pressure on opposing QB’s and when Illinois QB Peters gets pressured, he is brutally bad. The Bears had 6 games decided by a TD or less. Cal Offense averages a paltry (20.1) points per game and only gains 323 total yards (one of only two teams in bottom of both categories). But as I say often, you must be careful of stats at times, as Cal Offense is much different with QB Garbers running the show. 

Illinois has kinda won with mirrors as the overall talent is way below average, but the Defense has 18 forced fumbles, 12 interceptions and 4 Defensive TD’s. Add in a decent 22 sacks and they have made big plays enough to get them to (6-6) and this Bowl shot. The Defense was dead last vs. Run (201 yrpg) in the Big 10 and 8th vs. Pass (208) yards per game allowed. This may be just enough to allow a weak Cal Offense to get rolling a bit. 

Like I said with Garbers in there this team is light years better than without him in there. He came back from injury to finish season with nice wins over UCLA and Stanford. The Cal Offense doesn’t lose games by turning ball over, as it’s got only 13 turnovers this season, losing only 4 fumbles. If Cal can gain 400 yards today vs. Illini Defense that allows normally 409 each game, they are a perfect (5-0) on the year. Illinois is (2-5) when they allow 400 plus yards. I don’t like Cal’s Offensive Line as they are one of worst I’ve seen all year. The are decent run blocking, but they are horrific at Pass blocking, getting their QB nearly killed each week. They have allowed 43 Sacks this season (3.6 per game) and that has killed many drives for Cal to put points on the board. This OL must play better for Cal to win today.

Special Teams advantage goes to Illinois and in a gigantic way, as they have one of the best Punters (Hodges) and their Kicker McCourt has made 4 FG’s over 50 yards. 

Injury Update:  Cal will be without 4 starters for this game, with 3 of them on the Defensive side of the ball (2 Safeties, OLB) and their 2nd best WR as well.

LONG TRIP: Illinois is making the 2,156 mile trip, whereas Cal takes a short bus ride. 

FINAL KICK:

Look neither team is that good, but Cal playing at Home is a big help. You won’t ever be a winning bettor long term betting bad teams and this is kinda in that mold. Pick your poison. Hard to lay a TD with a team that scored 30 points one time all season. That leaves you with little margin of error. Cal played half the games within a TD. It’s hard to fully handicap Cal though as I like Garbers at QB, and when he played Cal won. When he didn’t, the Offense really struggled (hence the overall really bad Offensive stats). This is a nice afternoon Special (rush hour on East Coast) game so their will be lots of bets on it, regardless these teams records. Both teams create turnovers, so I’d guess the team with most takeaways wins this game. I could never bet on Lovie Smith at any number as he has no clue at all at managing a game. 

Enjoy this game and all the Bonus Bowl Games on Monday.

Have a great new week ahead and enjoy last two days of this decade. May all your wagers be WINNING ones!

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