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Cal Football: Illinois Gets Its Starting Quarterback Back for Redbox Bowl

Brandon Peters was cleared some time ago to face Cal on Monday

Illinois will have its best quarterback in the starting lineup when the Fighting Illini face Cal in the Redbox Bowl on Monday afternoon in Santa Clara.

Illinois coach Lovie Smith confirmed on Friday that Brandon Peters has been cleared to play and will be the starting quarterback against Cal.

Peters, a graduate transfer who began his college career at Michigan, was the quarterback when Illinois stunned then-No. 6 Wisconsin 24-23 on Oct. 19. But he was not the Illini quarterback in the final regular-season game when Illinois was stunned at home 29-10 by Northwestern, which came into that game 0-8 in the Big Ten.

Because Peters missed that Nov. 30 game against Northwestern with a concussion, there was some uncertainty whether he would play in the bowl game. But although no announcement had been made regarding Peters' health since then, apparently Smith and his Illinois teammates have known for some time that he would play in the Redbox Bowl.

"I was actually cleared like the Monday or the Tuesday after the Northwestern game," Peters said in the video on Friday.

He clearly gives Illinois (6-6) a better chance to beat Cal (7-5) than Matt Robinson, who was the Illini's quarterback against Northwestern as well as in the 42-25 loss to Michigan on Oct. 12.

Plus this will not be the first bowl game for Peters, who was Michigan's starting quarterback in the 26-19 loss to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl following the 2017 season.

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In that game, Peters was 20-for-44 for 186 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions, the second pick coming with a minute left to seal Michigan's defeat.

He attempted only two passes in 2018, when Shea Patterson became the Wolverines' starting quarterback, and Peters moved on to Illinois as a graduate transfer.

This season he completed 54.8 percent of his passes with 17 touchdown passes and seven interceptions, and the Fightin Illini are 6-4 in the games he started.

Not only can Peters pass, but he he is threat running the ball. Even though Illinois yielded 37 sacks for minus-277 yards this season, Peters still rushed for a net 145 yards this season.

But it's more than that, as Illinois coach Lovie Smith noted in the video above.

"The quarterbacks have to convince guys he can get the job done, 'Follow me,'"  Smith said. "One thing about Brandon, he's even-keeled. And that's a good thing. Not too high. Not too low. Confident player. I saw that the first time we brought him over for a visit. I just thought he would be a perfect fit for what we're trying to do.

"He brings the experience of coming from a good program and competed at a high level. All of that has contributed to where we are right now."

Smith also noted that graduating from Michigan as soon as he did "said a lot about the intellect that we were getting."