Illinois Nearly Unanimously Projected to Redbox Bowl vs. Pac 12 Opponent

Matthew Stevens

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Nearly every bowl prognosticators have Illinois slotted to California for its first bowl game since 2014.

The Illini (6-6) became a bowl-eligible program for the first time since 2014 after a 25-point comeback victory on Nov. 9 at Michigan State.

CBS Sports' Jerry Palm, ESPN’s Mark Schlabach, The Athletic's Stewart Mandel, and Stadium’s Brett McMurphy all have Illinois (6-6, 4-5 in Big Ten Conference) projected to play a Pacific 12 Conference program in the Redbox Bowl on Dec. 30 for a 4 p.m. CST kickoff on Fox. The likely opponent choices for the Illini are Arizona State, California or Washington.

If Illinois accepts an invitation to the Redbox Bowl, it would be Illinois’ first bowl game in California since 2011 when the Illini defeated UCLA 20-14 in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. The Illini are 4-3 all-time in bowl games in the state of California including five trips to the Rose Bowl with the last one being in 2008.

Due to the fact that Illinois has been absent from the bowl picture for nearly a five-year stretch, any of the bowls with Big Ten tie-ins can select the Illini without worrying about a contractual problem. Normally bowl committees are requested by the league to restrain from selecting a team twice in a five-year stretch to promote parity in its postseason games. For example, the agreement with the Big Ten Conference and the Citrus Bowl committee is for all possibilities to be exhausted to have five different teams to be selected for the game within the six-year deal. Therefore, Penn State, Minnesota or Michigan are restricted from being in this game unless the circumstances are unavoidable. 

The bowl committees, which want to sell as many tickets and promote the hotel and dining options in the local market, also are always intrigued at new options to select from. This is how Purdue, which went without a bowl game from 2013-16, had several postseason options the last two seasons when Jeff Brohm took the Boilermakers, with a 6-6 regular-season record, to the 2017 Foster Farms Bowl (now called the Redbox Bowl) and the 2018 Music City Bowl in his first two seasons.