Cal was two teams during the regular season. It was the team with quarterback Chase Garbers and the team without Chase Garbers. When Garbers started and finished a game, Cal went 6-0, picking up wins over Washington and Ole Miss, among others. The only two games Cal lost that Garbers started were games he didn't finish due to injury. In the four games he didn't play, the Golden Bears went 1-3.
Well, Garbers started for Cal in the Redbox Bowl against Illinois on Monday, finishing the game as well while leading the Bears to a 35-20 victory over the Illini. Garbers had one of the best games of his career, completing 22 of his 31 passes for 272 yards and four touchdowns. The four touchdown passes tied his career-high against Ole Miss earlier this season. Garbers even got in the end zone with his legs, scoring on a QB sneak in the first half.
Garbers was not getting the work done alone, however. Running back Chris Brown rushed for 120 yards on 20 carries and caught three passes for 17 yards and a touchdown. Receiver Makai Polk caught five passes for 105 yards as he was Garbers' favorite target on the day. Cal finishes the season at 8-5, meaning the team's win total has improved in each of Justin Wilcox's last two seasons with the program, but the team is left to wonder what might have been had Garbers never gotten hurt.
As for Illinois, it was a disappointing end to a season that had a couple of high notes with wins over a then-undefeated Wisconsin, as well as a 25-point comeback against Michigan State, but the Illini limped the finish line. This loss is the team's third straight to finish the season as they were banged up down the stretch. While Illinois got Brandon Peters back at QB, it was without its three leading receivers as well as a couple of key starters on defense.