Fighting Illini comes to the Bay Area to face the Cal Golden Bears photo: Josh Imatorbhebhe of the Illinois Illini makes a 83 yard catch against the Michigan State Spartans, Imatorbhebhe and the Illini battle the Cal Bears at Levi Stadium on Mon Dec 30th for the Red Box Bowl

By Jeremy Kahn

SAN FRANCISCO-With the Redbox Bowl in basically their own backyard, the California Golden Bears will have the home field advantage, but do not tell that to their opponents, the Fighting Illini of Illinois.

During the 2019 season, the Fighting Illini went 3-2 on the road, including a 37-34 victory over the Michigan State Spartans that came after the Fighting Illini entered the fourth quarter trailing 31-10 when the final stanza began.

Josh Imatorbhebhe was on the receiving end of an 83-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Peters to cut the Spartans lead down to 31-17.

Reggie Corbin then cut the lead down in half, as he scored on a six-yard run just three minutes after the Peters to Imatorbhebhe touchdown pass.

The Fighting Illini defense got in on the act, as they tied up the game, when Sydney Brown returned an interception 76 yards to get them within one.

After Michigan State kicked a field goal to increase their lead up to four points, Peters and the Fighting Illini got the ball back for one final drive.

The Fighting Illini then converted a fourth-and-17, then got another first down when the Spartans were called for pass interference in the end zone on another fourth down possession.

Peters then gave them the lead for the first time on the afternoon, as he found Daniel Barker for a five-yard touchdown pass with five seconds remaining in the game to give the Fighting Illini their sixth win of the season and bowl eligible for the first time since the 2014 season.

This was the biggest comeback in school history, and the 27 points scored by them in the fourth quarter were the most by an opponent in the 96-year, 544-game history of Spartan Stadium.

In all, the Fighting Illini went 3-2 away from Memorial Stadium.

Lovie Smith, who is in his fourth year in Champaign as head coach leads the team to their first bowl game since the 2014 Zaxbys Heart of Dallas Bowl, where they lost to the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs 35-18.

As for coming to bowl games in Northern California, this is not the Fighting Illinis first trip to the Bay Area.

The Fighting Illini came to the area in 2011, where behind Nathan Scheelhaase went 18-for-30 for 139 yards passing with a touchdown and an interception. Scheelhaase was also the leading rusher, as he gained 110 yards on 22 carries and the Fighting Illini defeated the UCLA Bruins 20-14 at AT&T Park.

Overall, this is the eighth trip to California in a bowl game for the Fighting Illini, as they are 3-2 in the Rose Bowl, 0-1 in the Holiday Bowl and 1-0 in what was then known as the Kraft Hunger Bowl, now known as the Redbox Bowl.

A graduate transfer from Big 10 rival Michigan, Peters started 10 games for the Fighting Illini and led them in passing, as he went 130-for-238 with 1,611 yards passing with 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Corbin was the leading ground gainer, as he carried the ball 129 times for 691 yards and six touchdowns.

Imatorbhebhe led the team in receptions with 33, yards with 634 and nine touchdowns.

NCAAF podcast with Michelle Richardson: Tagovailoa will be out for rest of season; Wolves get big win over MSU; Penn State goes over Indiana

espn photo: Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is carted off the field after getting a dislocated hip and a bloody nose. Tagovailoa will be out for the rest of the season.

On the NCAAF podcast with Michelle:

#1 The Alabama Crimson Tide’s Tua Tagovailoa will be out for the rest of the season due to a dislocated hip and he got a bloody nose in the Tide’s game with Mississippi State. Alabama won it 38-7. What will the loss of Tagovailoa mean for the Crimson Tide?

#2 Penn State picked a big win over the Indiana Hoosiers on Saturday with a 34-27 win. The Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford threw for 178 yards, 11-23 and one touchdown.

#3 Michigan improved to 8-2 with a 44-10 win over Michigan State and the Wolverines quarterback Sean Patterson threw for 384 yards, 24-33, and four touchdowns.

Michelle’s Final Thoughts

Michelle Richardson does the NCAAF podcast each Sunday at

NCAAF podcast with Michelle Richardson: Buckeyes come away with easy win; Pittsburgh wins 4th straight game; Michigan State’s Dantonio has 7-hour deposition photo: Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins, who carried for 121 yards, contributed to the Buckeyes’ landslide win Friday at Northwestern.

On the NCAAF podcast with Michelle:

#1 The Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Justin Fields threw four touchdowns and running back J.K. Dobbins ran for 121 yards as the No. 4 ranked Buckeyes crushed Northerwestern in a laugher 52-3 on Friday night.

#2 Pittsburgh (5-2, 2-1) edged Syracuse (3-4, 0-3) 27-20 when Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett threw for 232 yards and two touchdowns. Pickett even used a trick play in one of his touchdowns. The win was Pittsburgh’s fourth consecutive.

#4 Michigan State University head coach Mark Dantonio, who had a seven-hour deposition for wrongful termination issues regarding the recruiting of Austin Robertson, who is in prison for sexual assault. Six MSU players have entered a transfer portal and MSU is in a state of dysfunction are 4-3 this season.

Michelle’s Final Thoughts

Michelle does the NCAAF podcasts each Sunday at

NCAA National Championship Game podcast with Michelle Richardson: Texas Tech-Virginia duel it out in what could be one for the ages

photo from The Texas Tech Red Raiders Jarrett Culver (23) celebrates during the second half of Saturday’s Final Four against Michigan State Spartans in a ten-point 63-53 win to advance to the National Championship on Monday night.

On the NCAA National Championship Game podcast with Michelle Richardson:

#1 It’s the Texas Tech Red Raiders and the Virginia Cavaliers for the NCAA National Championship to wind down the NCAA season. Michelle sets this one up

#2 The Red Raiders got a hefty ten-point win over the Michigan State Spartans 61-51 and Matt Mooney led Texas Tech with 22 points for the win.

#3 Virginia just gets by the Auburn Tigers 63-62. How badly did the official miss Virginia’s double dribble and if they caught it would that have put the Tigers in the cat bird seat?

Michelle’s Final Four thoughts

Michelle Richardson did commentary on the NCAA for the 2018-19 season for

That’s Amaury’s News and Commentary podcast with Barbara Mason: Final Four–Who’s going to win it all?; Stanford eliminated by Norte Dame women; plus more

Photo credit: @SInow

Barbara Mason is filling in for Amaury Pi Gonzalez:

#1 The Final Four is amongst us and taking a look at each game this coming Sunday. Taking a look at Auburn-Virginia, Auburn has been the surprise — do you see this game being a real contest?

#2 Texas Tech-Michigan State is the next game on Sunday. The Red Raiders gave it their all when they beat Gonzaga last Sunday and the Spartans are one the winningest and high-ranking teams in the Tournament.

#3 The Stanford Women (31-5) and Notre Dame (34-3) battled it out, but after giving it their all all season long, the Cardinal could not withstand and lost to the Fighting Irish 84-68.

#4 The Oakland A’s started the 2019 season with two loses in Tokyo to the Seattle Mariners. Since that trip, it looks like the A’s have shaken off the jet lag and have been on track winning taking three of four from the Angels since coming back to Oakland and a win over the Boston Red Sox on Monday night to open another four-game series.

#5 The San Jose Sharks’ troubles continue after they dropped their eighth loss in nine games to the Western Conference first place Calgary Flames on Sunday. The win secures the Flames for first place and what was worse was that it was done on the Sharks’ home ice.

Barbara Mason does That’s Amaury’s News and Commentary each Tuesday at

March Madness podcast with Michelle Richardson: Michigan State edges Duke 68-67; Texas Tech advances over Gonzaga; plus more

Photo credit:

On the March Madness podcast with Michelle:

#1 The Michigan State Spartans battled the Duke Blue Devils today and got a 67-68 win. Michelle, it was a game that was a nail biter right down to the end.

#2 The Texas Tech Red Raiders got a 75-69 win over Gonzaga on Saturday. The Red Raiders are looking forward to the next step in the big dance.

#3 Biggest time of the year for the NCAA. Michelle talks about what was the most exciting part of March Madness.

Michelle is your host for March Madness podcasts at


Michigan State’s offense quiet again in frustrating Redbox Bowl loss to Oregon

By Morris Phillips

SANTA CLARA — Six is by no means a magic number. Just ask Coach Mark Dantonio and Michigan State, they’ll tell you.

But six is Michigan State’s number, they earned it, and with their 2018 football season concluded, they have to live with as well.

It’s not a comfortable union.

The Spartans, blessed with the nation’s top-rated run defense, stymied Oregon and quarterback Justin Herbert for three quarters only to see the Ducks squeeze a fourth quarter touchdown out of an afternoon stuck in neutral, then make it stand up in their 7-6 victory in Monday’s Redbox Bowl at Levi’s Stadium.

The Spartans loss marked the third time in their final four games they got a whale of an effort defensively, only to see their offense sputter to the extent they managed just two field goals all game. In each case, the MSU offense was put in position to make winning plays late only to fail miserably on all three occasions.

“Never got that bust-out play,” Dantonio said. “You’re not going to win many games scoring six points.”

Not only did the Spartans fail to register any big-gainers, they made far too many mistakes, especially in their kicking game which had two, fourth quarter shots at a kicking a potential, game-winning field goal only to flub both.

Other than play lights out defense for three quarters–and hold the Ducks 30 points below their 37 points per game average–the finest moment for Michigan State may have come in the postgame presser in which Dantonio and four of his players maintained a united front and declined to point any fingers pitting their stout defense against the anemic offense.

“We’ve had ups and downs this season, but that’s what you’re gonna have in life. You have to take the lows with the highs,” said MSU linebacker Andrew Dowdell.

Knowing the Redbox Bowl matchup would lean heavily towards both defenses, the Spartans spent the five weeks of preparation revamping their offensive scheme in hopes of cooking up a couple of difference-making touchdowns.

With junior quarterback Brian Lewerke back from injury–and playing his first full game since October 20 against Michigan–the Spartans ran their offense at much faster tempo and frequently utilized bubble screens and short passes designed to go for big yardage if the Ducks failed to tackle one-on-one.

But the Ducks did tackle, and Lewerke’s 18 incompletions on 40 pass attempts didn’t get the Spartans moving consistently enough. In the end, Michigan State punted too often (seven times), failed to convert a pair of fourth down opportunities, and saw a 50-yard field goal attempt with 1:43 remaining in the game turn into the follies when Lewerke mishandled the snap.

“The ball kind of hit my hand on top of the ball. I tried to make something happen. That’s what happens,” Lewerke recounted.

Dantonio admitted afterwards injuries throughout the season on the offensive side of the ball weighed heavily on his club. Besides Lewerke’s absence, the receiving corps was thinned, and without a true number one on the outside, the remaining pass catchers lacked quickness and failed to get separation from opposing secondaries.

All that adversity combined meant too much pressure fell on prolific tailback LJ Scott. On Monday, Scott drew plenty of attention from the Ducks, who limited him to 86 yards on 24 carries.

To Oregon’s credit, they stayed the course. And that wasn’t an easy feat with their standout quarterback and top NFL prospect Justin Herbert bumping his head far too often with the game with the Spartans’ defense.

“We felt like it was going to be that kind of game just watching them on defense,” Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said. “We kept battling and battling. You take a victory whether it be one point, two points or 50 points.”

Ducks and Spartans to meet in the Redbox Bowl at Levi’s Stadium

Photo credit:

By Jeremy Kahn

With the College Football Season turning into bowl season, there will be a great matchup between teams from the Big Ten and Pac-12 Conferences, respectively.

This is the first playing of what is now called the Redbox Bowl, but it is 17th overall bowl game in the Bay Area and it will feature the Michigan State Spartans of the Big 10 Conference versus the Oregon Ducks of the Pac-12 Conference.

In the previous six meetings between the Spartans and Ducks, the series is tied at three wins apiece. This past August, the two perennial powerhouses of their respective conferences agreed to a home-and-home series that will take place in 2029 and 2030.

“The Redbox Bowl is thrilled to welcome two storied college football brands with shared history like Oregon and Michigan State to play in front of a primetime national audience at Levi’s Stadium,” said Ryan Oppelt, executive director of the Redbox Bowl. “The Ducks and Spartans have large alumni contingents in the Bay Area so we couldn’t ask for a better way to kick off an incredible week of post-season football in the Bay Area that will culminate with the CFP National Championship on January 7th.”

The Spartans won the last meeting between the teams, as they defeated the Ducks 31-28 at Spartan Stadium on September 12, 2015.

This will be the 28th bowl game appearance for the Spartans, and the 11th under current head coach Mark Dantonio, the most by any coach in school history. The Spartans set a school record by playing in nine consecutive bowl games from 2009-2017.

During the streak, the Spartans won a school record four consecutive bowl games, including a win over the Georgia Bulldogs in the 2011 Outback Bowl, the 2012 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl over the Texas Christian Horned Frogs, the 2014 Rose Bowl over the Stanford Cardinal and the 2015 Cotton Bowl over the Baylor Bears.

All-time, the Spartans are 12-15 entering the Redbox Bowl and 5-5 under Dantonio, including a win over the Washington State Cougars in the 2017 Holiday Bowl.

This is the first full season in Eugene for current Head Coach Mario Cristobal, but bowl games are nothing new for the Ducks, as this is the 13th bowl game for the Ducks in the past 14 seasons. Cristobal was the interim coach for the Ducks in the 2017 Las Vegas Bowl after the firing of former Head Coach Mark Helfrich.

Overall, this is the 32nd appearance for the Ducks and 13-18 overall and this is the 12th appearance for the Ducks in bowl games played in the State of California.

Kings get their veteran PG in George Hill and add grit up front in Zach Randolph

by Charlie O. Mallonee

SAC Icon

The Sacramento Kings appeared to be in neutral on the free agent market while waiting to see if the Washington Wizards would match their offer sheet for Otto Porter Jr. In reality, they were working on deals in a stealth mode that caught most observers by total surprise.

Kings get experience at point guardGreorge Hill

Sacramento is very happy with the talent they drafted at point guard in De’Aaron Fox and Frank Mason III. The only problem is that neither player has one minute of playing time in the NBA. That is not an acceptable situation.

The Kings point guards from last season were both free agents. Darren Collison just signed a two-year deal with the Indiana Pacers. There were reports that Sacramento was in discussions with Ty Lawson about returning to the team, but he certainly would be looking for a guaranteed contract with multiple years or options. Lawson played last season on a one-year non-guaranteed contract.

Enter George Hill. Hill had been rumored to be heading to Los Angeles to play with the Lakers and to be a mentor to Lonzo Ball. Reports are circling the Lakers were only willing to offer a one-year deal. Not the kind of security a 31-year old, nine-year NBA veteran in a salary market gone mad is looking for this year.

It has been reported the Jazz tried to sign Hill to an extension during the season valued at $88-million but he and his representatives thought he would do better on the open market in the offseason. The free agent market did not fall Hill’s direction.

According to the Vertical who broke the story, the deal is for three years and worth $57-million. David Aldridge of is reporting the third year is only partially guaranteed.

Hill will almost certainly be the starter in Sacramento. Head coach Dave Joerger makes no bones about not being thrilled about throwing rookies into starting roles. Last season, first-year players sat at the end of the bench and then were summoned into the game for limited minutes. Depending on their performance, more or less playing time was awarded to the young players.

Hill will be expected to mentor the young point guards. He can also play along side them as an off-guard. Joerger also liked using an offense that incorporated two point guards on the floor in a “small ball” lineup.

Hill averaged 16.9 points per game in 49 games last season. His overall shooting percentage was 47.7. He shot 40.3-percent from 3-point range. Hill averaged 4.2 assists, 3.4 rebounds, 1 steal and 1.7 turnovers per game.

The injury that caused Hill to miss so many games last season was a sprained big toe. He said it was a freak injury and it proved to be a nagging injury that did not heal well under the pressure of playing. The toe did not require any surgery in the offseason.

He’s big — he’s bad — he’s Z-Bo and now he is a King

zach Randolph

The other player the Kings reportedly signed on Tuesday brings a dimension of toughness to the team that they lost when DeMarcus Cousins was traded away. The difference is that Zach Randolph knows how to keep things under control while banging under the basket.

“Z-Bo” as he is known has reportedly signed a two-year, $24-million contract with Sacramento. The signing was first reported by the “the Woj” of ESPN. Randolph’s signing also reunites him with his old coach Dave Joerger who was the head man in Memphis for three seasons.

Last season in Memphis, Randolph worked as a sixth man for the Grizzlies. He averaged 14.1 points and 8.2 rebounds in 29.5 minutes playing time per game. Will Randolph be a sixth man in Sac? Dave Joerger likes to vary starting lineups based on matchups and on who is hot at the moment. The one thing you can count on is the Randolph was not signed to come sit on the Kings bench.

Randolph — who will turn 36 later this month — has been in “the association” since 2001. He has made stops in Portland, New York, Los Angeles (Clippers) and Memphis. Randolph played his college basketball at Michigan State for Tom Izzo and helped lead the Spartans to the NCAA Final Four in 2001.