Baylor will make its first appearance in a bowl game since 1994 when the Bears played in the Alamo Bowl against Washington State. Now they return to Texas to face Illinois in the Texas Bowl.
Led by third-year head coach Art Briles, Baylor finished the season with a 7-5 record that included wins over then-No. 22 (BCS) Kansas State and Texas in consecutive weeks in October.
Coach Briles stated the obvious when he accepted the invitation. "We’re excited; this is a long time coming for Baylor," said Briles.
The Bears are led on the field by sophomore quarterback Robert Griffin III, who ranks seventh in the country in total offense with an average of 315.5 yards per game. He is joined in the backfield by senior running back Jay Finley, who has rushed for 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns this season.
Illinois is returning to postseason action for the first time since appearing in the 2008 Rose Bowl against USC. Led by head coach Ron Zook, the Fighting Illini finished the regular season with a 6-6 record, including a 4-4 mark in Big Ten play. Illinois was featured in two of the most exciting games of the 2010 college football season, a triple overtime thriller against Michigan and a 48-27 win over Northwestern at Wrigley Field.
Running back Mikel Leshoure headlines an Illinois offense that ranks 13th nationally in rushing. Leshoure ran for 1,513 yards and 14 touchdowns in the regular season, including a record-setting 330-yard effort in a win over state rival Northwestern.
Fighting Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase has thrown for 1,583 yards and 17 scores and is the second-leading rusher on the team with 815 yards.
Each team ended their season on down notes with Baylor dropping its last three games and Illinois losing three of its last four. Nonetheless, they outperformed the preseason expectations of most prognosticators, and the computer (Congrove Computer Rankings) forecasted a 3-9 season for both teams. It favors Illinois by 1.90 in the bowl game.
Baylor is 8-8 all-time in bowl games. Illinois is just 6-9 overall and has only won 3 of its last 12 bowl appearances.
Baylor won the only previous meeting between these schools, 34-19 in 1976 in Champaign.
ESPN will televise the game nationally beginning at 6:00 p.m. ET on December 29.