Surprise, Illinois is playing Baylor in the Texas Bowl. Of course, we've known that was going to be the case for a couple of weeks, no matter what you read about the Gator and Outback bowls. We'll break down the matchups closer to the game. First, here's a Texas Bowl starter kit:
– "I think it can do a lot. If you finish 7-6 and the team that won the Texas Bowl, you feel pretty confident about what you can do. As tough as the conference was this year in the Big Ten, you still finished in a pretty good spot. That's something you definitely have to be proud of. With this bowl game, it would be exciting to get that win down there in Texas. I think everybody looks at (Baylor) as a pretty good team. If we were able to knock off those guys, it would do a lot for us moving forward into next season," quarterback NATHAN SCHEELHAASE.
– "It would be huge for me personally. And it would be huge for this program to end the season 7-6 and win the last bowl game. It would be great to propel the program in the right way," receiver EDDIE McGEE.
– "Scary. A great offense. It's going to be a great challenge for the defense. I think the defense is looking forward to it. They haven't played the way they wanted to play here toward the end. It gives them a chance to go out on a good note," coach RON ZOOK.
– "I look at it as the beginning of next season. Even though it's in 2010, it's the first game of 2011 and it gives us an opportunity to get off on a good foot and do it right," Zook.
– "Everybody on Facebook found out where we were going before Idid. It is cool to see Facebook light up (like that). It will be exciting not only for me, but for some of these guys who will be playing their last game at Baylor," quarterback ROBERT GRIFFIN III.
– "I think Ican speak on behalf of everyone when Isay the break was nice, but we were definitely anxious to find out who we were going to be playing and when and where. There was a lot of speculation going around and you can kind of take it all with a grain of salt, but it is kind of nice that they have carved it in stone today. It is a relief; now we can turn our focus towards preparing and getting ready for Illinois," offensive tackle DANNY WATKINS.
– "There has been a lot of speculation, the wheels have constantly (been turning). Now we have closure. We know where we're at, we know where we're going and we know who we're playing. We've got a great opponent in Illinois. They've done some fabulous things this year on the football field. I think in 2008 they were in the Rose Bowl, so a lot of those players that we'll play on Dec. 29th will have been recruited from that season ... it's just a great opponent and a great atmosphere and we're in a great city. It really gives us a great opportunity to show the nation what Baylor football is all about and Baylor Nation," coach ART BRILES.
– Art Briles took over at Baylor in 2008 after a successful run at Houston. He was 34-28 with the Cougars, taking the school to four bowls. He went 4-8 his first two seasons at Baylor before this year's 7-5 turnaround.
– Like Illinois, Baylor isn't going into the game on a hot streak. The Bears have lost three in a row, giving up 55, 42 and 53 points against Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Oklahoma. Of course, those three are a combined 30-7.
– Though it hasn't played in a bowl since 1994, Baylor has made more postseason appearances (16) than Illinois. The last time the Bears played in a New Year's Day game was the 1980 Cotton Bowl. It didn't go well, Baylor losing 30-2 against Alabama. Overall, the Bears are 8-8 in bowls.
– Here's a name you are going to hear about a lot in the next three weeks: Robert Griffin III. The Baylor quarterback has thrown for 3,195 yards and 21 touchdowns and gained 591 yards and eight more touchdowns on the ground. Jay Finley is his Mikel Leshoure, the senior running back gaining 1,155 yards and scoring 11 touchdowns.
DISTANCE FROM HOUSTON FOR THE SCHOOLS
Baylor 184 miles, Illinois 950 miles
Baylor, Willie Nelson; Illinois, Hugh Hefner
FORMER LINEBACKER YOU'VE HEARD OF
Baylor, Mike Singletary; Illinois, Dick Butkus
OLYMPIC TRACK CONNECTION
Baylor, Michael Johnson; Illinois, Perdita Felicien
THIS AND THAT
– This will be the first bowl game for Illinois against a Big 12 school. In its previous 15 bowls, Illinois has played the Pac-10 six times, the SEC three times, the ACC three times, Conference USA once, WAC once and one Independent (Army in the Peach Bowl).
– This will be just the second bowl for Illinois in Texas. The earlier game was a 6-3 loss to UCLA at the 1991 Hancock Bowl. That was also Lou Tepper's (right) first game as Illinois head coach.
– This won't be the first game between Illinois and Baylor. The teams played in 1976 in Champaign, with Baylor winning 34-19. That Baylor team, coached by Grant Teaff, finished 7-3-1. Illinois was 5-6 in Bob Blackman's final season.