Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Texas Bowl: Baylor (7-5) vs. Illinois (6-6)
By David Ubben
Outside of Auburn and Oregon, perhaps no team in college football is happier to be at its bowl destination than Baylor. The Bears ended a bowl drought with a seven-win season in 2010 and are heading to Houston for the Texas Bowl -- their first postseason game since 1994. However, if there's a team that's close to being as happy, it's Illinois. The Fighting Illini were picked near the bottom of the Big Ten in the preseason, but went 4-4 in Big Ten play and beat Northwestern at Wrigley Field to clinch a bowl berth.
WHO TO WATCH: Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III. He's the guy who makes the whole Baylor engine hum. The Bears might have been in a bowl last year if not for an early-season knee injury, but Griffin was better than ever -- particuarly as a passer -- in 2010. His mobility makes him a "dual-threat" quarterback by definition, but he looked like a pure passer for much of the season, too. He completed 66.3 percent of his passes to rank second in the Big 12 and 13th nationally, just below Arkansas' Ryan Mallett. He accounted for 29 touchdowns, but 21 were through the air.
WHAT TO WATCH: Baylor's front seven vs. the Illinois running game. Illini running back Mikel LeShoure led the Big 12 in rushing with 1,522 yards and Illinois' entire offense rushed for just under 3,000 yards, which ranked 13th nationally. If they get rolling, it could be a long day for the Bears. Defensive tackle Phil Taylor and linebacker Antonio Johnson are Baylor's two best hopes for slowing the offense, and could be capable of doing it. Don't expect another 330-yard day like LeShoure had in the bowl-clinching victory over Northwestern. Stop the run and force redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase to throw more than he'd like, and Baylor should be in good shape.
WHY WATCH: The quarterback/running back duos on the ground are about as good as you'll see in any game this year. Scheelhaase, Illinois' quarterback, and Jay Finley, Baylor's running back, don't get the pub of their counterparts, but both have proved extremely capable. Finley needs just 34 yards to break Baylor's single-season rushing record at 1,155 yards.
PREDICTION: Baylor 31, Illinois 30. Baylor has the best player on the field, and in crunch time, that type of thing pays off. Griffin makes a big play late to give the Bears their first bowl win since 1992.