- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Illinois is back in the postseason for the first time since the 2008 Rose Bowl. Baylor? The Bears play in the first bowl game since the 1994 Alamo Bowl.
Here's a quick preview of the Illini-Baylor matchup in the Texas Bowl.
WHO TO WATCH: Illinois defenders Corey Liuget and Martez Wilson. The game plan is pretty simple for the Illini, who must contain Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III. Both Liuget and Wilson are All-Big Ten defenders who could be heading to the NFL draft after the bowl game. They need to penetrate the backfield, harass Griffin as often as possible and tackle the Bears star in the open field.
WHAT TO WATCH: Illinois' rushing attack. When the Illini have their ground game going, it's a thing of beauty. Junior running back Mikel Leshoure, another candidate to enter the NFL draft, needs 169 rush yards in the bowl game to break Rashard Mendenhall's single-season team record set in 2007. Baylor finished ninth in the Big 12 against the run, allowing 160.2 yards per game, so Illinois will have opportunities to spring Leshoure, backup Jason Ford and quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase.
WHY TO WATCH: You never know which Illinois team will show up. If it's the one that crushed Penn State and Northwestern and gave Ohio State and Michigan State good tests, Baylor could be in trouble. If it's the one that looked lifeless for stretches against Fresno State and Minnesota, the Bears could run away with this one. Illinois boasts plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, but can coach Ron Zook's crew put it all together to cement a winning season?
PREDICTION: Baylor 31, Illinois 24. It's never easy to forecast what happens with Illinois, and this one certainly could go either way. But Griffin is the most dynamic player on the field, and Illinois' defense declined late in the regular season. Illinois doesn't have enough in the pass game to balance out Leshoure and the ground attack. Baylor will feel right at home in Houston, and the Bears will prevail.
5dDavid Ching and Edward Aschoff