2010 Texas Bowl - Illinois vs. Baylor
Illinois RB Mikel Leshoure & BU QB Robert Griffin
Illinois RB Mikel Leshoure & BU QB Robert Griffin
Posted Dec 28, 2010

2010-2011 Bowls - CFN's Preview & Prediction for the 2010 Texas Bowl - Illinois vs. Baylor

2010 Texas Bowl

(6-6) vs. Baylor (7-5)

Wednesday, December 29th, 6:00, ESPN  

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Pick ATS: Baylor  Confidence Score: 130
OVERALL CONFIDENCE (35 most - 1 least): 31 out of 35
SCROLL DOWN to the bottom for all the CFNers' confidence picks and bowl history

By Pete Fiutak

It's a rare occurrence for the outcome of a bowl between two BCS league teams to not matter all that much, but that's sort of the case of the Texas Bowl. Of course Illinois and Baylor each want to win, and of course a loss will end the season on a sour note, but for two struggling programs, just getting a 13th game is a major step forward.

A major bust since going to the 2007 Rose Bowl, and getting thumped by USC, Illinois hasn't been able to capitalize on its one good season under head coach Ron Zook with two losing seasons in row including an inexcusable disaster of a 3-9 2009. Last year's Illini were loaded with veterans, firepower, and the attitude to want to make up for a 5-7 2008, but the team fizzled from the start and never got the offense going. After all the problems and coming off an ugly season, absolutely nothing was expected for a rebuilding 2010. But the young team grew up quickly.

Statistics In Yards
Ill   BU
4,629 Total
4,130 Total
32.1 Scoring
24.3 Scoring
2,908 Rushing
1,576 Rushing
1,721 Passing
2,554 Passing
0.50 Turnover Margin 0.17
Position Rankings
5 Highest - 1 Lowest
Ill   BU
3.5 QBs 5
5 RBs 4
2.5 WRs 3
3.5 O Line 4
3 D Line 2.5
4 LBs 3
2.5 DBs 2
3.5 STs 3
3 Coach 4
CFN 2010 2011 CFN Bowl Previews & Confidence Picks
- New Mexico - BYU vs. UTEP
- Human. - Fresno St vs. NIU
- New Orleans - Troy vs. Ohio
- St. Pete - UL vs. So Miss
- Las Vegas - Utah vs. Boise St
- Poinsettia - SDSU vs. Navy
- Hawaii - Tulsa vs. Hawaii
- Little Caesars - Toledo vs. FIU
- Ind. - Air Force vs. GT
- Champs - NC St vs. WVU
- Insight - Iowa vs. Mizz
- Military - Mary. vs. ECU
- Texas - Illinois vs. Baylor
- Alamo - Ok St vs. Arizona
- Armed Forces - SMU vs. Army
- Pinstripe - SU vs. KSU
- Music City - UNC vs. Tenn
- Holiday - Neb vs. Wash
- Meineke - USF vs. Clemson
- Sun - Miami vs. ND
- Liberty - UCF vs. Georgia
- Chick-fil-A - FSU vs. USC
- TicketCity - NW vs. TT
- Outback - PSU vs. Florida
- Capital One - MSU vs. Bama
- Gator - Mich vs. Miss St
- GoDaddy - MU vs. MT
- Cotton - A&M vs. LSU
- Compass - Pitt vs. UK
- Kraft - BC vs. Nevada
- Rose - UW vs. TCU
- Fiesta - OU vs. UConn
- Orange - Stan. vs. VT
- Sugar - Ark. vs. OSU
- BCS Champ. - Aub. vs. Oregon
Helped by the running of Mikel Leshoure and the quick maturation of QB Nathan Scheelhaase, the offense started to find it identity again. The 2009 team was supposed to have an explosive passing game with NFL weapons in Arrelious Benn and Michael Hoomanawanui for four-year starter Juice Williams to work with, but it fizzled. This year's team went back to the ground game with Leshoure and Scheelhaase combining for over 2,300 rushing yards and with the team running for 242 yards per game with 25 scores. The attack wasn't always consistent, but when it worked, it was devastating.

The Illini haven't won a bowl game since beating Thomas Jones and Virginia 63-21 in the 1999 MicronPC Bowl, but that's nothing compared to Baylor's futility. This is the program's first bowl appearance since joining the Big 12, with a loss to Washington State in the 1994 Alamo Bowl to sit on for the last 16 years. The last bowl win was over Arizona in the 1992 Sun Bowl, but with just three post-season games since 1986, yes, this is a really big deal, and yes, just getting here really is enough.

Of course, that's not how head coach Art Briles and the team is looking at this. The past doesn't really matter to this team that was deep in the hunt for the Big 12 South going into November, and the bowl game futility, and the lack of success over the last decade-plus, all takes a backseat losing streak the team is on after fizzling down the stretch.

Bowl eligibility was wrapped up with a 30-22 win at Texas on October 30th, and at 7-3, Baylor was on the verge of being one of the season's biggest stories. And then reality dealt a harsh backhanded slap across the program's face.

With the South there for the taking and with the spotlight on, Baylor got blasted by Oklahoma State 55-28, and the defense didn't exactly show up for the final two games giving up 42 to Texas A&M and 53 to Oklahoma in losses. So while getting to a bowl game might make this a special year, it certainly won't be seen that way by anyone in the program with a loss.

Illinois is in the same boat. After starting out 5-3, and with a very manageable November ahead, the Illini was on the wrong side of the greatest shootout in Big Ten history, losing to Michigan 67-65 in the wildly-entertaining overtime classic. The defense that had been so strong and so shockingly good over the first part of the season suddenly went bye-bye, and while the loss to Michigan was disappointing, the loss to Minnesota in the final home game of the year was disastrous. Suddenly, the great season took an ugly turn with three November losses wrapped around a blowout over Northwestern without Dan Persa in the Wrigley Field game. While the Illini should be far better next year, for the beleaguered Zook, a win would make his life far easier. Baylor might be better, but it's still hard to sell to the alumni a loss to such a traditionally bad team after losing to Fresno State to close out the regular season.

Can the Texas Bowl finally not stink? The 2007 TCU 20-13 win over Houston was interesting, but that was an aberration. The last two – Rice's 38-14 win over Western Michigan and last year's Navy blowout over Missouri – were disasters and just three of the ten all-time bowls were decided by fewer than double digits. This one has the making of a good game with plenty of running and the potential for big plays, at least on one side. And that side will be … it's the Texas Bowl. It'll be a very, very good day for one of 2010's biggest surprises.

Players to Watch: The Illinois offense revolves around the running game with Mikel Leshoure, a junior who might be playing his final collegiate game. While he's not Rashard Mendenhall, he's quickly becoming a hot draft prospect and could be a first rounder if he chooses to come out early and comes up with a big workout or two. At 6-0 and 230 pounds he brings good size, strong running ability, and shiftiness for his bulk with 1,522 yards on the year with 14 scores, highlighted by a 330-yard day, the best rushing performance by anyone this year, in the win over Northwestern. On a roll with three straight 100-yard games, he'll be the workhorse from the opening play.

While Leshoure will be the one the NFL types have their eye on, the best college player in the game is Baylor's Robert Griffin, the dynamic speedster who's still the fastest quarterback in the country despite being just a year removed from a bad knee injury. The 6-2, 210-pound sophomore won the Big 12 gold medal in the 400-meter hurdles with the third fastest time in school history, and while he hasn't been the deadly runner like he was expected to be, making things happen on the move isn't a problem and his throwing ability keeps on improving. He set the NCAA record with 209 straight passes without an interception to start his career, and while he threw eight picks this year, he completed 66% of his throws hitting the 70% mark in five games including a key first half stretch highlighted by a 22-of-27 day in the win over Colorado. Everyone will be looking to see him run on the Illini, but he'll be more effective throwing it.

While the Illini will mostly use Leshoure to handle the workload, redshirt freshman QB Nathan Scheelhaase also needs to be kept in check by the Baylor defensive front. At 6-3 and 195 pounds, he has good size and the running skills to be one of the Big Ten's most dangerous playmakers over the next three years. A bowl win would go a long way to helping his reputation while making him the face of the program. The 2007 Missouri Gatorade Player of the Year was a nice get for the program, and he showed why with 806 rushing yards with five 100-yard games. Now he has to do more with the passing game after struggling a bit down the stretch failing to complete 50% of his passes in the final three games including a rough 5-of-16, 61-yard day against Fresno State.

Illinois will win if ... the defense of the first half of the season shows up. The Illini crept up on everyone because of the D that kept Missouri under wraps in the opener, gave Ohio State a hard time, and stuffed Penn State. Michigan State had to struggle to get to put 26 on the board, and that represented the most points scored on Illinois over the first eight games before the Michigan debacle. Baylor can throw the ball, but the key will be the ability of the Illinois front seven to keep Griffin and RB Jay Finley from running wild with the spotlight on Martez Wilson and the linebacking corps as well as big-hitting safety Trulon Henry. The Illini run defense has allowed over 200 yards twice and lost both games to Ohio State and Michigan. Baylor has run for 200 yards or more six times this season with 309 yards against Colorado and 291 against Texas A&M.

Offensively, it's simple: be balanced. Illinois will want to win by running the ball, and it should be able to average at least five yards per carry, but Scheelhaase has to get the passing game going against a mediocre Baylor secondary that'll give up yards in chunks. Only the miserable Kansas offense failed to throw for over 200 yards on BU over the final ten games, and everyone has been able to dink and dunk to their hearts content. If offensive coordinator Paul Petrino is able to adjust on the fly, and if he's able to be flexible, Illinois should be able to put 30 on the board.

Baylor will win if ... Griffin is on. The Baylor defense isn't strong enough to keep the Illinois offense under wraps, but as Fresno State showed, the Illini defense will give up the big play and will lose the momentum for long stretches. Michigan's Denard Robinson isn't known for being a passer, but against Illinois, before getting hurt, threw for 305 yards and three touchdowns in the win over the Illini, and Griffin should have similar success using his mobility to buy himself time to work with his speedy receiving corps. This year, Baylor is 6-1 when Griffin throws for two touchdowns or more with the only loss the shootout against Texas Tech. In the other four losses Griffin threw just two total scoring passes.

It sounds too simple, but Baylor has to play like this is the program's first bowl game in a long, long time. Because of Griffin, the Bears are a fun, exciting team that showed this year that yes, it is possible to win in a seemingly unwinnable situation, and the tempo and the momentum of the game has to be taken from the start by the BU offense. The Bear pass defense is a problem, but Scheelhaase isn't going to throw for 300 yards and he's not going to dominate the action. If Illinois has to try to come back, it'll do it with the running game. Baylor can live with that and is better equipped for a shootout.

What will happen: The game might be in Houston, but it'll be like a home game for the Bears. A charged up Baylor team should be able to move the ball at will on the Illinois D that's not nearly as nasty as it was earlier in the year. Griffin will shine with both his arm and his legs, and while he might not be consistent on the ground, he and Finley will each tear off just enough big plays to force Illinois to panic a bit. Leshoure will be held in check, Scheelhaase won't be able to pick up the slack through the air, and Baylor will give the Big 12 a nice notch in the battle with the Big Ten. It's the Texas Bowl; it's not going to be close.

CFN Prediction: Baylor 38 … Illinois 23 ... Line: Baylor -1.5
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Pick ATS: Baylor  Confidence Score: 130
OVERALL CONFIDENCE (35 most - 1 least): 31 out of 35

Pete Fiutak: Pick ATS - Baylor  Pick Confidence - 14
- The Dynamic Quarterback Bowl, Baylor's Robert Griffin and Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase are two of the nation's most exciting young quarterbacks and they should put on a show. Illini RB Mikel Leshoure will be looking to make a statement as he's starting to climb up draft boards in a hurry. Ron Zook could desperately use this win, while Baylor is just happy to be in a bowl game for the first time since the Southwest Conference days.

Richard Cirminiello: Pick ATS - Baylor   Pick Confidence - 3
- Both of these schools might be near a rear-view mirror the way they backed into this game. There should be plenty of fireworks, with Baylor QB Robert Griffin and Illinois QB Mikel Leshoure squaring off.

Matt Zemek: Pick ATS - Baylor  Pick Confidence - 34
- In Houston, Baylor will be playing a virtual home game. This will also be a big deal for the Bears, who will be playing their first bowl game in 16 years. Don't expect the Zooker to pull this one out.

Russ Mitchell: Pick ATS - Baylor  Pick Confidence - 23
- Wow. How exactly is Illinois bowling? It's signature win was what? Northwestern? On half a field? A truly ugly 6-6. If not quite the Hail Mary collapse that was the Baylor season. At least the Bears were playing Top 25 competition in their losses down the stretch… Take Baylor in this, if you have to watch.

Barrett Sallee: Pick ATS - Baylor  Pick Confidence - 21
- Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III is must-see TV, as is Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure. Should be a fun one.

Gabe Harris: Pick ATS - Illinois  Pick Confidence - 12
Brian Harbach: Pick ATS - Baylor   Pick Confidence - 9
Matthew Smith: Pick ATS - Illinois  Pick Confidence - 26
Billy Gomila: Pick ATS - Baylor  Pick Confidence - 32 
Clucko (A coin flip): Pick ATS - Baylor   Pick Confidence -  32