Oct. 4, 2008: Robert Griffin III sets up to pass. He'll display his form against Illinois.
This game is a red hot ticket. When I hear about a bowl in this great state of Texas, usually, I think about red hot chili. Both Texas Bowl teams are hungry enough for a victory to be able to eat everything hot at your local chili cooking contest.
There’s nothing chilly about the reception for this year’s Texas Bowl. By Dec. 2, 50,000 advanced tickets were purchased. “Strong advance ticket sales are a great indicator of the excitement around this year’s game,” said Texas Bowl Executive Director Heather Houston.
Baylor is about 200 miles from Houston. Students are on winter break in Texas, and plenty will probably make the trip. Game tickets include a TexFest concert on the Bud Light Stage. Featuring country music entertainer, Roger Creager, it’s a Lone Star State live performance.
H-town will be alive and hopping for the holidays with both Bears and Illini fans in town. From Reliant Stadium, home of the NFL’s Houston Texans, the energy should be enlivening. The Texans are known for their frenetic two minute offense that is capable of throwing up a lot of points. Likewise, there will probably be a lot of points on the scoreboard in the Texas Bowl.
The University of Illinois Fighting Illini and the Baylor University Bears hook up in a Big Ten-Big 12 matchup. Starting at 5 p.m. CT on Wednesday, Dec. 29, the festivities will be televised on ESPN. The game, and the fun surrounding it, helps the local economy out with a cool $25 million per year. It is definitely a boon to the holidays and a time of gift-giving.
With young and electrifying quarterbacks and speedy running backs, both offenses have gifted athletes. The only gift these two programs want, though, is a bowl victory from Santa. It will be Baylor’s first bowl game since 1994 and Illinois’ first since 2008 under Ron Zook.
“It’s an opportunity for us to get back in the bowl business,” Zook said.
As good as it is for Illinois, it could be as good or better of an accomplishment for Baylor’s program.
“We needed to take a step in the progression of our program and we did that,” Bears coach, Art Briles, declared.
Bears fans are energized by their team being in a bowl game for the first time in 16 years. Since 1999, Illinois has suffered through eight losing seasons and a 49-17 stomping by USC in the 2008 Rose Bowl. Both schools and their communities, though, have to be happy with the direction their programs are heading.
A lively quarterback, Robert Griffin III, takes the snaps for Baylor’s No. 12 ranked total offense. In terms of quarterbacks, he ranks No. 7 in total offense, ahead of Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton.
Illini fans are also keyed up by the energy their quarterback plays with. Nathan Scheelhaase, who is a dangerous runner, hit the Missouri Tigers up for 90 yards on 16 carries to start the season. The Tigers defense is better than Baylor’s, their conference mates. It reasons that Scheelhaase is more than capable of getting loose against the Bears.
But can the Illini stop Baylor? That's a different story. Giving up 24 points per game, Illinois gave up 67 points by Michigan and 38 more by Minnesota. Baylor averages about 33 points per game scoring.
Baylor’s defense gave up over 50 points twice this season and over 40 points four more times. In a game in which both offenses were virtually unstoppable, Michigan beat Illinois, 67-65. It was the highest scoring game in the illustrious history of Michigan football.
Illinois averages about 32 points per game. The Illini (6-6, 4-4), meanwhile, finished in fourth place in the Big Ten. With 1,513 yards, All-American running back Mikel Leshoure led the Big Ten in rushing. He’s the No. 8 rusher in the country with 126.1 yards per game.
They are ranked No. 13 in rushing, but their passing game struggles—ranking No. 115 out of 120 schools. On offense, the Bears are balanced. Jay Finley is second in total yards rushing for a Baylor season and three different receivers caught at least 40 passes.
Baylor ended up 7-5 after making a run for the Big 12 South, a division eventually won by Oklahoma. The Bears lost their last three games of the season. This was the first time, still, they finished the season with a winning record since 1995.
Deciding which team will win this game is a tricky proposition. Both offenses are capable of storming into the end zone over and over again in a game. My weather forecast is that the rain won’t matter—Reliant has a roof. For this game, though, here is my forecast.
I don’t believe either defense will be able to shut down the offenses. It will come down to which team shoots itself in the foot by making mistakes and getting penalties. Griffin will have a stellar game and Scheelhaase will do OK, but Baylor will celebrate the school's first bowl victory since 1992.