NCAA Football

Texas Bowl Preview: Illinois vs. Baylor

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Illinois vs. Baylor

Wednesday, December 29, 2010 6:00 PM ET ESPN

Laying the scene

Baylor looked like it could take the Big 12 South heading into November, but dropped its final three games to the stronger teams in the division. Nevertheless, all five of the Bears' losses have come against teams playing in a bowl game, and the return to the bowl season, not to mention the win over Texas, has made the Bears' season a success. Like Baylor, Illinois is a team that has struggled to beat the better teams on its schedule, but has had a semi-successful year. Five of the Illini's six losses have come to bowl teams, while their first three losses came to teams that at one point in the season were ranked in the top six of the BCS. These two schools have met just once before, in 1976, with Baylor coming away with the 34-19 win.

What Illinois has to do to win

Whereas Baylor has been very balanced offensively, the Illini have relied largely on a 13th ranked rushing offense to put points on the board. The Illinois ground game, led by Mikel Leshoure, averages 242.33 yards per game with Leshoure running for over 1,500 yards this season. Baylor ranks 98th in total defense and has had trouble with some of the better offenses in the country. In their past seven games, the Bears have allowed 42 or more points five times. If Illinois is able to move the ball effectively and consistently on the ground, they'll not only put points on the board, but will keep Robert Griffin III and the Baylor offense off the field.

What Baylor has to do to win 

In its first bowl appearance since 1994, Baylor will look to quarterback Robert Griffin III to lead the offense past the Illini defense. Griffin looked remarkable in the first part of the season, but over the last three games has not had the success that got Baylor to 7-2 and in control of its Big 12 South destiny. He threw six interceptions over his last six outings and just one touchdown in the last three. The key to a Bears victory will be the ability of Griffin to recapture some of the magic that resulted in some big statistical performances and big wins. The Illinois defense has struggled at times this season, allowing 67 points to Michigan and 38 points to Minnesota in consecutive weeks, but they've stepped up in others, holding Ohio State to its fewest total yards (290) and third-lowest point total (24) of the season.

The call

Illinois. Illini coach Ron Zook acknowledged that in this game, there is "[p]robably going to be a lot of points thrown up on the board." Baylor has had trouble keeping teams out of the end zone this season, allowing 40.7 points per game over the final seven games and 29.8 points per game for the season. While the Bears field an offense capable of keeping up with a lot of teams in the country, if Illinois is able to run the ball to limit the number of touches the Bears offense gets, the Illini will come away with the victory. - Danny Hobrock

Danny is a sports journalist primarily covering college football and professional baseball. His work for Xtra Point Football has garnered national attention and is critically acclaimed. Danny is the former editor of a political and current events website and the editor of our college football content.

Email Danny at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at DannyHobrock

Player(s) to Watch

Mikel LeShoure, RB, Illinois - Illinois has a very talented running back, but they might not have him for long after this game, since he could be opting out for next year's NFL draft. For the season, LeShoure led all Big Ten running backs with 1,513 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also ranks eighth in the nation with 126.1 yards rushing per game. There will be no question that Illinois will be running the ball this week, therefore LeShoure should have a big game this week. - Jared Levine

Jared is a Journalism and Sports Administration major at the University of Miami providing introspective, insight, information and opinion on the world of College Football.

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