Need to know: 5 p.m., Dec. 29, Reliant Stadium, Houston, ESPN.
Team records: Baylor 7-5, Illinois 6-6.
Story lines: This falls into the category of “old news,” but for Baylor’s program and its fans, this bears (sorry, pun haters) repeating: The Bears are in a bowl game for the first time since 1994.
Baylor qualified for the postseason when it defeated Kansas State on Oct. 23. The Bears followed that up with a milestone victory at Texas before losing their last three to finish 7-5 overall and 4-4 in Big 12 play. Being invited to the Texas Bowl in Houston’s Reliant Stadium was a significant step for coach Art Briles’ program.
"It is exactly what we had to do or felt like we needed to do as a football team," he said. "We needed to take a step in the progression of our program and we did that. It's been 16 years since we've been in a bowl game and our people are pumped, and rightfully so, because when you've looked on the outside for a long time and you finally get a chance to step in the door, it's a good feeling,"
Illinois, Baylor’s bowl foe, also is feeling good about playing in the postseason. While the Illini drought isn’t close to the Bears’ fallow stretch, they are in just their fourth bowl game since 1999 (two of those three bowls were BCS games.)
Both teams have had defensive issues. The Bears allow 29.5 points per game and in the five losses Baylor has allowed at least 42 points. Illinois’ defense collapsed in the final month of the season, allowing nearly 40 points per game as the team lost three of four.
Baylor is averaging 32.6 points and ranked 12th nationally in total yards per game (478.5). … Quarterback Robert Griffin is seventh nationally in total offense, averaging 315.5 yards per game. … Baylor was contractually obligated to sell an allotment of 12,000 tickets to the Texas Bowl but the school went beyond that, selling 14,195 tickets as of six days before kickoff.
Linebacker Martez Wilson, an All-Big Ten selection, leads Illinois in tackles (105), tackles for loss (10.5) and forced fumbles (3). … Illinois ranks 29th nationally in run defense, allowing 131.3 yards per game. … The Illini lost three of four games in November and in those four games they allowed 39.3 points per game. In the first eight games of the season, Illinois allowed just 16.7 points per game. … One of Illinois’ six losses came to Missouri, 23-13, in the season opener. …
Baylor’s last bowl victory was a 20-15 triumph over Arizona in the 1992 Sun Bowl. That was the final game for coach Grant Teaff, who won more games than any other coach in school history.