In Texas they like to say things are bigger here. That will likely be the case on the scoreboard later today in the Bowl game named after the state that hosts it. Baylor is making its first bowl appearance since 1994 today against the Fighting Illini of Ron Zook. Illinois is making its first bowl trip since 2007 when they played in the Rose Bowl. Both teams are known for potent offenses and each have one of the better players in the country in Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin and Illinois tail back Michael Leshoure. Like the Hawaii Bowl earlier this week the game figures to be heavy on offense. A victory here for Baylor would be huge for a program that Art Briles has rebuilt after years of futility. An Illinois win would secure Ron Zooks second winning season in Champagne and might ease the pressure on him heading into next season.
3 Keys from the scouts
1. How good will Robert Griffin look? The Illinois defense has looked pedestrian all season and never more so than against Michigan when they gave up 67 points. Although they were able to hold Missouri and Ohio State to respectable scores Griffin will be a tougher test for them. The Missouri game was the season opener for both teams and Ohio State never really turned on the jets against he Illinis preferring to grind them down instead. Griffin, like Robinson and Pryor is a dual threat quarterback, although he is a better passer than either.
2. Michael Leshore’s production. The best way to defend Griffin is to keep him on the bench. Enter Michael Leshoure. Baylor is not a good rush defense and that is probably the strength of Ron Zook’s team. Leshoure has been a star all season and will need to be one again.
3. Which team will remain the calmest. Baylor is among the most penalized teams in the country. Illinois is among the worst tackling teams in the country. Both are signs of a lack of discipline. Neither team is particularly effective defensively on 3rd downs or in the red zone. Any scoreless drive in this game will be critical and missed tackles and penalties will probably lead to points for the opposing team.
Bold Prediction: No matter what happens in this game Baylor’s season is already a success while Illinois has underwhelmed yet again. The pressure will be on the Illinis not the Bears. While there is little reason for optimism regarding a low scoring game on either side Robert Griffin should be the difference. Baylor 42 Illinois 38
|3rd||Mikel Leshoure||RB||5||3Jr||Powerful interior ball carrier drawing comparisons to Rashard Mendenhall. Breaks tackles and picks up a lot of yardage off initial contact. Not as fast as the former Illini first rounder but has enough explosion and quickness to develop into a feature runner.|
|3rd||Martez Wilson||ILB||2||4Jr||Athletic linebacker that flashes dominance and the ability to make plays sideline to sideline. Needs a lot of work to complete his game.|
|4th||Corey Liuget||DE||93||3Jr||Explosive yet short defensive lineman that makes a lot of plays behind the line of scrimmage. Possible two gap end. Exploring his draft options.|
|4-5||Jeff Allen||T||71||3Jr||Terrific pass blocking left tackle with a nice upside.|
|6th||Clay Nurse||DE||97||5Sr||Undersized college pass rusher that will also get looks at outside linebacker.|
|FA||Travon Bellamy||S||31||5Sr||Physical safety who flashes cover skills. Played cornerback this season.|
|7th||Nathan Bussey||OLB||18||4Sr||Quick, explosive one gap/weak side linebacker prospect.|
|FA||Ryan Palmer||T||78||5Sr||Size prospect with marginal athleticism and limited upside.|
|FA||Randall Hunt||G||66||5Sr||Tough, slug it out, small area guard that shows terrific strength.|
|3rd||Danny Watkins||T||59||4Sr||Former Canadian fire fighter that’s zipping up draft boards. Fundamentally sound and very strong. Right side line prospect,|
|3-4||Phil Taylor||DT||N||5Sr||Former Penn State transfer with big time ability that’s starting to show it.|
|FA||Flemmie Finley||RB||32||5Sr||Hard working, one speed ball carrier who also excels catching the ball out of the backfield.|
|FA||Philip Blake||T||74||3Jr||Terrific left tackle prospect who moves his feet well and quickly slides out off the edge.|
|FA||Antonio Johnson||OLB||7||4Sr||Athletic linebacker who displays skill in coverage.|
|FA||Kendall Wright||WR||1||3Jr||Reliable pass catcher that can be dangerous running after the reception.|
|FA||Tim Atchison||CB||8||5Sr||Disciplined defender that may be better off at safety or in a zone system.|
Game Preview: Brent Foshee
Prospect Preview: Tony Pauline