Texas Bowl - Illinois Fighting Illini (6-6 SU 8-4 ATS) vs. Baylor Bears 7-5 SU 5-7 ATS) Reliant Stadium, Houston TX 6 PM EST Wednesday December 29, 2010 on ESPN / ESPN3
by Jason Green, College Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Betting Odds: ILL +1.5/BAY -1.5
Over/Under Total: 62.5
This season the Baylor Bears had their most successful season since joining the Big 12 and will be playing in their first bowl game since 1994. However, even though they played 3 ranked teams to end the season they lost all 3 games and their D was terrible giving up an average of 50 ppg in that span.
The Illinois Fighting Illini are back in a bowl game after missing out for the last couple of years. The Fighting Illini did not put up much of a fight to end the season losing 3 of their last 4 games. With the struggles that each team has had on defense this season each offense will have to light up the scoreboard to win.
Baylor is located in Dallas and even though this game will be held in Houston it is still in the Lone Star State and the Bears will have a bit of a home field advantage in this game.
In their last games of the season Baylor was embarrassed getting crushed at home 55-24 to Oklahoma and Illinois lost to Fresno State 25-23.
Illinois has the nation’s 105th ranked passing offense, but one of the best rushing offenses in the nation ranking 15th. RB Mikel Leshoure (1,513 yards 14 TD) and duel-threat QB Nathan Scheelhaase (815 yards 4 TD) lead the rushing attack. Leshoure rushed for over 100 yards in 8 games this season including 142 in the last game against Fresno State. When he did not break the 100-yard barrier Illinois was 2-2 this season. Baylor has the nation’s 71st ranked rushing defense and even though they played decent against Oklahoma they will not keep Illinois from racking up the yards on the ground. In their last game of the season the Illini had 318 rushing yards in the loss to Fresno State.
Scheelhaase only had 101 passing yards in his last 2 games, but will be facing a Bears’ pass D that only ranks 108th in the nation. He may air it out a few times to keep the Baylor D honest, but he will not put up big numbers.
Baylor has a more balanced offense ranking 20th in the nation in passing yards per game and 23rd in rushing yards per game. QB Robert Griffin III passed for nearly 3,200 yards this season with 21 TD and he also rushed for almost 600 yards with 8 TD. He is joined in the backfield by RB Jay Finley (1,155 yards 11 TD). These 2 will be counted on to have a good game, especially if the Baylor defensive woes continue. Illinois’ defense is better defending the run than the pass and in their last game against Fresno State they only gave up 60 rushing yards. However, Baylor has a much stronger ground game than Fresno State and they will run the ball well.
Bears’ WR Kendall Wright is the leading receiver with 66 catches and 825 yards with 6 TD on the season. 2nd leading WR Josh Gordon is the big play WR averaging 18.4 yards per catch this season, but in his last 3 games he only had 77 receiving yards. He will snap put of his slump and Griffin will find him for some plays down the field against a suspect Illinois passing defense that gave up 304 passing yards to Fresno State. Baylor had 4 receivers that had at least 40 catches on the season.
Baylor only covered the spread one time in their last 5 games, but they are 4-1 in their last 5 games as a favorite.
Illinois is 8-1 ATS in their last 9 games as an underdog and 4-1 ATS in their last 5 games facing teams with a winning record.
Take to Over in this game, as the betting trends points to it, but more importantly neither team has a good defense and each has a solid offense. Illinois has an Over record of 5-1 in their last 6 games and Baylor has an Over record of 7-1 in their last 8 games.
Jason’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Illinois’ main concern is Griffin and the Fighting Illini faced 2 other teams with great duel-threat QB’s in Terrelle Pryor of Ohio State and Denard Robinson of Michigan and the Illini lost both. Pryor and Robinson both had good games and Griffin will in this game, especially through the air and he will lead the Bears to a win even though their D will give up a lot of points. The Bears will win in a high scoring game and cover the spread and take the Over as well, as that is a no-brainer.