For both the Fighting Illini and the Bears of Baylor, playing football this late in December isn't something that happens all too often. This will be the first bowl trip for Baylor since a loss to Washington State in the Alamo Bowl all the way back in 1994. It hasn't been quite so long for the Illini, having gone to the Rose Bowl in 2008, but this will only be the fifth bowl for the Illini since 1994, so neither team is particularly used to being away from home for New Year's. Given how bowl hungry each fan base and program is, this Texas Bowl may be a very emotional event.
The Baylor Bears, led by offensive juggernaut Robert Griffin III, come into this game after a string of disappointing losses to Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Oklahoma. After being a surprise team in the Big 12 South, Bears fans were dreaming of becoming a dark horse Big 12 champion, but have had to settle for sixth place in their conference and make the best of their first bowl invitation in some time.
The Illini, too, have had to readjust their expectations for this season more than once. Coming off of a disappointing 3-9 2009 season, the Illini shuffled their coaching staff and hired on two new coordinators to overhaul their schemes. For coach Ron Zook to earn his keep for many Illini fans, he would have to take the orange and blue back to a bowl. After early success and a 5-3 start, the Illini dropped three of their last four games including last minute losses to Michigan and Minnesota. While the play of running back Mikel Leshoure has been a pleasant surprise for most fans, it hasn't been enough to get the Illini overcome defensive struggles in the last month of the season.
For both teams, then, this game means a great deal more than just a nice cap to a good season, it could also define each program's season as being a success or a disappointment.