"Baylor fans traveled extremely well to the NCAA championship basketball regional here at Reliant Stadium last year and we feel confident that energy will transfer to a bowl appearance as well," Texas Bowl executive director Heather Houston said in a release. "Illinois has a great football tradition and the largest alumni base in the country. We are thrilled that they are our first ever Big Ten participant."
The Illini are making their first bowl appearance since playing in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day in 2008. There was speculation heading into this season on whether coach Ron Zook could afford another losing season after finishing last year 3-9 and 5-7 the season before.
The Illini were 6-6 overall and 4-4 in the Big Ten this season. Illinois is coming off a 25-23 loss to Fresno State on Friday and has lost three of its last four games. It became bowl eligible with a 48-27 win over Northwestern in its final conference game.
"I've heard it's a great bowl and our guys are looking forward to a great challenge," Zook said. "They understand that Baylor is a football team that will present another great challenge for us, but being able to come to a new area and play in a great venue, I think that's something that our guys are excited about."
Baylor was 7-5 overall and 4-4 in the Big 12. The Bears had built their record to 7-2 with impressive wins over Kansas State and at Texas, but closed out their season with losses to Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State.
"We're fortunate that we're getting to stay in state and play a Big Ten opponent in such a great pro stadium like Reliant," Baylor coach Art Briles said in a release.
Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.