- Associated Press - Thursday, December 25, 2014

Illinois (6-6) vs. Louisiana Tech (8-5), at Dallas, 1 p.m. (ESPN)

Line: Louisiana Tech by 6.

Series Record: Louisiana Tech leads 1-0.

WHAT’S AT STAKE

Illinois will try for the third time in five seasons to win a bowl game and finish 7-6. This is the Illini’s first bowl game for third-year coach Tim Beckman. Louisiana Tech goes for its third nine-win season since starting play at college football’s highest classification in 1989, first as a Division I-A independent. The Bulldogs have three losses this season by three points, including the Conference USA championship game against Marshall.

KEY MATCHUP

Louisiana Tech DE Houston Bates vs. Illinois QB Reilly O’Toole and the rest of his former Illini teammates. After graduating from Illinois last spring, Bates transferred closer to home so that his mother could see him play every game his final season. Bates leads Louisiana Tech with 5 1/2 sacks. O’Toole is one of many good friends still playing for the Illini, including former roommates and hunting buddies.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Illinois: Junior LB Mason Monheim has 108 tackles, four forced fumbles and two interceptions, one he returned for a touchdown.

Louisiana Tech: Junior RB Kenneth Dixon is the third player in school history with multiple 1,000-yard rushing seasons. He has 3,347 career yards rushing, 6 shy of breaking Daniel Porter’s school record. He has 21 touchdowns rushing this season, 10 in the last four games.

FACTS & FIGURES

Louisiana Tech is 2-3-1 in bowl games; Illinois is 8-9. … The Illini trailed in the fourth quarter in four of six wins. … All 10 Big Ten teams eligible for bowls are playing in one, and the Heart of Dallas Bowl will be the first of them. This will be the last of five bowl games featuring Conference USA teams this season. … Louisiana Tech has scored 164 points off turnovers. … Beckman’s fourth game as Illinois’ coach was a 52-24 home loss to Louisiana Tech in 2012.

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