Illinois needed to win its last two games to become bowl- eligible, then had to wait another week before finding out if there would be more football.

Louisiana Tech knew after winning six of seven at the end of the regular season that it was going to a bowl. And the Bulldogs already have played an extra week, a 26-23 loss to Marshall in the Conference USA Championship Game.

Now the Illini (6-6) of the Big Ten and the Bulldogs (8-5), both coached by the sons of coaches, meet Friday in the Heart of Dallas Bowl at historic Cotton Bowl Stadium. It's the first of 10 bowl games involving a Big Ten team, and the last of five for Conference USA.

"You want your seniors to leave with success," third-year Illinois coach Tim Beckman said. "They have done a great job with this program. I'm proud of them. We have made strides from Day 1, and we are doing it on and off the football field."

This is the third time in five seasons the Illini go into a bowl 6-6. They won the previous two, but that was before they went 6-18 in Beckman's first two seasons.

Skip Holtz is wrapping up his second year at Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs overcame a 2-3 start this season that included games against Oklahoma and Auburn.

"We talked about we're a work in progress as a young team, and we had to grow and develop as the year went on, and I felt like they really did," Holtz said.

Newcomer Rutgers breaking new ground

With the NFL's Lions taking over Detroit's bowl game, the city was able to upgrade its conference matchup, going from a top Mid-American Conference team and an at-large berth to a Big Ten vs. ACC pairing.

Newcomer Rutgers is representing the Big Ten in the inaugural Quick Lane Bowl on Friday against North Carolina.

The schools met for the first time in 1894 — a 5-0 Rutgers victory — several years before the Tar Heels had an official football program. They played again in 1919, then took an 87-year hiatus before facing off four times in the past nine regular seasons.


• South Carolina junior running back Mike Davis is leaving the Gamecocks for the NFL draft after Saturday's Independence Bowl vs. Miami. Davis has 927 yards so far this this season after rushing for 1,183 yards as a sophomore last year.