Illinois returned to the postseason for the first time since the 2007 season when it qualified for the 2010 Texas Bowl. The Illini then proceeded to hammer Baylor, 38-14, in the bowl game played in Houston, less than 200 miles from the Bears' campus. All-American running back Mikel Leshoure broke the UI single-season rushing record with 1,697 yards and ranked fifth in the nation in yards per game (130.5). He also broke Illinois records for total touchdowns (20), rushing touchdowns (17) and 100-yard rushing games (nine) in a season. Leshoure ran for 121.6 yards per game during Bigd Ten play to become the first Illini running back to lead the league in rushing since Jim Grabowski in 1965.
After the season, four Illini were selected in the 2011 NFL Draft, with defensive tackle Corey Liuget being taken in the first round by the San Diego Chargers and Leshoure being selected in the second round by the Detroit Lions. The New Orleans Saints drafted linebacker Martez Wilson in the third round and also picked linebacker Nate Bussey in the seventh round.
After a disappointing opening loss to Missouri, the Illini rebounded with victories over Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois. The Orange and Blue played No. 2 Ohio State to the wire, getting within 17-13 in the fourth quarter before the Buckeyes scored the decisive touchdown with 1:49 remaining to take a 24-13 win.
Illinois bounced back the following weekend, though, blasting Penn State, 33-13, in State College for the Illini's first win at PSU in program history. Leshoure rushed for 119 yards and Nathan Scheelhaase completed 15-of-19 passes for 151 yards, while the defense held the Nittany Lions to 65 rushing yards and 235 yards of total offense.
After a 26-3 loss at No. 13 Michigan State in which the Illini held a 6-3 halftime lead, Illinois reeled off a pair of resounding victories at home. The Orange and Blue drubbed Indiana, 43-13, on the 100th anniversary of Homecoming, behind a pair of touchdown passes from Scheelhaase and a pair of interceptions returned for touchdowns. The next week, Illinois blasted Purdue, 44-10, after shutting out the Boilermakers through the first three quarters. Scheelhaase ran for 118 yards, while completing 16-of-20 passes for four touchdowns and 195 yards, as the Illini clamed the “Cannon” trophy for the first time since 2002.
In a game that became an instant classic, Illinois dropped a heartbreaking 67-65 triple-overtime decision to Michigan in Ann Arbor. The game saw five lead changes and over 1,200 yards of total offense. Leshoure rushed for 120 yards and three touchdowns on the ground while catching two passes for 52 yards and two more scores. Scheelhaase threw three touchdowns passes and rushed for 101 yards and another score, but a missed block on a two-point conversion in the third overtime gave the Wolverines the victory.
After Minnesota snagged a 38-34 victory over the Illini the following week, Illinois regrouped and ran away with a 48-27 victory over Northwestern at Wrigley Field in the first football game played in the Chicago Cubs' home park in 40 years. Because the field's dimensions have changed since football left Wrigley Field, offensive plays went in only one direction as a safety precaution. That didn't bother Illinois, which rushed for 519 yards, including a UI single-game record 330 by Leshoure, while Scheelhaase added 97 yards and Jason Ford totaled 86 yards and three touchdowns. After Northwestern tied the game at 24 in the second quarter, the Illini exploded for 24 of the game's next 27 points to run away with the win and become bowl-eligible.
Following a nerve-wracking 25-23 loss at Fresno State on Dec. 3, the Illini learned their postseason destination was the Texas Bowl, where they would take on Baylor. After the Illinois defense shut out the Bears in the first half and UI took a 16-0 lead to the locker room, Leshoure took over from there, finishing with 184 yards and three touchdowns, as he etched his name into the Illinois record books. Scheelhaase began the game by completing his first 13 passes, a school record for consecutive completions, and he finished the game 18-of-23 for 242 yards. He capped the game with a 55-yard touchdown run on a naked bootleg that completely surprised the Bears' defense. The Illini also broke the school records for points in a season (423) and points per game (32.53), after averaging 42.1 points per game over the final seven games of the season.
Following the season, Leshoure was named Running Back of the Year by College Football Performance Awards and earned second-team All-America honors from the Associated Press. He was a first-team All-Big Ten pick by the coaches and media, and earned Texas Bowl most valuable player honors. Defensive tackle Corey Liuget earned fourth-team All-America honors from Phil Steele and was a second-team All-Big Ten selection, while fellow defensive tackle Akeem Spence earned first-team Freshman All-American honors from Phil Steele. Scheelhaase was a fourth-team Freshman All-American by Phil Steele and linebacker Martez Wilson was a first-team All-Big Ten pick, along with punter Anthony Santella. Tackle Jeff Allen and kicker Derek Dimke were second-team All-Big Ten selections, while linebacker Nate Bussey, safety Trulon Henry, center Graham Pocic and safety Tavon Wilson were honorable mention All-Big Ten honorees.