Mississippi State vs. Illinois prediction, pick, ReliaQuest Bowl odds, spread, live stream, watch online, tv

No. 22 Mississippi State and Illinois begin the new year on Monday in Tampa, Fla., facing off in the ReliaQuest Bowl. Or, as you may call it, The Bowl Formerly known as the Outback. Unfortunately, while bowl games are meant to be a celebration of the season’s accomplishments, there is a somber tone surrounding this game as it will be the first game Mississippi State plays since the tragic and unexpected death of head coach Mike Leach. Leach died at age 61 on Dec. 12, less than three weeks after the Bulldogs closed out the regular season with a 24-22 victory over rival Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl.

There was some consideration of canceling the game, but the team decided that would be what Coach Leach wanted. After all, the game is played on a field with a pirate ship.

Zach Arnett will be at the helm after being named as Leach’s replacement. He has been the team’s defensive coordinator since the 2020 season. The Bulldogs face an Illinois team led by second-year head coach Brett Bielema, who led the Illini to their best regular season record since the 2007 season that saw the team reach the Rose Bowl. Illinois started the year 7-1, ranked No. 14 in the AP Top 25, but has dropped three of its last four games. However, they nearly changed the course of the College Football Playoff by nearly beating Michigan on the road before the Wolverines used a last-second field goal to escape with a 19-17 victory.

Illinois vs. Mississippi State: I need to know

Will Rogers became Mississippi State’s all-time leading passer: Rodgers has been the most productive passer in the SEC this season. He leads the league with 3,713 yards passing, 34 touchdowns and seven games of at least 300 yards passing. He also became the Bulldogs’ all-time leading passer this season, surpassing the 9,376-yard mark previously set by Dak Prescott. Rodgers enters the final game of the season with 10,428 yards passing as a Bulldog.

Illinois’ first bowl appearance since 2019: The Illini have had an impressive turnaround under Bielema. The program went to just one bowl game in five seasons under Lovie Smith, losing the 2019 Redbox Bowl to Cal. This appearance was the team’s first trip to a bowl game since the 2014 Heart of Dallas Bowl, which was the only bowl game the team had been to in three seasons under Tim Beckman. This is not a team that goes to bowls often! In fact, if they return to a bowl next season, it will be the first time Illinois has gone to bowls in back-to-back seasons since 2010-11. The 2011 Fight Hunger Bowl win over UCLA is also the last time Illinois won a bowl game.

Air Raid against one of the best pass defenses in the country: Styles create battles and this game offers an amazing clash of styles. No team in the country threw the ball more often than Mississippi State, which averaged 49.1 pass attempts per game. That Air Raid offense that Mike Leach made famous and helped change the sport (both at the college and NFL levels) will be tested in this one. Illinois’ defense ranks first nationally in pass defense efficiency at 89.77. The second best team in the nation was Penn State at 104.01. Illinois intercepted nearly three times as many passes (22) as it allowed touchdowns (8).

How to watch the ReliaQuest Bowl live

Date: Monday, January 2 | year: 12 pm. ET
Location: Raymond James Stadium — Tampa, Florida
TV: ESPN2 | Live broadcast: fuboTV (Try Free)

ReliaQuest Bowl Prediction, Picks

Selected game | Illinois Fighting Illini vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs

Outs always play a key role in bowls, and there are significant ones in this game. Rara Thomas led Mississippi State with 626 yards this season and caught seven touchdowns, but transferred to Georgia. Meanwhile, Illinois will be without leading rusher and Doak Walker Award finalist Chase Brown, as well as two key members of the secondary in Devon Witherspoon and Sydney Brown. Also, Illinois defensive coordinator Ryan Walters left to take the coaching position at Purdue. I’m not getting a good read on who wins this game, but the one constant in Illinois games all season has been low scores. Let’s stick to it. Forecast: Below 46

What college football picks can you make with confidence during bowl season, and which underdogs will win outright? Visit SportsLine to see which teams will win and cover the spread — all from a proven computer model that has returned nearly $2,500 in profit over the past six-plus seasons — and find out.

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