Illinois vs Mississippi State ReliaQuest Bowl Prediction Game Preview

Illinois vs Mississippi State prediction, game preview, odds, how to watch. ReliaQuest Bowl, Monday, January 2, 2023

Illinois vs Mississippi State ReliaQuest Bowl Prediction Game Preview

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Illinois vs Mississippi State How To Watch

Date: Monday, January 2, 2023
Game Time: 12:00 ET
Venue: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL
How To Watch: ESPN2
Record: Illinois (8-4), Mississippi State (8-4)
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Illinois vs Mississippi State ReliaQuest Bowl 5 Things To Know

ReliaQuest Bowl Prediction, What’s Going To Happen, History

It’s the first game of 2023, and it’s the first game for Mississippi State without the late head coach Mike Leach. Overall this was a solid season under Leach with wins in three of the last four games – including a win over arch-rival Ole Miss – on the way to a good 2023 bowl game, but of course the season and this game will be remembered for Leach.

Nothing is going to immediately change under new head coach Zach Arnett. The Bulldogs are still going to throw the ball a bajillion times, the defense is going to be solid, and the team should be able to handle the Illinois style.

Illinois was one of the 2022 season’s best surprises. Under head coach Bret Bielema, the offense was tough up front, the defense was among the best in the country, and it all worked well enough to destroy Wisconsin – and end the Paul Chryst era – beat Iowa, and push Michigan to the brink. It was a rough finishing kick with losses to Michigan State and Purdue keeping it out of Big Ten Championship, but this season was just the beginning of a strong new era of Illinois football.

Here’s the problem. It’s missing some of its key stars. Chase Brown was as good as any running back in the country, Luke Ford was a terrific tight end, and the opt-out losses in the secondary against this passing team is devastating.

– This is the first bowl game for Illinois since losing the 2019 Redbox to Cal. The last bowl win was against UCLA in the 2011 Kraft Fight Hunger, and the program is a rough 2-4 in bowls since 1999’s blowout win over Virginia in the Micron PC. Bielema has been decent in bowls – he went 2-1 at Arkansas – but he was just 2-4 at Wisconsin with two straight Rose Bowl losses before leaving for the Hog gig.

Mississippi State was terrific in bowls games for a long stretch – going 9-2 in 11 bowls from the 1999 Peach up to the end of the Dan Mullen era with a win over Louisville in the 2017 TaxSlayer. Under Joe Moorhead and Mike Leach, the Bulldogs went 1-3, getting rocked by Texas Tech 34-7 last year in the Liberty.

It’s the inaugural ReliaQuest Bowl, but you probably know it better as the old Outback Bowl. It’s been SEC vs Big Ten after Wisconsin beat Duke in 1995 with the SEC going 16-10 and winning the last two. Last year’s 24-10 Arkansas win over Penn State was better than the final score, and the previous five were all decided by one score.

CFN Experts Picks: Jan 2 Bowls

Why Illinois Will Win The ReliaQuest Bowl

The defense really is that good.

It might be missing a few very, very important defensive backs – more on that in a moment – but the style and the D should still work. The Illini finished second in the nation in total defense behind Air Force, it was first in scoring defense allowing just 12.2 points per game, and most importantly in this, it’s No. 1 in the nation in passing efficiency defense.

The defense allowed fewer than 2,000 yards this season and just eight touchdowns, and it picked off 22 passes. No, the team didn’t face a slew of high-powered passing teams, but the losses mostly came against teams that could throw.

There’s one massive difference between what Indiana, Michigan State, and Purdue did in their three wins and what Mississippi State does – downfield passes.

The Bulldogs will throw it 50 times, but there’s no rushing yards, and there’s nothing happening when it comes to the deep shots. The passing game averages under ten yards per completion – the third-lowest in college football – meaning the Illini will allow short passes, and then have to make the tackle. They can do that.

However …

Top 100 Bowl Players | Ranking Bowl Games So Far

Why Mississippi State Will Win The ReliaQuest Bowl

CB Devon Witherspoon and S Sydney Brown. Those are two NFL starting defensive backs Illinois won’t have around, and it’s going to matter.

The Illini defense will hold its own. Mississippi State will have a hard time moving the chains, it’ll have to deal with a ton of third down moments, and Illinois is as good as anyone in the country at coming up with third down stops. But the new parts in the Illinois secondary will hurt just enough to allow Will Rogers and company to keep things moving.

Yes, Illinois, Michigan State, and Purdue were able to stretch the field a bit, but none of them were Tennessee when it came to winging it around. Illinois lost four games this year, going 0-3 when giving up 208 yards or more, and the fourth loss came to Michigan State, who completed 66% of its passes – the best completion day by anyone against Illinois.

Mississippi State was below 208 passing yards just once – it threw for 203 against Kentucky – and was only below 60% three times. It’s 8-1 when it hits 60% or more of its throws.

There’s that, and …

ReliaQuest Bowl Prediction, What’s Going To Happen, History

NEXT: What’s Going To Happen, Illinois vs Mississippi State Prediction, ReliaQuest Bowl History

Illinois vs Mississippi State ReliaQuest Bowl, What’s Going To Happen

Mississippi State has a run defense, the team is great at coming up with third down stops, and unlike Illinois, it’s not getting hit with key opt-outs and transfers.

There are a few, but for the most part the Bulldogs should be okay with what’s coming back.

The storyline will be about Mississippi State’s passing game and the memory of Mike Leach, but in the game it’ll be about whether or not Illinois can run.

The Illini has to run, and it needs to control the tempo and the clock. They’re 7-1 when running for 155 yards or more, and 1-3 when they don’t. They’ll run for over 155 yards, even without Chase Brown.

Mississippi State doesn’t win low scoring games. It’s 8-0 when scoring more than 20 points and 0-4 when scoring fewer. Illinois is 8-0 when allowing fewer than 19 points and 0-4 when allowing that many or more.

Illinois will slow this down to a dead stop, and the Mississippi State passing style will play into what Bielema’s team needs.

Illinois vs Mississippi State ReliaQuest Bowl, Prediction, Line

CFN Prediction: Illinois 20, Mississippi State 19
Line: Mississippi State -1.5, o/u: 46
ATS Confidence out of 5: 1.5
ReliaQuest Bowl Must See Rating (out of 5): 4
CFN Experts Picks: Jan 2 Bowls

ReliaQuest Bowl History

Jan. 1, 2022 Arkansas 24, Penn State 10
Jan. 2, 2021 Ole Miss 26, Indiana 20
Jan. 1, 2020 Minnesota 31, Auburn 24
Jan. 1, 2019 Iowa 27, Mississippi State 22
Jan. 1, 2018 South Carolina 26, Michigan 19
Jan. 2, 2017 Florida 30, Iowa 3
Jan. 1, 2016 Tennessee 45 Northwestern 6
Jan. 1, 2015 Wisconsin 34 Auburn 31
Jan. 1, 2014 LSU 21 Iowa 14
Jan. 1, 2013 South Carolina 33 Michigan 28
Jan. 2, 2012 Michigan State 33 Georgia 30 (3 OT)
Jan. 1, 2011 Florida 37 Penn State 24
Jan. 1, 2010 Auburn 38 Northwestern 35 (OT)
Jan. 1, 2009 Iowa 31 South Carolina 10
Jan. 1, 2008 Tennessee 21 Wisconsin 17
Jan. 1, 2007 Penn State 20 Tennessee 10
Jan. 2, 2006 Florida 31 Iowa 24
Jan. 1, 2005 Georgia 24 Wisconsin 21
Jan. 1, 2004 Iowa 37 Florida 17
Jan. 1, 2003 Michigan 38 Florida 30
Jan. 1, 2002 South Carolina 31 Ohio State 28
Jan. 1, 2001 South Carolina 24 Ohio State 7
Jan. 1, 2000 Georgia 28 Purdue 25
Jan. 1, 1999 Penn State 26 Kentucky 14
Jan. 1, 1998 Georgia 33 Wisconsin 6
Jan. 1, 1997 Alabama 17 Michigan 14
Jan. 1, 1996 Penn State 43 Auburn 14
Jan. 2, 1995 Wisconsin 34 Duke 20
Jan. 1, 1994 Michigan 42 N.C. State 7
Jan. 1, 1993 Tennessee 38 Boston College 23
Jan. 1, 1992 Syracuse 24 Ohio State 7
Jan. 1, 1991 Clemson 30 Illinois 0
Jan. 1, 1990 Auburn 31 Ohio State 14
Jan. 2, 1989 Syracuse 23 LSU 10
Jan. 2, 1988 Michigan 28 Alabama 24
Dec. 23, 1986 Boston College 27 Georgia 24

2022-2023 Bowl Schedule, Predictions

Story originally appeared on College Football News