Mississippi State vs. Illinois ReliaQuest Bowl: Bulldogs Rally for Mike Leach

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Former head coach Mike Leach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs on November 24, 2022 Justin Ford/Getty Images/AFP

NCAAF Pick: Mississippi State -1 (-108) at Heritage Sports (visit our Heritage Sports Review)

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Mississippi State -1 (-108)
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If you’re looking for NCAAF picks, you’ve come to the right place with our focus on the ReliaQuest Bowl pitting Mississippi State of the SEC against Illinois from the Big Ten.

Mississippi State Bulldogs vs. Illinois Fighting Illini

Monday, January 2, 2023 – 12:00 PM EST at Raymond James Stadium

According to the official Mississippi State list, there are no injuries to report. But we know that’s not true with the entire Bulldogs team carrying heavy hearts into their matchup with Illinois in the inaugural ReliaQuest Bowl.

The death of Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach a couple of weeks before Christmas stunned the college football world, and his players would love nothing more than to honor their late mentor with a victory to ring in the new year and the new era under Zach Arnett.

Tightest Odds of Bowl Schedule

One of the most basic rules in sports gambling is never bet with your heart. But it’s going to be impossible to ignore the emotional factor of this contest with Leach’s passing sending a wave of grief across the entire sport of college football.

Whether or not some of those emotions are spilling over into the wagering remains unclear, but it is clear the collision between Mississippi State and Illinois is projected to be the closest match of the bowl season with the spread bouncing back and forth across the pick ‘em line.

Some shops are still carrying the game as a pick while others are currently showing the Bulldogs to be slim 1-point favorites. Monday’s total bar has been set in the 46-46½ range after opening a couple of points lower.

Rogers Directs Air Raid Offense

Mississippi State ran the tough gauntlet that is an SEC West schedule on a breakeven pace with four wins and four losses in conference play. Three of the four defeats were on the road, the lone exception being a whipping at the hands of top-ranked Georgia.

The Bulldogs were among the conference leaders in several offensive categories such as scoring (32.7 ppg) and passing (314 ypg), with the unit led by junior Will Rogers who was the only SEC quarterback to average more than 300 yards per game through the air.

Defensively, Mississippi State was average by SEC standards, ranking seventh in scoring (24.2 ppg) and 11th in sacks (2 per game).

Illini Minus 2 Key Players

Illinois isn’t listing a lot of actual injuries to be concerned with, but that doesn’t mean the Fighting Illini are going to be at full strength for Monday’s contest.

Bret Bielema’s bunch will be without the aptly-named Chase Brown who had Big Ten defenders chasing him all season without much success. Brown was third in the nation rushing for more than 1,600 yards, and opted out of the bowl game to preserve his health before the NFL Draft.

The Fighting Illini will also have to go without Sydney Brown, who led the Big Ten with six interceptions and was second on the team with 59 tackles.

Rivalry Trends & Bowl History

Illinois and Mississippi State first met 100 years ago during the 1923 season, and last met in 1980 with both previous encounters taking place in Champaign. The clashes were split, the Fighting Illini winning the first and the Bulldogs earning a 28-21 win back in the Fall of ’80.

This is the second appearance for both schools in this bowl event. Mississippi State dropped a tough 27-22 decision to Iowa in 2019 when it was known as the Outback Bowl, and Illinois was routed 30-0 by Clemson at the 1991 Hall of Fame Bowl.

  • Illinois is playing in its first bowl since the 2019 season and just the second since 2012.
  • The Fighting Illini are 2-2 SU & ATS in its last four bowl games, that span going back to the 2010 Texas Bowl.
  • Mississippi State is bowling for a 13th-straight season, going 7-5 in the previous dozen.
  • The Bulldogs are 3-2 ATS in their last five bowls, with totals at top sportsbooks running 3-2 O/U.

The Pick

Illinois was much better at beating the NCAAF odds this year than Mississippi State. The Fighting Illini covered eight of 12 games while the Bulldogs ran 6-5-1 ATS.

Those covers came with the Fighting Illini having their top tailback defensive back on the field, however, and the absence of Sydney Brown against the Mississippi State aerial show is especially concerning. Bulldogs win it for Leach with the final sailing past the total.

Fans from the Magnolia state looking to make a wager on this game can check out our top Mississippi betting sites.

Final Score: Bulldogs 30 – Fighting Illini 23

NCAAF Pick: Over 46 (-108) at Heritage Sports

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Over 46 (-108)
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*The line and/or odds on picks in this article might have moved since the content was commissioned. For updated line movements, visit BMR’s free betting odds product