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Mississippi State vs. Illinois picks and best bets for ReliaQuest Bowl

The Bulldogs will play with heavy hearts following the passing of head coach Mike Leach.

Arkansas v Mississippi State Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

The No. 22 Mississippi State Bulldogs and Illinois Fighting Illini meet up in the Outback ReliaQuest Bowl at Raymond James Stadium on Monday, January 2 in Tampa, Florida. The game kicks off at 12:00 p.m. ET, and will air on ESPN2.

Mississippi State (8-4) had a successful season in the SEC this fall but will head into this bowl game with heavy hearts after the sudden death of head coach Mike Leach in mid-December. The players decided to go forward with the game to honor Leach and will be led by defensive coordinator/newly appointed head coach Zach Arnett. The key player to watch will be quarterback Will Rogers, who threw for just under 4,000 yards and 34 touchdowns this season.

Illinois (8-4) took a huge step forward in the second year of the Bret Bielema era and secured its first winning season since 2011. The Illini were 7-1 at one point during the year and seemed destined for the Big Ten Championship Game before suffering a three-game losing streak near the end of the campaign. Dynamic running back Chase Brown quietly led the country with over 1,600 rushing yards this season, but has elected to opt out of this game to focus on the 2023 NFL Draft.

Current lines at DraftKings Sportsbook

Spread: Mississippi State -3
Total: 46
Moneyline: Mississippi State -150, Illinois +130

Opening line: Pick ‘em
Opening total: 44

Key players that have opted-out, injuries for ReliaQuest Bowl

Mississippi State

S Collin Duncan (NFL Draft)
WR Scoobie Ford (transfer portal)
RB Ke’Travion Hargrove (transfer portal)
RB J.J. Jernighan (transfer portal)
RB Dillon Johnson (transfer portal)
S Dylan Lawrence (transfer portal)
WR Rara Thomas (transfer portal)
WR Zavion Thomas (transfer portal)


RB Chase Brown (opt-out)
S Sydney Brown (opt-out)
TE Luke Ford (opt-out)
RB Aidan Laughery (injury)
CB Tahveon Nicholson (Injury)
RB DD Snyder (Transfer portal)
CB Devon Witherspoon (opt-out)


83 degrees, partly sunny, 7 MPH winds ESE

The Pick

Mississippi State -3

There’s no way Mississippi State walks out of Raymond James Stadium without a victory on Monday. The team will be motivated by playing for their fallen head coach and the lack of Chase Brown will be a huge blow to the Illini. Give me the Bulldogs to cover and roll in Tampa.