Mississippi State heads to the Reliaquest Bowl with heavy hearts to face Illinois after head coach Mike Leach tragically passed away.
The Bulldogs promoted defensive coordinator Zach Arnett to replace Leach, who died suddenly in the time between the regular season and the Reliaquest Bowl. Mississippi State has made it clear they want to win for their fallen coach and from an on-field handicap will have all their key contributors available while Illinois has several opt-outs.
Here’s the odds and our best bet for the Reliaquest Bowl:
Mississippi State vs. Illinois odds, spread and total:
Mississippi State vs. Illinois betting trends
- Bret Bielema is 5-4 against the spread (ATS) in bowl games
- Illinois is 7-4 ATS this season
- Mississippi State is 5-5-1 ATS this season
Mississippi State vs. Illinois prediction and pick
While my initial lean was towards Illinois, the opt outs are hard to ignore for the Illini. First and foremost, Illinois will be without their best offensive player, running back Chase Brown. Brown rushed for 1,643 yards on 328 carries with 10 touchdowns, clearly a middling Illinois’ offense most effective player.
Not to mention, the team will be without their two future NFL players in the secondary in cornerback Devon Witherspoon and Chase’s brother Sydney Brown at safety. That’s going to be impactful against Mississippi State’s air raid offense that is 23rd in success rate on the highest pass percentage in the country.
On the other side, without Brown, Illinois is going to struggle to move the ball, 120th in explosive pass rate and bottom 10 in red zone touchdown percentage. That’s with Brown in, but now Tommy DeVito is going to need to make plays with little help from the ground game. He will be facing a stout Mississippi State defensive line that is 37th in yards per play allowed and turn their opponents over at a high rate, 22nd in the country in TO’s forced.
With opt-outs on Illinois side and fully buy in from Mississippi State to win this game in honor of coach Leach, I’ll back the Bulldogs.