A busy slate of New Year’s college football bowl games begins in Tampa with the ReliaQuest Bowl. Teams from the SEC and Big Ten Conferences are set to go head-to-head as the Mississippi State Bulldogs battle the Illinois Fighting Illini. Emotions certainly figure to be running high on the Bulldogs’ sideline as this will be the team’s first game since the tragic passing of head coach Mike Leach. An influx of college football betting picks has swung the Mississippi State vs Illinois odds through pick’em in the lead-up to this game.

The following game preview provides the college football betting odds, trends and FEI Index ratings before sharing our official Mississippi State vs Illinois prediction for the ReliaQuest Bowl matchup.

Mississippi State vs Illinois Prediction | College Football Betting Picks

ReliaQuest Bowl
Mississippi State Bulldogs (8-4, 4-4 SEC) vs. Illinois Fighting Illini (8-4, 5-4 Big Ten)
Date: Monday, January 2, 2023
Time: 12 p.m. EST
Venue: Raymond James Stadium — Tampa, FL
Coverage: ESPN2

Coming into the year, many viewed Mississippi State as a dark horse capable of making noise in the loaded SEC. The Bulldogs actually took a lead into the fourth quarter in their conference opener at LSU but failed to stick the landing in what was their first loss of the season. After bouncing back with dominant home wins over Texas A&M and Arkansas, State’s offense sputtered in a road loss to Kentucky. The Bullies also lost lopsided affairs against Alabama and Georgia late in the year before closing with a win over rival Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl.

Bret Bielema’s second season at Illinois wound up being one of the most successful in recent program history. One would have to go all the way back to 2007 to find the last time that the Fighting Illini won eight games in a season. Following a loss to Indiana in the second game of the year, Illinois rattled off six consecutive wins to enter the national rankings. Aspirations of winning the Big Ten West Division were thwarted by a three-game November losing streak. The Illini were able to rebound with a blowout win over rival Northwestern in the regular season finale.

Credit: Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Mississippi State vs Illinois College Football Betting Picks and Odds

All college football betting odds for Mississippi State vs Illinois can be found at BetOnline Sportsbook.

Moneyline: MSU: (-133) | ILL: (+113)
Point Spread: MSU: -2.5 (-110) | ILL: +2.5 (-110)
Total: 46 — Over: (-110) | Under: (-110)

College Football FEI Ratings

The following table shares the Fremeau Efficiency Index rankings for both teams involved in this ReliaQuest Bowl matchup. The purpose of the FEI ratings is to represent the per-possession scoring advantage that a team would be expected to have on a neutral field against an average opponent. The rankings for offense and defense are out of 131 total FBS-level teams.

Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) ratings are froFootball Outsiders

TeamOverall FEI (Rk)OFEI (Rk)DFEI (Rk)
Mississippi State.63 (15).47 (38).75 (13)
Illinois.58 (17).01 (63)1.13 (3)
  • Bulldogs are 3-0-1 ATS in their last four non-conference games.
  • Five of the Bulldogs’ last six games following an ATS win have stayed UNDER the total.
  • The UNDER is 8-2 in the Bulldogs’ last ten games following a close straight up win of three points or less.
  • Fighting Illini are 9-2-1 ATS in their last 12 games against teams with a winning record.
  • Six of the Fighting Illini’s last seven neutral site games have gone UNDER the total.
  • Fighting Illini are 10-0 ATS in their last ten games against teams that have outscored their opponents by more than 7.0 points per game.
  • Betting underdogs have gone 6-0 ATS in the Bulldogs’ last six bowl games while also winning each of the last five outright.

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Mississippi State vs Illinois Prediction | College Football Betting Picks

The ReliaQuest Bowl has arguably had the most fascinating line movement of any bowl game this year. Bookmakers first opened the game as an even pick’em. Initially, the Mississippi State vs Illinois odds moved in the latter’s favor. More recently, the spread has swung back through pick’em in the Bulldogs’ direction. After previously being a two-point underdog, MSU is now laying -2.5 across the market.

Many people have backed Mississippi State in this game simply based on the tragic passing of Mike Leach. The man known for inventing the Air Raid offense died unexpectedly last month due to heart complications. Rather than search for a new head coach, the program simply promoted defensive coordinator Zach Arnett to the position. Steve Spurrier Jr. will handle play-calling duties in the bowl game.

Going off of the Bulldogs’ defensive statistics from this past season, Arnett was certainly deserving of being promoted to head coach. State returned a wealth of experience on the defensive side of the ball and the unit more than held its own despite facing a grueling schedule.

There are a couple of key factors that favor Mississippi State’s defense in this particular matchup. The first is the fact that star corner Emmanuel Forbes has decided to play in the bowl game prior to departing the program for the NFL. With Forbes locking down one side of the field, what was already a lackluster Illinois passing attack figures to struggle that much more.

Meanwhile, Illinois’ top running back Chase Brown has opted out. While the Fighting Illini do have a couple of other talented backs in Reggie Love and Josh McCray, they will be up against a defense that stymied the potent rushing attack of Ole Miss to just 78 yards its last time out.

Despite losing leading receiver RaRa Thomas to the transfer portal, Mississippi State still has plenty of weapons for quarterback Will Rogers to target. Statically speaking, Illinois had one of the best defenses in the country this year. However, one could argue that those stats were inflated due to playing against poor offensive opponents in the Big Ten. What’s more, with DBs Sydney Brown and Devon Witherspoon both opting out, the Illini may be in for a long afternoon trying to defend the Air Raid.

MISSISSIPPI STATE COVERS will be our official college football betting Mississippi State vs Illinois prediction for the ReliaQuest Bowl.

For what it’s worth, the ESPN Matchup Predictor gives Mississippi State a 54.0% chance to win this game outright.

Bet: Mississippi State -2.5 (-110 at BetOnline Sportsbook)

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Henry’s passion for sports dates all the way back to childhood and has ultimately led to a full-fledged career as an analyst and content creator. After getting his start penning fantasy football articles, he forrayed into the betting side of the business in early 2019. His love for sports and statistics proved to be an ideal match with the dedicated research and strategy that handicapping requires. Henry currently specializes in betting analysis and picks for college football, college basketball and NASCAR. He counts the NFL, the WNBA, and NBA player props as additional leagues/markets of interest. Henry graduated from SUNY Buffalo in 2021 with a Communication Studies degree and a Psychology minor. A native of the Finger Lakes region in Upstate New York, he and his pup, Harold, have since relocated to Laramie, Wyoming. Thanks to his professional goals within the sports betting industry, there has been a whole lot of steam on the odds for a move to Las Vegas in 2023! Most of Henry’s free time is spent on outdoor adventures, playing chess, snowboarding, or reading a good book. He is also a competitive powerlifter and aspires to qualify for the USAPL Nationals meet within the next 2-3 years.

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