Previewing the ReliaQuest Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Illinois
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This is the preview for the ReliaQuest Bowl:
Date: Monday, January 2, 12:00 p.m. ET
Raymond James Stadium (Tampa, FL)
Betting splits: 68% of handle, 71% of bets on Mississippi State -1.5
It will be an emotional afternoon in Tampa for the ReliaQuest Bowl, as Mississippi State takes the field without head coach Mike Leach. Leach’s tragic passing shocked the college football world and tributes have poured in, both on the field and off of it. Football doesn’t really seem to matter much in the context of this game, but those that are looking to bet on it are faced with a difficult handicap.
Defensive coordinator Zach Arnett has been elevated to head coach, so his gameday responsibilities have increased dramatically. Leach was not only the head coach but also served in the role of offensive coordinator by calling his own plays. Will Rogers III is an excellent quarterback for this scheme and he likely had a lot of autonomy with the plays, so the offense may very well be in his hands after posting a 34/6 TD/INT ratio and 3,713 passing yards during the regular season.
These two teams could not be more different stylistically. While the Bulldogs run the Air Raid offense, Illinois runs a ground-and-pound style under Bret Bielema. The Fighting Illini will be missing star running back Chase Brown, who rushed for 1,643 and 10 touchdowns. The backups aren’t on his level, but they’ll get a chance to impress here. Tommy DeVito posted a 15/4 TD/INT ratio after transferring in from Syracuse.
The Illini also have some coaching turnover, as DC Ryan Walters took the head coaching job at Purdue. Illinois was second in the nation in yards per play allowed with 4.26. Interestingly, defensive backs coach Aaron Henry was promoted to DC and his unit will be the one in the spotlight here against Mississippi State’s spread attack.
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