Illinois will play Mississippi State in ReliaQuest Bowl

Illinois wide receiver Brian Hightower celebrates after Illinois defeated Northwestern 41-3 in...
Illinois wide receiver Brian Hightower celebrates after Illinois defeated Northwestern 41-3 in an NCAA college football game in Evanston, Ill., Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)(AP)
Published: Dec. 4, 2022 at 5:37 PM CST
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DAVENPORT, Iowa (KWQC) - (Release from the University of Illinois)

The Illinois football team has accepted an invitation to play in the 2023 ReliaQuest Bowl in Tampa, Florida, it was announced Sunday. Illinois will play Mississippi State at Raymond James Stadium on Monday, Jan. 2 at 11 a.m. CT on ESPN2.

The Illini qualified for the 20th bowl game in Illinois history and the program’s top bowl game since the 2007 team played in the 2008 Rose Bowl Game. It will be a homecoming for 18 Illini that hail from Florida, including seven starters on Illinois’ nationally ranked defense.

Illinois has had one of its most successful seasons in decades, going 8-4 overall and 5-4 in the Big Ten behind the nation’s second-leading rusher, Chase Brown, and one of the top five defenses in the country. The Illini were ranked in the AP Top 25 for five straight weeks and Illinois was ranked in the College Football Playoff rankings for the first time in school history.

Illinois ranked in the top 10 in the nation in 17 major defensive categories during the regular season, including leading the nation in interceptions (22), ranking second in scoring defense (12.3), and third in total defense (263.8). A pair of Illini are national awards finalists for the first time since 1995: RB Chase Brown (Doak Walker Award) and CB Devon Witherspoon (Paycom Jim Thorpe Award).

“The University of Illinois is pleased to accept the invitation to play in Tampa’s ReliaQuest Bowl on January 2,” said Director of Athletics Josh Whitman. “Coach Bielema, our coaches and staff, and our team members have worked tirelessly since their arrival on our campus for the opportunity to compete in a game with the history, reputation, and platform of the ReliaQuest Bowl. I am proud of our program’s progress and congratulate everyone associated with Illinois Football, including our alumni, fans, and students, for earning this exciting opportunity in Tampa. I encourage Fighting Illini fans across the country to make plans to join us in Florida, and I look forward to seeing a sea of orange and blue in Raymond James Stadium.”

Bielema is 13-11 in his Illinois career, the best two-year start for an Illinois head coach since John Mackovic in the 1988-89 seasons. Bielema has led Illinois to five Big Ten road wins, the most by an Illini head coach in his first two seasons since Lou Tepper from 1992-93, as the Illini have thrived in big-game atmospheres since Bielema arrived in Champaign.

In 14 years as a head coach, Bielema has led 11 of his teams - including this year’s Illinois squad - to bowls.

“We are grateful to accept an invitation to the ReliaQuest Bowl,” said head coach Bret Bielema. “The ReliaQuest Bowl is a first-class bowl that will give our program an opportunity to play a very good SEC opponent in Mississippi State with a national spotlight in a big-game atmosphere. Our program is excited to make the most of the experiences the ReliaQuest Bowl presents for our players, staff, and fans.

“This will be a great reward to finish the 2022 season and catapult us into 2023. I couldn’t be more excited about this program where we’re at, but more importantly, where we’re going.”

Illinois will make its second-ever appearance in the ReliaQuest Bowl, which was formerly known as the Hall of Fame Bowl (1986–1995) and Outback Bowl (1996–2022). The Illini fell to Clemson in the 1991 Hall of Fame Bowl to finish the 1990 season.

It will be the Illini’s first bowl game in the state of Florida since the 1999 Bowl, a dominant 63–21 win over Virginia in Miami. This will be the ninth January bowl game in Illinois history and first since the 2008 Rose Bowl Game.

The team will enjoy a beach day at Clearwater Beach, a trip to the children’s wing of Tampa General Hospital, a night at Splitsville at Sparkman Wharf, and a visit to Busch Gardens prior to the Jan. 2 game.

“We are excited to extend an invitation to the University of Illinois and the Mississippi State University to play in this year’s ReliaQuest Bowl,” said ReliaQuest Bowl Chair Troy Atlas.  “These are two quality teams that we expect will produce an exciting match-up fans are really going to enjoy.  We look forward to hosting the teams and their fans and ensure they will have an amazing experience at the game and enjoying the dynamic Tampa Bay area.”

Ticket Info

Illini fans can now submit their ticket requests to the ReliaQuest Bowl. I FUND members and season ticket holders should sign into their Fighting Illini account to place their ticket request. Ticket requests will be accepted until Thursday, December 8 at 4:00 p.m. CT. Ticket requests will be allocated based on I FUND annual giving levels and priority points.

For information on fan events, visit