Stephen Cohn: Mississippi State 24, Illinois 20
In the wake of Mike Leach’s death, this just feels like Mississippi State’s game to lose, and I don’t see them doing that. It’s not a knock on the Illini at all, who I think will be able to put up a really good fight without three of their best players. But it’s more of the heavy hearts the Bulldogs will playing with, and the entire nation cheering for the team in maroon on Monday. An 8-5 season with a close loss in a January bowl is nothing to scoff at, Illini fans. This was a successful season.
Pleas Honeywood: Mississippi State 20, Illinois 14
Mississippi State is a solid team playing with full hearts. Their air raid system will remain intact, and will challenge a depleted Illinois secondary. Illinois should be able to run the ball well, and won’t get shut down in Tommy DeVito’s last game. This should be a good game between two relatively evenly-matched teams. But the Bulldogs will pull out a win for Mike Leach in the stadium built like a pirate ship. Seems fitting, doesn’t it?
Matt Rejc: Illinois 33, Mississippi State 28
Honestly no final score for this game would surprise me. I could be convinced that the game will go to overtime, or be a blowout in one direction or the other depending on which of the multitude of factors ends up taking precedence. Mississippi State will be motivated and has substantial offensive firepower that will test a suddenly young and unproven Illini secondary. For the Illini, Tommy Devito will have one last opportunity to impress NFL scouts against high level competition, and I expect Barry Lunney to showcase his quarterback through the air and on the ground. Reggie Love will also be looking to lock up the starting running back position for next season, and a strong performance in the ReliaQuest Bowl will go a long way in that regard. Devito breaks out for 3 TDs (2 passing, 1 rushing) en route to being named the bowl MVP, while Matthew Bailey makes a name for himself on the national stage with two interceptions.
Ethan Parker: Mississippi State 28, Illinois 24
It’s been a minute since the team has taken the field and I have made a prediction so let’s hope the boys are not as rusty as I am. With key players like both Browns, Witherspoon, and many others out, a lot of players have to step and fill those shoes. With multiple starters out and the circumstances surrounding this game I can’t find myself seeing Illinois walking away from Tampa with a win. Do I want the Illini to win this game of course, but do I feel like Mississippi State has more to play for then we do, yes. The one thing I see going for us is Tommy. This being his last ride, after getting his waiver denied for next year, I can sense he will want to air the ball out and end his collegiate career with a win. This will be a great ball game to end what was a fantastic year for the Illini. Onward and upward.
Kyle Tausk: Mississippi State 27, Illinois 17
In different circumstances, I think Illinois would match up extremely well with this Mississippi State team. At full strength, I think the Illini would be extremely well equipped to slow down the Bulldog air raid attack and Chase Brown would be in line for a huge day on the ground to spark the offense. With both Browns along with Devon Witherspoon having opted out of the game however, along with the unfortunate passing of Coach Leach adding some extra motivation and heavy hearts for the Mississippi State players, I think it will be an uphill battle for Illinois in Tampa. Some expected growing pains for the Illini’s young secondary should allow Will Rogers and the Bulldog offense to put some points on the board and I just don’t see the Illini keeping up without their All-American running back in the backfield.
Jack Jungmann: Mississippi State 31, Illinois 27
Illinois is missing three of its best players for this bowl game. The absence of Witherspoon and the Brown twins will be on full display against Mississippi State’s infamous air raid offense. Also, after Coach Leach’s death, it feels like Mississippi State is playing for so much more than Illinois is. I just don’t see Illinois being able to keep up with all the odds stacked against them.
However, I expect Tommy Touchdowns to absolutely ball out.
I am excited to catch a glimpse into the next year of Illinois football, but I see Mississippi State outlasting the Illini. Give me the Bulldogs by a score of 31-27.