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As we head into the Reliaquest Bowl featuring Mississippi State and Illinois, we have to first mourn the passing of Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach.
Leach passed away on December 12 following issues with a heart condition. At the time of his death, Leach ranked fifth all-time in college football wins.
After his passing, Mississippi State named Zach Arnett the interim and, ultimately, the permanent head coach.
For Illinois, their defensive coordinator Ryan Walters accepted the head coaching job at Purdue. He’s just 36 years old.
As for the players, there are some notable opt-outs on both sides.
Mississippi State will be without wide receiver Rara Thomas who has 44 catches this season, and running back Dillon Johnson, who was part of the MSU platoon approach they took this season.
Illinois will be without two important players in, cornerback Devon Witherspoon and safety Sydney Brown who declared for the NFL Draft. Brown’s brother, running back Chase Brown, also opted out and is headed to the NFL Draft—he was the workhorse for the team this year, racking up 329 carries for 1,632 yards.
Below is a complete list of the players not participating in this game, whether it be because of opting out, injury, or transferring.
WR Rara Thomas
WR Zavion Thomas
WR Scoobie Ford
S Dylan Lawrence
RB Ke’Travion Hargrove
RB J.J. Jernighan
RB Ke’Travion Hargrove
RB Dillon Johnson
TE Luke Ford
LB Ezekiel Holmes
CB Devon Witherspoon
CB Tahveon Nicholson
S Sydney Brown
RB Aidan Laughery
RB Chase Brown
RB DD Snyder
RB Josh McCray
With that, let’s dive into the best bets for this matchup.
It’s impossible to go against Mississippi State here amid the passing of Leach. At one point, MSU were the underdogs. However, after several big-time opt-outs from Illinois, including two guys in cornerback Devon Witherspoon and safety Sydney Brown who are NFL-ready, and Sydney’s brother Chase also opting out, it’s going to be tough for Illinois here.
On top of that, their defensive coordinator has accepted the Purdue head coaching job. So, not only do you lose two fantastic defensive playmakers and your star running back, but you also lose your defensive coordinator, who was the architect for the No. 2 defense in the nation in terms of yards allowed per game at just 263.8.
The Bulldogs are without very few players here, and Will Rogers is still their quarterback.
There’s no way I’m betting against MSU here.
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While Illinois is without their two defensive stars and their defensive coordinator, there’s still plenty of talent here, including players like Keith Randolph Jr., Jer’Zhan Newton, Seth Coleman along the defensive line, and Tyler Strain at outside cornerback. Strain has only played 91 snaps at outside corner this year, but when he has, he’s shined.
As for Mississippi State, they’re at full strength here and rank 40th in the nation in terms of total yards allowed at 350.3.
Without Brown, Illinois will look more toward quarterback Tommy DeVito who’s efficient (69.6% completion rate) but doesn’t exactly throw the ball much (335 attempts). Their new lead back is Reggie Love III, who has just 119 snaps out of the backfield this season.
Look for a low-scoring game here as Illinois tries to formulate an offense without Brown.
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After graduating from the University of New Hampshire with a BA in Journalism, Richard Janvrin has been covering iGaming and sports betting since December 2018. Richard has covered betting at Bleacher Report, Gambling.com, The Game Day, Forbes, and more.More info on Richard Janvrin
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