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Illinois football ends a few droughts with bowl invite

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LAKE FOREST – A breakthrough season for the program has earned them a trip to a desirable destination to start 2023.

In many ways, it’s the best trip to a bowl game that Illinois has earned in over a decade.

The Illini are headed to the ReliaQuest Bowl in Tampa Bay and will face No. 22 Mississippi State at 11 a.m. central time on Monday, January 2nd at Raymond James Stadium.

Bret Bielema’s team earned the spot by going 8-4 during the 2022 season as Illinois’ turnaround surprised many in the Big Ten and country. They had the lead in the Big Ten West division for a majority of the season, but three-straight losses in November cost them the chance at a title.

But their achievements were still enough to give the program a desirable bowl, one the likes they haven’t seen for years.

(Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

This will be Illinois’ first January bowl contest in 15 years, with their last appearance coming in the Rose Bowl on January 1, 2008.

That came after the Illini’s last season in which they won at least eight games as Ron Zook’s 2007 squad finished 9-3. Unfortunately, the game didn’t go as Illinois’ fans might have hoped as USC pulled away in the second half for a 49-17 victory.

The ReliaQuest Bowl will be only the third bowl game that Illinois has played in January in the last 30 years, with the Rose Bowl in 2008 and the Sugar Bowl against LSU on January 1, 2002.

Illinois’ last win in a January bowl was on New Year’s Day 1990 when they beat Virginia 31-21 in the Citrus Bowl.

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

This will be Illinois’ first bowl game in the State of Florida in over 23 years, with their last appearance coming in the MicronPC.com Bowl on December 30, 1999 at then Pro Player Stadium in Miami Gardens.

In their most lopsided bowl victory in school history, the Illini crushed the Cavaliers 63-21 to finish that season with an 8-4 record.

This will be the fourth bowl appearance for the program in Florida and the second in this particular bowl. A year after the Citrus Bowl win, Illinois appeared in what was then the Hall of Fame Bowl on New Year’s Day 1991 and lost to Clemson 30-0.

Illinois is 8-11 in their 19 bowls in school history.

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