WCIA — Illinois football will spend New Years in Florida. The Illini are heading south to play in the ReliaQuest Bowl in Tampa on Jan. 2 against No. 22 Mississippi State at 11 a.m. CT.

It’s just the third bowl game for the Illini (8-4) since 2014 and the first since 2019. It’s also the first January bowl game for Illinois since the 2008 Rose Bowl. This is the first time the Illini will play in a Florida bowl game since 1999 when they beat Virginia 63-21 in the Micron PC.com bowl.

“We are grateful to accept an invitation to the ReliaQuest Bowl,” Illinois head coach Bret Bielema said in a statement. “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, 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.

“The University of Illinois is pleased to accept the invitation to play in Tampa’s ReliaQuest Bowl on January 2,” Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman said in a statement. “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.”