TAMPA, Fla. (WCIA) — It looked like Illinois would come away with its first bowl win in 11 years at many points Monday, but even allowing just 13 points to the Mississippi State offense was not enough for the Illini in the ReliaQuest Bowl.

It is technically not the fifth one score loss of the season after the Bulldogs defense scored on the final play, but it hurts just as much as all the others. With important opt outs in that secondary, the Illinois defense still picked off Will Rogers twice, his most in a game this season. For freshmen like Matthew Bailey, the experience of a high profile game boosts the momentum going into the offseason.

“Some things that will get us excited about the future,” Bret Bielema said. “Had a lot of really good young players that played well today. They have continued to play better as the season goes along.”

“I’m going to be getting a lot of reps, it gives me confidence in the back of my head to know that I’m enough to be on this team,” Bailey said. “I’m enough to be at a D1 school, and obviously all that’s built up. But all this experience has helped a lot.”

MARTIN DECLARES

Expect a lot of announcement in the coming days, as Quan Martin becomes the first to announce after the bowl game that he is declaring for the NFL Draft. The corner has exhausted all of his college eligibility after five seasons. 2022 was probably the best season of his career, totaling 64 tackles and three interceptions on the season. Not only that, but it was also the best season the team has had since he arrived.

“Just leaving it better than we found it, I feel like we did that this year,” Martin said after the loss. “We didn’t finish how we wanted to, we just leave the program with 8 wins. It’s a great feeling.”

Bielema said over the weekend that more of the decisions by players will be coming once the team gets back to Champaign.