The first of four bowl games today will feature the Mississippi State Bulldogs taking on the Illinois Fighting Illini. We’ll preview the match-up before getting into which betting angle I’ll be targeting in this one.
Illinois far exceeded expectations this season as they opened up the preseason with a win total set at 4.5 and ended up finishing with an 8-4 record. Running back Chase Brown elevated the offense as the Illini averaged 180.1 rushing yards a game this season. However, Illinois will be without Brown today as he has opted out to prepare for the draft.
The offense will need to rely heavily on transfer quarterback Tommy Devito, whose 69.8% completion percentage was tied for third in the country at the end of the regular season and was able to throw for 15 touchdowns and only four interceptions. That ability to protect the ball will play a significant factor today against a Mississippi State defense that forced 14 turnovers this season.
Six of those 14 turnovers came from Emmanuel Forbes interceptions, and luckily for the Bulldogs, the star cornerback will be playing today despite already declaring for the NFL draft. Safety Jackie Matthews also declared for the draft, but he will also suit up today, so the Bulldogs' defense which allowed an average of 25.7 points per game this season, will be playing close to full strength.
Offensively the Bulldogs will be without Rara Thomas, who entered the transfer portal. Quarterback Will Rogers will need to rely heavily on Caleb Ducking and Rufus Harvey today, as the two receivers combined for 11 touchdowns this season.
Rogers threw for 34 touchdowns and six interceptions this season while also averaging 310.8 passing yards a game. The Bulldogs gunslinger has an excellent chance to continue his impressive season today against an Illini defense that will be missing two members of their secondary who both were First-Team All Big-10 this season.
The point total for this game is currently set at 45.5, and I’ll be taking the over as my best bet in this one. The over was 7-5 in Mississippi State games this season, and they will now be facing a depleted Illini secondary that will be missing their leader in interceptions. Mississippi State only had one point total set below 50 this season and in that game, the over covered by 21 points.
Illinois put up a solid defensive season but did not face a passing offense even remotely close to the Bulldogs. Mississippi State led the country in pass play percentage and passing attempts per game, so that is not a style of offense Illinois sees very often while playing in the Big Ten.
Even with Illinois being without Brown at running back, they should still be able to find success behind Devito in the passing game. Despite their strong turnover-creating ability, the Bulldogs' defense still allowed an average of 221.6 passing yards a game. This game won’t cover the over by 21 points, but I think the current total is a bit too low, and both teams have an excellent chance to score 20 or more points each.