The Illinois football team has accepted an invitation to play in the 2023 ReliaQuest Bowl in Tampa, Florida, it was announced Sunday. Illinois will play Mississippi State at Raymond James Stadium on Monday, Jan. 2 at 11 a.m. CT on ESPN2.
The Illini qualified for the 20th bowl game in Illinois history and the program's top bowl game since the 2007 team played in the 2008 Rose Bowl Game. It will be a homecoming for 18 Illini that hail from Florida, including seven starters on Illinois' nationally ranked defense.
Illinois has had one of its most successful seasons in decades, going 8-4 overall and 5-4 in the Big Ten behind the nation's second-leading rusher, Chase Brown, and one of the top five defenses in the country. The Illini were ranked in the AP Top 25 for five straight weeks and Illinois was ranked in the College Football Playoff rankings for the first time in school history.
Illinois ranked in the top 10 in the nation in 17 major defensive categories during the regular season, including leading the nation in interceptions (22), ranking second in scoring defense (12.3), and third in total defense (263.8). A pair of Illini are national awards finalists for the first time since 1995: RB Chase Brown (Doak Walker Award) and CB Devon Witherspoon (Paycom Jim Thorpe Award).
Illinois will make its second ever appearance in the ReliaQuest Bowl, which was 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.