Ultimate ReliaQuest Bowl Guide For Illinois Fans

Written By Russ Mitchell on December 5, 2022
Illinois and Mississippi St. will battle in the ReliaQuest Bowl in Tampa on Jan. 2. Now, let's start making plans.

Don’t let a new bowl name fool you. The University of Illinois landed a well-established bowl when the ReliaQuest Bowl selected the Illini to face Mississippi State in Tampa.

The former Outback Bowl still features a Big Ten-SEC matchup. And it still opens the traditional New Year’s Day bowl viewing schedule.

The phrase “New Year’s Day bowl” can be misleading this season, however. January 1 falls on a Sunday. When that happens, Jan. 2 becomes the federal New Year’s Day holiday. Classic bowl programming follows suit. Even the Rose Bowl and its parade will take place on Jan. 2.

Illinois fans who mark the new year in Raymond James Stadium will see an 11 a.m (CT) kickoff at the home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

ReliaQuest Bowl guide to viewing

  • When: 11 a.m. CT on Monday, Jan. 2
  • Where: Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL
  • Opponent: Mississippi State (8-4) of the SEC Conference
  • TV: ESPN2

Look for Disney to carry the game on its ESPN3 (free) or ESPN+ (subscription) streaming platform as well.

ReliaQuest Bowl Chair Troy Atlas said his Tampa Bay Bowl Association was excited about the matchup.

“These are two quality teams that we expect will produce an exciting matchup fans are really going to enjoy. We look forward to hosting the teams and their fans and ensure they will have an amazing experience at the game and enjoying the dynamic Tampa Bay area.”

Betting on the ReliaQuest Bowl?

A vacation to Tampa won’t be a vacation from one online sports betting ban. For background: Illinois sports betting rules allow online bets, but not if the game involves an Illinois team.

However, fans can bet on an in-state team if they visit a casino in Illinois and use a betting window.

Florida fans wish they have it that good. The state had only a glimpse of sports betting, then a compact between the state and the Seminole Tribe hit a roadblock in District Court.

So, if you’re interested in placing a bet on college football bowl games in Illinois, your choices are:

  • Visit a casino in Illinois to place a ReliaQuest Bowl bet.
  • Bet from home (if you’d like) on all of the other college football bowls.
  • If you’re heading to Florida for the game, you can place a bet along the way by stopping in Indiana — or side-tracking to Michigan or Ohio (which opens sports betting on Jan. 1). Just know that you won’t be able to place a legal sports bet in Kentucky, Georgia or Florida. Though, you could sign up for a Tennessee sports betting app while crossing through that state.

For what it’s worth, Mississippi State opened as an ever-so-slight favorite over Illinois . The lines could move depending on opt-outs and injuries. We’re still a month away from the game.

The ReliaQuest Bowl field guide

About Illinois

This is the Illini’s first Florida bowl game since they crushed Virginia 63-21 in the 1999 Miami-based MicronPC.com Bowl.

Illinois is making only its second appearance farther north in Tampa. Coach John Mackovic’s 1990 team fell to Clemson 30-0 in the 1991 game. The teams played in the Hall of Fame Bowl back then. Outback’s coconut shrimp and blooming onion sponsorship took over from April 1995 to March 2022.

Regardless of the name, Tampa’s bowl has a 36-year history in the community. Starting with the 1996 game, the Tampa Bay Bowl Association has paired upper-tier Big Ten and SEC schools.

The Illini have an 8-11 record in its 19-bowl history. The 2020 and 2021 teams missed out on a bowl berth. The ReliaQuest Bowl bid is the program’s first upper-tier bowl destination since the 2007 team played in the 2008 Rose Bowl.

In 2022, Illinois had one of its best seasons in recent memory. The Illini, led by running back Chase Brown, finished 8-4 overall to record its first winning season since 2011 and its best record since the 2007 squad finished 9-4. Brown finished second in the nation with 1,643 yards in 2022. He also had 10 touchdowns.

The Tampa game will be close to home for the team’s 18 players from Florida.

“We recruit heavily in Florida so it’ll be a big deal for those families to drive down and watch their sons play,” coach Bret Bielema said at a Sunday press conference. “It’s a big deal and has so many positives.”

About Mississippi State

Raymond James Stadium has a pirate ship and No. 23 Mississippi State is known for its colorful, quotable “pirate” head coach. Like Illinois, Mike Leach’s team went 8-4 in 2022.

If the Bulldogs win the ReliaQuest Bowl, the trophy won’t be lonesome in Starkville. Mississippi State claimed the Egg Bowl and its trophy with a 24-22 win over Ole Miss in the regular season finale. Bielema called the Bulldogs “a very talented team with a very talented quarterback.” He added:

“Their defense doesn’t get enough recognition. I’ve taken a peek at them for the past couple of days and I’m very excited to see an opponent I don’t think Illinois has ever beaten. Illinois also hasn’t beaten an SEC opponent in a bowl game. Our whole mantra this year has been to do something we haven’t done before and this is an opportunity that lines up there. I am also very excited to compete with Mike Leach and his staff.”

The ReliaQuest Bowl travel guide

Buying tickets

The University of Illinois encourages its fans to purchase their bowl tickets directly through the Illinois Ticket Office. Using the team website supports the Illinois athletics budget, plus it helps fans find Illinois-friendly sections at the stadium. And one more thing: Buying tickets through the university sends a message to bowl selection committees that Illinois fans travel well.

Illinois fans have until 4 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 8, to submit a ticket request. The university prioritizes seats “based on I FUND annual giving levels and priority points.” Then, Illinois fans will know if they landed their tickets by 5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 11.

The official bowl site also accepts ticket orders through Ticketmaster. Fans can get general public tickets there right away.

Club seats cost $170 and standard admission seats go for $80.

Getting to the stadium

Here are the directions to the stadium right from the ReliaQuest Bowl website:

From St. Petersburg via I-275:

  1. Take I-275 northbound to Dale Mabry Exit.
  2. Take Dale Mabry north about 1 1/2 miles to parking.

From Clearwater:

  1. Take Hwy. 60 east over Courtney Campbell Causeway to Spruce St.
  2. Continue east on Spruce /Boy Scout Blvd. to Dale Mabry Hwy.
  3. Turn left to stadium parking.

From North Hillsborough/Carrollwood:

  • Take Dale Mabry Hwy. south to stadium parking.

From Northwest Hillsborough:

  1. Take Veterans Expressway to Hillsborough Ave.
  2. Go east to Dale Mabry Hwy.
  3. Turn right (south) onto Dale Mabry or Himes Ave. and follow to parking.

From East Tampa/Brandon:

  1. Take I-4 west to I-275 south to Himes Ave. (Exit 41B) or Dale Mabry Hwy. (Exit 41 A).
  2. Take Himes Ave. or Dale Mabry Hwy. north (turn right) to parking.

From N.E. Tampa/USF area:

  1. Take I-275 south to Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
  2. Then turn right (west) to stadium parking.

Once you’ve arrived

Parking lots around the stadium open at 8 a.m. on game day. Overnight parking isn’t available. Illinois fans can buy some parking spaces in advance — just check reliaquestbowl.com for more details. Other parking spots stay open on a first-come basis. Parking is cashless, so have another form of payment handy.

Budget $40 for cars and motorcycles. It’s $140 for limos, buses and campers.

Additional parking is available at Al Lopez Park and at Tampa Jesuit High School (north of the stadium off Himes Ave.).

Finding your seat

The trend toward mobile-only tickets is true for ReliaQuest Bowl admission as well. They won’t accept printed copies of a ticket, PDFs or screenshots at the gate.

Children age 3 and under get in free, as long as they don’t take up a seat. Contact the bowl office at 813-874-2695 with any questions.

What to do in the Tampa Bay area

Now that Illinois knows its bowl destination, the university is putting together travel packages for the trip. Two events are already in place once fans arrive:

• 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. (ET) Friday, Dec. 30 — Clearwater Beach Day at Hilton Clearwater Beach Resort
Players, cheerleaders, media, alumni and guests gather on white, sandy beaches to enjoy music, food and festivities.

• 5:30-8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 31 — New Year’s Eve Parade and Band Blast at Seventh Avenue in the Ybor City district
Look for parade floats plus college and high school bands in the Ybor City neighborhood. Stick around for a pep rally featuring the school bands and cheerleaders.

Illinois fans can stray from bowl events to see the sights too. Some options in the Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Tampa areas include:

  • Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
  • ZooTampa at Lowry Park
  • The Beach Walk between Clearwater Beach and Pier 60 Park
  • Caladesi Island State Park
  • Straz Center for Performing Arts
  • Sparkman Wharf
  • Yacht Starship cruise
  • Ybor City Historic District
  • Clearwater Beach
  • Fort DeSoto Park
  • Clearwater Marine Aquarium
  • John’s Pass Village
  • Clearwater Community Sailing Center
  • The Salvador Dali Museum
  • Tarpon Springs
Photo by Matt Marton / AP
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Russ Mitchell

Russ Mitchell has been covering news and sports in the Upper Midwest since 1997, including 11 years as managing editor for one of the most acclaimed community newspapers in Iowa. He looks forward to keeping readers up to date on the growing casino and sportsbook industry in Illinois.

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