Good morning college football and Illinois Fighting Illini fans. Just four more days until the Reliaquest Bowl kicks off in Tampa! This will be Illinois’ 20th bowl appearance, and they are 8-11 in their previous 19 postseason games.
We’ll run all this down for you, in two parts, starting here with the minor bowls, which we defined as non-traditionally on New Year’s Day and/or non-New Year’s 6 games. The second part will cover bowl games that do meet this definition.
Reliaquest Bowl Illinois vs #22 Mississippi St. FYIs
Kickoff: Jan. 2, noon ET, ESPN2
Early Game Preview/Matchup Analysis: go here
Opt-out Tracker and Analysis: go here
Spread: MSU -1.5 -110 Money Line, O/U 45.5 Illini -105 ML
Illini Bowl Game History: Minor Bowls Major Bowls
Illinois Fighting Illini Bowl History: Minor Bowls
1982 Liberty Bowl, Alabama, L, 21-15
Legendary coach of legendary coaches Bear Bryant’s last game! He forever lives on in houndstooth. Fun fact: Illinois was the final opponent for both Bryant and Joe Paterno.
1985 Peach Bowl, Army, L, 31-29
The legend of Jack Trudeau continues. He’s one of those guys that, well, almost everybody who has met in person, has a colorful off the field story about him. Also, the Peach Bowl wasn’t major at the time that this game was played. It didn’t get elevated in status until the 2000s.
1988 All-American Bowl, Florida, L, 14-10
Don’t remember much of this game. Sounds a bit “pragmatic.”
1991 John Hancock Sun Bowl, UCLA, L, 6-3
YAWN! Should have been a shoot-out, with Tommy Maddox and Jason Verduzco, two prolific passers, going at it. Instead it was another example of how when these two teams get together, some of the most boring games in history can ensue.
1992 Holiday Bowl, Hawaii, L, 27-17
The Rainbow Warriors mainland bowl debut was celebratory; at the expense of the Illini. Welcome to the heart of TepperBall…bleh…ick.
1994 Liberty Bowl, East Carolina, W, 30-0
Fun-filled way to rock in the New Year! Johnny Johnson had 250 yards passing in just three quarters. One of the most overlooked and underrated wins in Illini football history.
1999 MicronPC.com Bowl, Virginia, W, 63-21
Illinois owns another blue/orange team, UVA, in bowl games. QB Kurt Kittner had an end-around reverse pass TD catch from WR Brandon Lloyd, highlighting a 28 point outburst in the second quarter.
Ron Turner must have taken the Y2K end-of-the-world fears seriously, given the way he called plays and ran up the score in this one.
My senior year in Champaign, I covered this game for the school paper and ushered in the millenium in Miami. The Illini set school records for points as the Illini fight song was more over-played in 1999 than “Livin la Vida Loca!”
2010 Texas Bowl, Baylor, W, 38-14
Mirrors the ’99 Micron Bowl in that Illinois dominates a better opponent in a fourth-tier bowl. Remember, BU quarterback Robert Griffin III would go on to win the Heisman Trophy the next season.
Nathan Scheelhaase had one of his best games ever, completing his first 13 passes; Mikel Leshoure ran wild, rewriting the Illini record book in the process.
2011 Fight Hunger Bowl, UCLA, W, 20-14
Another dull Illini-UCLA rock fight, this one between two teams that had already fired their coaches, a rarity in bowl games.
2014 Heart of Dallas Bowl, Louisiana Tech, L, 35-18
Bizarre game capping a weird season in which Illinois somehow became bowl eligible despite finishing alarmingly behind their opponents in yardage and point differential. The Tim Beckman era has few high points, but this was certainly one.
2019 Redbox Bowl, California, L, 35-20
As the third quarter winded down, the Illini found themselves pretty much dead even with Cal in all the major statistical categories- time of possession, total yardage, turnover margin, first downs, third down conversion percentage, honestly it was astonishing because…they were trailing 28-13 at the time!
Then Cal pulled away- why? Well, the SEC officials were not good at their jobs, and the staff got out-coached and out game-planned.
Paul M. Banks is the owner/manager of The Sports Bank. He’s also the author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” and “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”
He’s written for numerous publications, including the New York Daily News, Sports Illustrated and the Chicago Tribune. He regularly appears on NTD News and WGN News Now. Follow the website on Twitter and Instagram.