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Mississippi State Will Play in ReliaQuest Bowl vs. Illinois After Mike Leach's Death

Paul KasabianFeatured Columnist IIDecember 13, 2022

Mississippi State coach Mike Leach talks with Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin before an NCAA college football game in Oxford, Miss., Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

The Mississippi State football team will go forward with its ReliaQuest Bowl game appearance against Illinois on Jan. 2.

Interim athletic director Bracky Brett revealed the news to ESPN's Chris Low on Tuesday, one day after head coach Mike Leach died from complications of a heart condition.

Chris Low @ClowESPN

As <a href="https://twitter.com/HailStateFB?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@HailStateFB</a> grieves Mike Leach's death, interim AD Bracky Brett tells ESPN that the Bulldogs will play in their ReliaQuest Bowl game on Jan. 2 against Illinois. "The players are 100 percent behind playing this bowl game and doing what coach Leach would expect them to do."

The 61-year-old Leach coached at Mississippi State for three seasons after stints with Texas Tech (2000-09) and Washington State (2012-19). He led the Bulldogs to an 8-4 record this season capped by a 24-22 victory over Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl.

The Bulldogs ended the season winning three of four games, including victories over Auburn (39-33 in overtime) and East Tennessee State (56-7).

Thanks to that stretch, Mississippi State earned its best season under Leach, who led six of his teams to top-25 finishes in the Associated Press poll. This year's Bulldogs team is currently No. 24.

Leach went 158-107 during his career. Seventeen of his 21 teams finished with winning records.

The ReliaQuest Bowl will take place in Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. Kickoff is scheduled for noon ET between the Bulldogs and Illinois, who also finished with an 8-4 record.

Defensive coordinator Zach Arnett will lead the team in the bowl game as its interim head coach.