If you have read anything on this blog before you may have noticed that I am an admirer of Lovie Smith. I blogged about his superior high school team when he played high school football. It was an extremely dominating small school football team that just destroyed every team they played on their way to winning a Texas high school football championship.
He played college football at Tulsa and then got into coaching. He coached the Chicago Bears to a Super Bowl appearance and most recently fired as the head coach at Tampa Bay. Being fired at that level means nothing to me, what does mean something is his level of expertise and the huge name that he carries when he calls upon some top recruits at the college level.
I truly believe that Lovie Smith will knock it out of the park at Illinois and make the Fighting Illini a
regular member of the top 25 Polls.
But, not this year.
Illinois has had their share of problems in recent seasons with the firing of a coach because of accusations of abuse. They had one of his assistants as the interim coach last season and he more than likely thought the job was his when the Athletic Director allowed him to go through the recruiting process before firing him and bringing in Lovie Smith.
Smith had no time to recruit his first class and all he was able to do was to hire a staff before Spring Practice.
He brought in a lot of assistant with coaching experience and I really believe this will pay off for the Fighting Illini over the next few years.
The Illini sputtered and flopped around to a less than desirable 2-6 start to the Lovie Smith era. They just don’t have the talent to compete with the big boys this season.
Patrick Nelson is a redshirt freshman at Strong Safety and Stanley Green is a true freshman starting at Free Safety. These guys just recently moved into the starting lineup and they look like the future.
True freshman Jake Hansen started at Outside Linebacker. Redshirt freshman Jamal Milan started at Frank Sumpter started at a Cornerback. True freshman Dele Harding was at another Linebacker spot.
Defensive Tackle. Redshirt freshman
The Big Ten Network announcers said that 6 freshmen started on defense for the Fighting Illini. Both Safeties and both Tackles are freshmen, either true or redshirt. Either way, the Illini is clearly in rebuilding mode.
The defense does have senior talents at Defensive End in Carroll Phillips and Dawuane Smoot. Leading tackler, Hardy Nickerson Jr transferred from Cal to play for his father who Lovie Smith hired for his Defensive Coordinator. Nickerson had little help around him at Cal and he has the same situation at Illinois.Unfortunately for Illinois and their defense, Nickerson is a senior.
Outside of these 3 seniors, there is a lot of youth.
The offense was just forced to go with Jeff George Jr at Quarterback who I just recently blogged about here: Jr
If you have been around a few years, as I clearly have, you will remember his father at Illinois and in the NFL where he was the very first player chosen in the 1990 NFL Draft.
Wes Lunt is the normal starting Quarterback, but the senior was injured and his backup, Chayce Crouch is also injured.
Between Crouch and George, it will be interesting to see who the future is at Quarterback for the Illini.
Obviously, Lovie Smith has a lot of work to do. But, the school is located near enough to huge
metropolitan areas of Chicago and St Louis. They will need to strike it rich in those areas and then hit up Ohio and the Deep South. Smith’s first recruiting class has 12 early commitments including 2 4 star guys one each from the already mentioned cities.
Ricky Smalling is their top ranked recruit and a 4 star Wide Receiver from Chicago’s Brother Rich High School. Larry Boyd is an excellent 4 star Offensive Tackle from St Louis’ Trinity Catholic High School. The rest of the commitments are 3 star guys, but plenty of those have succeeded at the college level and beyond. So far, they have 6 commitments from the state of Illinois, 2 from St Louis, 3 guys from South Florida and 1 from Ohio.
I have the highest amount of respect for Lovie Smith and feel pretty confident he will turn this program around.