Illinois was one of the surprise teams in the Big Ten this season, going 6-6 overall and 4-5 in league play. Lovie Smith went from being on the hot seat to taking the Illini to a bowl game for the first time in five years.
Despite finishing the regular season off in disappointing fashion--a 29-10 loss to a dismal Northwestern team--Smith is feeling good about his program moving forward. Really good, in fact.
In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Smith says Illinois has "caught up" to the other teams in the Big Ten West. He also predicted the next decade will be "a different day" for Illinois football.
“Absolutely,” Smith said. “Now, it’s about us competing. We’re not running from what our record was the last decade. Illinois had been down a long period of time. But as far as catching teams in our division that have traditionally been very good, we feel like we’re there now. We plan on beating everyone and eventually being the champion of this league.”
Well, those are pretty bold words right there, especially considering the Illini were just 2-4 against the Big Ten West in 2019. They went 2-1 in crossover games against the Big Ten East, beating Rutgers and Michigan State while losing to Michigan.
Currently, the Illini have the 66th-ranked recruiting class in the country, which is good for last place in the Big Ten. There's time to add some more pieces, but that's still not great.
We're happy Lovie is confident, but he probably needs to focus on beating Cal in the Redbox Bowl next week before making grand proclamations.