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Illini make hiring of Lovie Smith official

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It took Illinois 100-plus days to hire its new athletic director.  Conversely, it took that new athletic director two days to officially find his new head football coach.

Following up on speculation that began almost immediately after Saturday’s surpising development, Illinois announced Monday morning that Lovie Smith has been hired to take over the struggling Illini football program.  The 57-year-old Smith replaces Bill Cubit, who was fired this past Saturday on new AD Josh Whitman‘s first official day on the job.

Smith has never been a head coach at the collegiate level, and this will be his first job at this level in more than two decades.  In fact, Smith never was a coordinator during a college coaching career that spanned just a little more than a decade.

Still, Whitman’s move to hire the long-time NFL coach is being almost universally praised as the right move for a program that’s won just 17 games the last four seasons, and hasn’t had a 10-win season since 2001.

“I am extremely excited to be named head coach of the Fighting Illini,” Smith said in a statement released through the school. “Josh approached me about this possibility, and I immediately seized on the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the young men who are part of the program today and in the future. I take this responsibility very seriously and can’t wait to get a staff in place to start our move to make Illinois a contender for Big Ten titles. We will play an exciting brand of football that will make our fans, alumni, student body and members of the University community extremely proud.”

“Naming Lovie Smith as the Illinois head football coach is the first step in taking this program to a place of national prominence,” said Whitman. “We will build a program that contends annually for Big Ten and national championships. The timing for this move was extremely tight, and we needed to move quickly. A coach of Lovie’s caliber would not have been available to us if we had waited until after the 2016 season. Lovie’s reputation as a coach, and even more so as a person, made it clear it was an awesome opportunity for the University of Illinois.”

According to the school’s release, Smith reached an agreement on a six-year contract worth a total of $21 million. Not including incentives, Smith is set to earn $2 million in base salary in 2016 and 2017, $3 million for 2018, $4 million for 2019 and $5 million in both 2020 and 2021. The $2 million figure in 2016 would have put Smith 12th of the 14 teams in the Big Ten on the Illini make hiring of Lovie Smith official. Smith’s predecessor, Cubit, was paid $915,000 for the 2015 season.

No buyout figures for Smith’s deal were included in the school’s release.

The move to the Illini is Smith’s first at the college level since working as the defensive backs coach at Ohio State in 1995. He’s also had collegiate coaching stints at Tennessee (1993-94), Kentucky (1992), Arizona State (1988-91), Wisconsin (1987) and Tulsa (1983-87).  He was a linebackers coach at all five of the stops prior to working with OSU’s secondary.

Smith, though, is more known in the coaching profession for his time in the NFL.

The 57-year-old Texas native was a head coach in the NFL for the last 11 years, with the Chicago Bears from 2004-2012 and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2014-15.  He was named the Associate Press Coach of the Year following the 2005 season, and coached the Bears to the Super Bowl the following year.

In an 11-year NFL coaching career, Smith compiled a record of 89-87.  His postseason record was 3-3, with two of those losses coming in the Super Bowl and NFC championship game.

NCAA committee chair hints at changes coming to four-game redshirt rule

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This college football season has been a bit different from most thanks to a combination of two factors that have very little to do with the play on the field: a new rule allowing players to redshirt despite playing in four games and the NCAA transfer portal.

Amid a flurry of player movement as a result of those two, on top of unique situations like Houston’s D’Eriq King deciding to take a redshirt in what amounts to a lost year for the Cougars, it seems the powers at be are already eyeing tweaking the current status quo. West Virgnia AD Shane Lyons chairs the NCAA Division I Football Oversight Committee and remarked on a local radio show that adjustments to the current set of rules are likely to be discussed during meetings at the NCAA convention in January.

“I don’t think it’s a good optic for college sports,” Lyons said, according to the West Virginia MetroNews. “The way it looks, a student-athlete is potentially quitting on his team.

“It’s something the committee will look at in their January meeting to make any adjustments as necessary.”

Despite the redshirt rule originating from coaches themselves, in practice it has proven to be problematic for many because players have either removed themselves from action in order to save up a season and play elsewhere or simply entered the transfer portal. Such roster management concerns have led to plenty of criticism about the unintended consequences of the changes and now it appears the adults in the room are getting together to come up with a few changes to defeat the reasoning behind both rules.

We’ll see what happens between now and the January meetings but the days of going four-and-out for some might be coming to an end with the 2019 season.

Nearly half of Saturday’s conference championship games feature double-digit odds

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At least based on the sportsbooks, you shouldn’t expect much drama on championship weekend — which means we should all brace for absolute and utter hell breaking loose, of course.

Friday night and on into Saturday, the 10 FBS conferences will hold their respective league championship games, the results of which will not only shape the College Football Playoff but the New Year’s Six Bowls and all the way down to the lower-tier bowls. As of this posting, and by way of the BetMGM Sportsbook, nearly half of those 10 title games feature double-digit odds:

  • ACC — No. 23 Virginia vs. No. 3 Clemson (-28½)
  • Big Ten — No. 1 Ohio State (-15½) vs. No. 8 Wisconsin
  • Mountain West — Hawaii vs. No. 19 Boise State (-13½)
  • AAC — No. 20 Cincinnati vs. No. 17 Memphis (-10½)

A fifth, the Big 12 championship game, is nearly double-digits as No. 6 Oklahoma is a 9½-point favorite over No. 7 Baylor.

The other five matchups have hovered around seven points or so, including the SEC title game featuring 6½-point favorite and second-ranked LSU clashing with No. 4 Georgia, since the matchups were decided last weekend:

  • Pac-12 (Friday night) — No. 5 Utah (-6½) vs. No. 13 Oregon
  • Sun Belt — Louisiana vs. No. 21 Appalachian State (-6½)
  • MAC — Miami (OH) vs. Central Michigan (-6½)
  • Conference USA — UAB vs. Florida Atlantic (-7½)

Ohio State first school to score Top-10 wins in football, hoops in four days since… Michigan three decades ago

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Some history was made overnight that involves both sides of The Game.

Wednesday night, sixth-ranked Ohio State took seventh-ranked North Carolina to the woodshed in a 74-49 win, handing the Tar Heels the basketball program’s worst-ever home loss at the Dean Dome under Roy Williams.  Four days earlier, second-ranked Ohio State took 10th-ranked Michigan to the woodshed in a 56-27 win, handing the Wolverines their eighth straight loss — and 15th in 16 meetings — in the rivalry.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, this marks the first time in nearly three decades and just the second time ever that one school had scored wins in Associated Press Top-10 matchups in football and basketball in a span of four days or fewer.  The only other school to pull off that feat?  Michigan, in 1992-93.

I have no clue what it actually all means, but it sounds pretty impressive.  And fairly hilarious that it involves both sides of the greatest rivalry in all of sports.

Oklahoma DL Jalen Redmond’s status unclear for Big 12 title game

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Ahead of Saturday’s Big 12 championship game, the status of a key rotational piece of one of the participant’s defensive line is decidedly up in the air.

Jalen Redmond didn’t travel with the rest of his No. 6 Oklahoma teammates to last Saturday’s Bedlam win over No. 25 Oklahoma State because of an unspecified issue.  With a date against Baylor on tap for Saturday, it remains unclear whether the redshirt freshman defensive lineman will be available for the conference title game.

“He has progressed this week,” Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley said when asked about Redmond’s availability. “We don’t have a complete decision right now, but he’s certainly better at this point than he was last week.”

In July of last year, Riley confirmed that, because of blood clots, Redmond would not play at all in 2018. However, the then-true freshman defied the initial medical odds and ultimately returned in October to play in three games before a recurrence of the clots in mid-November sidelined Redmond for the remainder of the year.

This season, Redmond had played in the first 11 games, starting two of those contests, before missing the Week 14 win.  Redmond is currently third on the Sooners in tackles for loss with seven and second in sacks with four.