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Illinois extends Lovie Smith

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Lovie Smith is just 9-27 in three seasons as the head coach at Illinois. The Illini concluded a 4-8 season with a 24-16 loss to No. 20 Northwestern on Saturday, just a week after falling 63-0 to Iowa. Smith is just 4-23 in Big Ten play, and 2-22 against everyone in the conference not named Rutgers.

Given those figures, one would expect that Illinois might announced today it had fired Smith.

Instead, Illinois did the opposite. The Illini have announced a 2-year contract extension for its head coach, keeping him employed through the 2023 season.

In a lengthy statement by AD Josh Whitman, he explained the reasons he decided to double down on the Smith tenure:

  • We doubled our win total from the 2017 campaign and compiled two more Big Ten wins than in the prior year.  In addition, we were minutes away from an upset against South Florida that could have propelled our season in an entirely different direction and, just yesterday, we had several chances to beat a good Northwestern team before losing a one-score game. 

  • Our offense was one of the nation’s most improved units, making significant advancements in national rankings for total yards and scoring per game.

  • We emerged as one of the most dynamic running attacks in football, with more than 240 yards rushing per game, an improvement of almost 140 yards from the previous season.  We were among the nation’s leaders in explosive runs, and running back Reggie Corbin recorded the first 1,000-yard season by an Illini runner in the last eight years.

  • For the second consecutive season, we fielded one of the youngest teams in college football, with only nine seniors and 24 total upperclassmen, both the fewest in the nation. 

  • On the other end of the spectrum, underclassmen accounted for nearly 80% of the roster and 60% of the total starting lineup.  In the last two seasons, we have played 41 true freshmen who, in total, have accounted for 118 starts – numbers unprecedented in our program’s history.

  • More than 30 starters and significant contributors are expected to return in 2019.

  • The team was riddled with injuries during the 2018 season.  Players missed a total of 114 games due to injury, including more than 65 combined games by projected starters.

  • In terms of our roster, this staff has successfully attracted more top tier talent to Champaign than we have seen in a decade, with several players in each class choosing Illinois over tradition-rich Power 5 programs.

  • In July 2019, we will open the doors on the Henry Dale and Betty Smith Football Center, the new 110,000-square-foot home of the Illinois football program.  This building, which will be among the finest facilities of its kind anywhere in the country, represents the most sweeping upgrades to player and staff spaces in generations.

“The University of Illinois is an incredible place to coach and teach,” Smith said. “We love living here in Champaign-Urbana and representing our state’s flagship institution. We will continue working every day as we move our football program forward. Our new football performance center, the Smith Football Center, which will be completed next summer, will be among the best in the nation. I want to thank Josh Whitman and Chancellor Robert Jones for continuing to believe in what we are working to accomplish. Those of us around the program see the progress being made each and every day and we expect to be competing for championships very soon. Our incredible fans and everyone on our campus deserve nothing less.”

Contract figures for Smith’s extension were not disclosed. Smith made $5 million in 2018 according to the USA Today coaching salary database, making him the 13th highest-paid coach in college football.

Kentucky’s Josh Allen adds fourth national trophy honor

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When it’s all said and done, Josh Allen is going to need a bigger trophy cabinet — or at least significantly expand his current one.

Monday, it was announced that the Kentucky senior was named as the 2018 recipient of the Jack Lambert Award. That trophy is handed out annually by the Touchdown Club of Columbus (OH) and given to the national linebacker of the year.

Previously this awards season, Allen had been named as the winner of the Bronko Nagurski Award (HERE) and Chuck Bednarik Award (HERE) as well as the recipient of the Ronnie Lott IMPACT Trophy (HERE). He also earned unanimous first-team All-American honors.

Allen’s 14 sacks this season set the football program’s single-season record, while his 28.5 career sacks are the most ever for a member of the Wildcats.

Utah State OC Troy Taylor named head coach at FCS Sacramento State

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For the second time since the 2018 regular season came to an end, Kyle Whittingham has seen one of his assistant coaches leave for a head-coaching job.

Exactly a week ago, Utah State announced that Utah associate head coach Gary Andersen was returning to again lead the Aggies.  Monday, Sacramento State announced that Troy Taylor has been hired as the FCS program’s next head football coach.

Taylor, who spent two seasons as Whittingham’s offensive coordinator, was the starting quarterback at Cal in the late eighties after playing his high school football in the state of California.  He also began his coaching career at the high school level near Sacramento.

“I am thrilled to be the new head football coach at Sacramento State,” Taylor said in a statement. “My family and I are excited to move back home and take on the challenge of building the Hornet Football program into something the city can be very proud. I want to thank President Nelsen, Mark Orr and the rest of the search committee for giving me this opportunity.”

With bowl season left, Utah is sixth in the Pac-12 and 67th nationally in scoring 28.7 points per game.  In Taylor’s first season in charge of the offense, they averaged 29.5 ppg.

Whittingham has already replaced Andersen with former Ute football player Sione Po’uha.

Nick Saban says Tua Tagovailoa ‘probably ahead of schedule’ in recovery from ankle surgery

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One of the biggest storylines leading into the 2018 College Football Playoff is the health of this year’s Heisman Trophy runner-up.  With Alabama’s date with Oklahoma less than two weeks away, the signs are pointing in a positive direction for Tua Tagovailoa.

The sophomore quarterback suffered a high-ankle sprain in Alabama’s SEC championship game win over Georgia two weeks ago and underwent surgery shortly thereafter to help aid the healing process.  Monday, Nick Saban sounded decidedly optimistic in giving an update on the status of his starter, who has participated at least partly in all four of the Crimson Tide’s practice session since the title game.

“He’s doing well,” the head coach said by way of ESPN.com. “I think he’s probably ahead of schedule. He’s been able to take a lot of reps. He’s been able to throw the ball from the pocket. He can run. …

“I don’t think he’s 100 percent in terms of change of direction yet. But he’s already going 100 percent on the gravity treadmill. So he’s been able to practice and he’s made really, really good progress. So we’re encouraged by that.”

Tagovailoa had been bothered by knee issues for a sizable chunk of the regular season before hurting his left ankle earlier this month.

Top-ranked Alabama will face Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray and Oklahoma in the Dec. 29 Orange Bowl, which this season is serving as one of the two playoff semifinals.  The winner of that game will face the Notre Dame-Clemson in the national championship game next month.

Justin Fields’ family says QB ‘hasn’t made a decision’ to transfer from Georgia

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Maybe the future quarterback situation in Athens isn’t as straightforward and black and white as it seemed earlier in the evening.

Monday night, it was reported that Justin Fields has notified Georgia of his intent to transfer.  Subsequent to that, ESPN.com reported that “Fields is exploring the possibility of transferring, though he hasn’t yet told the Bulldogs’ coaching staff that he’s leaving.”

Additionally, at least one member of Fields’ family told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that a decision hasn’t been made one way or the other.

Asked if she could confirm reports that her son intends to transfer from Georgia, Fields’ stepmother said she could not. But she also didn’t deny them.

“I’m not at liberty to discuss anything,” Jo Ann Claudrick Fields said via telephone Monday night. “We’re not confirming or denying anything. We haven’t made a decision.

Fields’ mother also told the Journal-Constitution to talk to the quarterback’s father, Ivant Fields, as “[h]e handles everything involving football.”

If the transfer were to come to fruition, ESPN reported that Florida State, Ohio State and Oklahoma would be potential landing spots.  That website also reports that Fields is expected to play in the Sugar Bowl for the Bulldogs.

Fields was rated by 247Sports.com as the No. 1 player regardless of position in the Class of 2018.  He spent his true freshman season as the primary backup to sophomore starter Jake Fromm.