Lovie Smith

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It’s the middle of November and Illinois can still win the Big Ten West

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The fate of the Big Ten West appears to largely be a two-team race between frontrunner Minnesota and perennial division contender Wisconsin. But there is still a mathematical chance the Iowa Hawkeyes can take home the division crown. To make that happen, Iowa will have to hand Minnesota its first loss of the season tomorrow afternoon in Kinnick Stadium to keep hope alive. But there is one more team in the division that still has a mathematical chance to win the division, and they actually have more scenarios that could potentially pan out in their favor than Iowa.

Say hello to the Illinois Fighting Illini. That’s right. With three weeks left in the regular season, Illinois can still win the Big Ten West this year. Who would have predicted that at the beginning of the season?

Lovie Smith already has the program heading to its first bowl game since 2014, the first with him as the head coach, but why stop there? Let the Illini dream big, er… B1G?

Yes, Illinois would need some help from the rest of the division, but here is how Illinois could win the Big Ten West:

Scenario No. 1

  • Illinois wins games against Iowa and Northwestern
  • Iowa beats Minnesota
  • Purdue beats Wisconsin
  • Wisconsin beats Nebraska and Minnesota
  • Northwestern beats Minnesota

Scenario No. 2

  • Illinois wins games against Iowa and Northwestern
  • Iowa beats Minnesota
  • Wisconsin beats Purdue and Minnesota
  • Nebraska beats Wisconsin
  • Northwestern beats Minnesota

Minnesota is undefeated after their win against Penn State but faces Iowa on the road this weekend and closes out the regular season against Wisconsin, and the Badgers would love nothing more than to spoil things for the Gophers after losing Paul Bunyan’s Ax in Madison last season. The biggest hurdle may be asking 1-8 Northwestern to take out Minnesota, but the Illini would be eliminated from the race entirely if Minnesota wins either of their next two games against Iowa or Northwestern.

Want to know all of the different division-clinching scenarios that are still in play for the final three weeks of the season? Then check out this Reddit post breaking down all of the combinations still out there. And you better believe that includes the mess that is the ACC Coastal Division. Enter at your own risk.

Illinois adds three to coaching staff including one in-house promotion

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Illinois officially welcomed three new additions to the football staff on Wednesday, including one in-house promotion for the Illini program. The new members of the staff are running back coach Mike Bellamy, offensive line coach Bob McClain and strength and conditioning coach Lou Hernandez.

Bellamy spent the previous two seasons as a wide receivers coach for Toledo but spent four years on the Illinois staff from 2012 through 2015 as an assistant coach. Of course, Bellamy is also a former Illinois football player who earned All-Big Ten honors as a wide receiver in the late 1980s.

“It’s always a positive when you can add an alum to your staff,” Illinois head coach Lovie Smith said in a released statement. “Coach Bellamy has proven himself as an assistant here with a previous staff and at Toledo the last two seasons. Mike’s experience in Chicago and the state, along with his knowledge of our program, will definitely be a benefit. He did a terrific job with the receivers when he was here before, and now he gets the opportunity to expand his coaching role to running backs. Both coaches are excellent additions to our program.”

Hernandez is also marking a return to the Illini. After previously working at Illinois form 2005 to 2011, Hernandez has spent the last seven seasons at North Carolina.

“Returning to Illinois is an incredible opportunity,” Hernandez said in a statement. “This is not only an amazing place to work professionally, but it is also very special to me personally.

McClain was an in-house promotion for the staff. McClain joined the Illinois football program as an analyst last year. He has a history of coaching offensive linemen with jobs at Glenville State, Appalachian State, Virginia State, California University of Pennsylvania and Lenoir-Rhyne prior to his arrival at Illinois last year.

Illinois officially welcomes Georgia transfer TE Luke Ford

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Illinois may not have been able to secure a commitment from the top player in the state coming out of high school, but the Illini got him now. Tight end Luke Ford has officially been added to the Illinois football program, as announced today the school Tuesday.

Ford announced his intent to transfer from Georgia to Illinois a few days ago. In his previous statement about his decision to leave the Bulldogs, Ford cited a desire to be closer to his family due to the health of his grandparents and the cost for his family to travel to see him play each week. Illinois head coach Lovie Smith mentioned that factor in a statement about the addition of Ford to the roster.

“Luke Ford was the top-rated recruit in the state of Illinois his senior year and we worked very hard in developing a great relationship during his recruitment,” Smith said in a released statement. “It’s not unusual for athletes wanting to be near home so that family members are close by, and we are extremely happy that Luke felt Illinois was the place for him to attend school and play football after making the decision to transfer.”

Smith and Illinois have been busy adding to their roster with transfer players this offseason. Illinois previously added Miami wide receiver Jeff Thomas and Oklahoma wide receiver A.D. Miller. Minnesota defensive back Rey Estes also previously announced his decision to transfer to Illinois.

Illinois boots three players charged with home invasion and robbery

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Illinois head coach Lovie Smith has dismissed three players charged with home invasion and robbery. Offensive linemen Darta Lee and Howard Watkins and tight end Zarrian Holcombe have all been dismissed from the program, according to a statement.

Lee and Holcombe were previously suspended by Smith for violations of team rules. Watkins had also been indefinitely suspended following the initial allegations. All three players claimed the incident that led to the charges was nothing more than an innocent prank, but the authorities and Smith didn’t seem willing to buy that claim.

Each player faces a mandatory prison sentence of 4-15 years on each count against them if found guilty.

Herm Edwards visits Illini to give pep talk

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Former NFL head coach and current ESPN analyst Herm Edwards paid a visit to another former NFL coach on Tuesday. Edwards was in Champaign to visit Lovie Smith and his Illinois football program. While there, Edwards was scheduled to give the Illini a good old-fashioned pep talk. He’s good at that.

This is a reminder that the NFL coaching fraternity remains a strong bond over the years. Smith and Edwards were never a part of the same coaching staff in the NFL, but the two have remained friends over the years. Smith having these types of connections should be exploited at every opportunity to help promote the Illini program and boost it when needed. Edwards has been a vocal supporter of Smith, so it makes sense Smith would have his pal stop by and do what he does best. And he’s done it a number of times…

At Alabama in 2013…

Or the previous year before the Las Vegas Bowl…

Or this past summer with NC State…

Illinois is 2-5 this season and now flirting with the likelihood of not going to a postseason bowl game in Smith’s first season on the job. We’ll see if Edwards is able to give the program the extra juice it needs.

Here’s hoping we get some video footage of Edwards speaking to the Illini.