The Big LeadThe Big Lead

Lovie Smith Was Carried Off the Field After Illinois Became Bowl Eligible

CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS - NOVEMBER 02: Head coach Lovie Smith of the Illinois Fighting Illini on the field after a win over the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Memorial Stadium on November 02, 2019 in Champaign, Illinois. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
Rutgers v Illinois | Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Lovie Smith's Illinois team started the season 2-0, then lost three in a row, then fell behind Michigan, 28-0. Since then, they have been playing inspired football. Though the feverish rally against the Wolverines came up short, it set the stage for a stunning upset of Wisconsin and workmanlike wins over Purdue and Rutgers.

Today the Illini dug another hole against Michigan State and found themselves trailing 28-3. A school-record comeback later, and they are bowl eligible after scoring a touchdown with five seconds remaining to capture a 37-34 victory.

Smith was 9-27 overall and 4-23 in conference play in his first three years. This fourth one has been a revelation, a magical ride -- one that isn't done yet.

His players, obviously overjoyed, gave him the heroes treatment after the clock struck 0:00, carrying him off the field.

Raise your hands if you saw that coming. No hands? Okay.