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.