Bears

University of Illinois bowl-eligible for the first time under Lovie Smith following amazing comeback win

University of Illinois bowl-eligible for the first time under Lovie Smith following amazing comeback win

Lovie Smith—who is no stranger to improbable comebacks—has indeed done it again. The University of Illinois head coach led the squad to a wild comeback win over the Michigan State Spartans on Saturday.

Of course, any time Smith leads a squad to a huge comeback win, what first comes to mind is the Bears' now-infamous comeback win in the desert against the Arizona Cardinals in 2006.

That was the matchup at the University of Phoenix Stadium where the Bears trailed the Cards 20-0 before rallying to finish with a one-point, 24-23 win. That was the first time in Bears franchise history that they were able to win a game after trailing by at least 20 points in the second half. This was the same kind of magic that Lovie conjured up on Saturday night to lead U of I to the monumental win.

At one point during Saturday's game, the Illini were down 28-3 and, shortly thereafter, they were down 31-10 following a 46-yard Brandon Peters touchdown pass to and a Michigan State field goal that stretched their lead to 21 points.

At the end of the third quarter, Michigan State's win probability was a whopping 99.6%.

Spartans quarterback Brian Lewerke, who had two interceptions in the first quarter, rebounded and led the Spartans to two scoring drives in the second quarter. In that period, he had a touchdown pass to Tre Mosley and led MSU to another touchdown drive before the field goal in the third that made the score 31-10 MSU.

That field goal to stretch the lead to 21 was the last MSU score before the start of the Illinois comeback for the ages.

The Illini defense, which was the sixth-worst in the Big Ten in opponents points per game coming into Saturday night, held the Spartans to six second-half points and scored a touchdown on an exciting 76-yard interception return.  This set up the stage for Illini quarterback Brandon Peters, who threw two touchdowns in the final frame, including the game-winning five-yard strike to Daniel Barker.

The thrilling comeback win clinches bowl eligibility for the Fighting Illini under Smith, and represents the best stretch of Smith's collegiate career to this point. U of I's has now rattled off four consecutive wins over No. 6 Wisconsin, Purdue, Rutgers and now MSU. 

Saturday's comeback victory over the Spartans was the biggest comeback in program history and has set up the Illini for a great close to their season.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.

Khalil Mack pays off holiday debts at Walmart in his hometown

Khalil Mack pays off holiday debts at Walmart in his hometown

Khalil Mack is doing good in his hometown during the holiday season.

Mack paid off more than 300 layaway accounts at a Walmart in his hometown of Fort Pierce, Fla. Mack paid through the Khalil Mack Foundation.

The Fort Pierce Walmart announced his good deed on their Facebook page:

“We have some wonderful news! If you have an active Holiday Layaway account at your local Ft. Pierce Wal-Mart, you account has been paid off!

“We here at Walmart would like to thank the Khalil Mack Foundation for your generosity, and for making so many families happy for the holidays!”

Mack has been a big play player for the Bears defense since joining the team last year. Here is an example of a big play off the field from Mack.

2020 NFL Draft: Bears land CB, OT in 7-round mock draft

2020 NFL Draft: Bears land CB, OT in 7-round mock draft

The 2019 NFL season is in its final quarter, and with the Bears essentially needing to win out while also getting some help around the league to make the playoffs, it's important to keep track of the trending NFL Draft narrative building around this team.

The funny thing, however, is that that narrative continues to change.

Just a few weeks ago, the Bears were considered a team that would potentially dip into the pool of quarterback prospects in the early second round, but with the emergence of Mitch Trubisky (he's thrown for 582 yards and six touchdowns in the last two games alone), it appears less likely that GM Ryan Pace will use one of his few draft assets on one.

Tight end was also considered a target for the Bears in the second round, and that could remain the case as the season marches on. But Jesper Horsted is beginning to look like a legitimate sleeper to emerge as part of the answer at such a critical position in coach Matt Nagy's offense.

So where does that leave this team's hierarchy of draft needs as the offseason inches closer? 

According to CBS Sports' new seven-round mock draft, the first two positions the Bears will address with their two second-round picks are cornerback and offensive tackle. In this mock, Chicago grabs TCU corner Jeff Gladney (No. 49 overall) and Iowa offensive tackle Alaris Jackson (No. 50 overall).

Gladney will participate in this year's Senior Bowl at the end of January after a standout career with the Horned Frogs. He was rated the No. 1 cornerback in the Big 12 by Pro Football Focus in 2018 and has been solid once again this season, although he's managed just one interception on the year. 

At 6-foot, 183 pounds, Gladney has an NFL frame and the kind of high-end coverage skills the Bears should be looking to add to the roster. Prince Amukamara's contract expires at the end of next season, and drafting a player like Gladney, combined with 2019 sixth-round pick Dukey Shelley, would strengthen the team's pipeline of young cornerbacks who will eventually be called upon to play.

Jackson, who the Bears take with their second second-rounder in this scenario, suffered an early-season knee injury but returned to earn Third Team All-Big 10 honors this year.

Jackson combined with Tristan Wirfs to give Iowa one of the best offensive tackle duos in college football, but Jackson offers a little less upside on the edge moving forward. Still, the Bears have suffered from underwhelming offensive line play all season and won't hesitate to add a player with Jackson's pedigree early in this year's draft.

As for the rest of the Bears' draft haul, here are some highlights:

Round 4 (projected compensatory pick): Colby Parkinson, TE, Stanford

Parkinson began the 2019 season with some chatter that suggested he'd end the year as the top tight end in the class. And while he ended the season with 48 catches for 589 yards and a touchdown, it wasn't quite the production expected from a player who was supposed to be the next in the long line of promising Stanford tight ends. 

Parkinson's underwhelming season could be the Bears' gain, however. The best part of his game is his ability as a receiver, which is what Chicago is missing most from its offense right now. If he slides into Day 3 and the Bears end up with a compensatory pick in this range, he'd certainly be a viable target.

Round 5 (from Eagles): K.J. Costello, QB, Stanford

Why not tap into the Stanford program twice on Day 3? This time, the Bears go with the guy who was throwing passes to Parkinson. Costello is a solid Day-3 quarterback prospect who has some physical limitations and an awkward throwing motion, but it's critical that Pace adds a developmental passer to the roster even if it's just to become a long-term backup for Trubisky (assuming Trubisky keeps the job).

Costello's been injured all season and was limited to just five games in what was supposed to be a senior year that put him in the first-round conversation. Instead, he'll slide into the third day (at least, he should). He'd make a lot of sense for the Bears, especially from a public relations standpoint. He isn't quite good enough to legitimately challenge Trubisky in 2020, but he has enough talent to potentially develop into a respectable starter down the road.

Round 7: Tucker McCann (K, Missouri)

Kicker alert! Would the Bears dare using a draft pick on a kicker? It seems highly unlikely, especially since Eddy Pineiro is beginning to play better. He's made all of his field-goal attempts during Chicago's three-game winning streak.

That said, Pineiro is connecting on just 76% of his kicks this season, which ranks 25th in the NFL. Not good.

Pace is a pretty loyal guy, and with Pineiro kicking under some of the most intense pressure of any kicking situation in the NFL, one could argue he's weathered the storm pretty well.

The next three games will determine whether Pineiro's roster spot is safe in 2020. If he remains hot, he'll be back. It's as simple as that.

Here is the total Bears' mock draft:

Round 2: Jeff Gladney, CB, TCU
Round 2: Alaric Jackson, OL, Iowa
Round 4: Colby Parkinson, TE, Stanford
Round 5: K.J. Costello, QB, Stanford
Round 5: Larrell Murchison, DL, NC State
Round 5: Kalija Lipscomb, WR, Vanderbilt
Round 6: Tyler Higby, G, Michigan State
Round 7: Tucker McCann, K, Missouri

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.