Illinois

Pat Fitzgerald, Lovie Smith in top 10 of an intriguing college coach list

Pat Fitzgerald, Lovie Smith in top 10 of an intriguing college coach list

Northwestern and Illinois’ college football programs are ranked in the top 10 this year.

Kind of.

One esteemed name in the college football ranks has placed Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald atop the list of the all-time greatest college coaches…ranked as players. Illini coach Lovie Smith ranks at No. 10.

Rich Cirminiello, Director of College Awards for the Maxwell Football Club, compiled the list and he is an excellent follow on Twitter. He has several other noteworthy lists of interest, including the top college football players who are now coaches in the NFL. Psst…spoiler alert: several local connections are on that particular list as well, including Saints head coach Sean Payton (QB, Eastern Illinois) and Ron Rivera (LB, California).

But back to Coach Fitz, who bleeds purple and has emphatically put the NU football program on the map since the mid-90s. He was a two-time All-American in addition to receiving consecutive Bronco Nagurski, Chuck Bednarik and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors as a linebacker (1995-96). He helped guide the Wildcats to the ’96 Rose Bowl. Since becoming the team’s head coach in 2006, he has led the program to nine bowl games (four wins).

We all know Lovie Smith’s coaching legacy with the Bears and his rebuilding of the Illinois football program, but did you know how much he dominated as a college player? He played for Tulsa from 1976-79, racking up 367 career tackles primarily as a safety. He was a three-time All-Missouri Valley Conference award winner and earned a second-team All-America mention in 1978. He was also named MVC Newcomer of the Year after he tallied 90 tackles as a freshman.

[MORE: Lovie Smith, Mike Tirico discuss systemic racism 

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, who passed for over 11,000 yards in seven seasons as a Chicago Bear, ranked No. 2 on Cirminiello’s list. In a follow-up tweet, Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck, who dominated as a wide receiver at NIU and at nearby Kaneland High School, came in at No. 20. Western Michigan’s Tim Lester —a star player at Wheaton Warrenville South HS— is in at No. 7.

Who said that the Land of Lincoln didn’t have top college football talent?

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.

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Say it ain't so: DePaul commit Tyger Campbell reopens recruitment

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AP

Say it ain't so: DePaul commit Tyger Campbell reopens recruitment

It looks like it was too good to be true.

Tyger Campbell shocked the recruiting world when he committed to DePaul on May 8.

Less than four months later, Campbell has reopened his recruitment.

The Rivals.com four-star point guard out of La Lumiere High School in Indiana, who is the No. 66 prospect in the 2018 Class, took to Twitter Friday night to explain his decision.

One of Campbell's original draws to the Blue Demons was DePaul hiring Shane Heirman as an assistant coach. Heirman coached Campbell for two seasons at La Lumiere.

"I like DePaul and honestly my coach (Shane Heirman) just went there and we have a great connection and he's always had my back," Campbell told Scout.com when he committed to the Blue Demons. "I like [DePaul] coach Dave Leitao, too. I like his program and he's an intelligent guy."

Campbell currently has offers from a handful of D1 schools, including Illinois, Michigan State, Ole Miss, Purdue, SMU, Memphis and Tennessee.