Lovie Smith hasn’t had many winning seasons in Champaign, but he has had some impressive wins while coaching the Illinois football team.
Lovie has been the head coach of the Illinois football program since March 7, 2016. Since starting at Illinois, Lovie has a win-loss record of 15-34. With his worst season being in 2017 where the Illini went 2-10. His best season was during the 2019 season when he led Illinois to a 6-7 record.
Lovie has helped break barriers at Illinois. He is Illinois’ first black head coach in their 130-year history. Illinois also has the most black coaches in college football, with a total of eight on its coaching staff. Not to mention the first woman staff member in Ashton Washington.
There were multiple factors on how I ranked these wins. The first factor is how the win impacted Illinois going forward. The second factor is the overall record of the opponent at the end of the season. So, if a team doesn’t make it on this list, their overall record at the end of that season played a factor. The last factor to make this list is how much did the game matter to Illinois and Coach Lovie.
I will also be breaking down important plays quarter-by-quarter. Before I get into this list, I will be including two honorable mention games that didn’t make the list.
The first honorable mention game is Illinois vs Ball State in 2017. The Illini won that game 24-21 after a blocked field goal by Jamal Milan helped seal the victory. But the reason I don’t have it in my top 5 wins is that Illinois and Ball St both ended that season with a 2-10 record.
The second honorable mention game is Illinois vs Western Kentucky. The Illini won that game 20-7. Even though Western Kentucky went 6-7 that season, I don’t think it was a better win for Lovie than the five that made the list.
Here are the top five Illini wins in the Lovie Smith era.