CHAMPAIGN – Lovie Smith has resulted in a lot of football in many stages. But when Illinois go to Spartan Stadium on Saturday to face Michigan State, it will be the first time Smith will open.
"It's the only one I can think I've ever seen," Smith said. "Football is part of me, the historian is part of me, I'm excited about that. Program established. A lot of history. One of the first to have black players. This part is very nice. "
Illinois hopes to make Smith's first game at Spartan Stadium even more memorable.
The stake is clear. A win means that the Illini (5-4, 3-3 Big Ten) will be eligible for the bowl for the first time under Lovie Smith. A defeat would bring Illinois down to .500 with two games to go on the schedule.
Outside, many tipsters give Illinois no chance. The Spartans (4-4, 2-3 Big Ten) lost three times in a row, but the oddsmakers ranked the Michigan State among the favorites by 14.5 points.
"We like being underdogs and being neglected," junior linebacker Illini Jake Hansen I said. "It will only make us a little more hungry."
But do the stars line up for another upset Illinois? Michigan State will be without three key starters. Great gap Darrell Stewart Jr. came out with an injury. Senior American linebacker Joe Bachie was declared ineligible by the Big Ten after being tested positive for a performance enhancing substance. To top it off, the starting center, Matt Allen, is also injured.
Injuries / suspension could bring the Spartans together. After being destroyed by Wisconsin, the Ohio State and the Penn State, they have their back to the wall. Illinois fleeing Reggie Corbin said the team has always trusted. But after the series of three consecutive wins, confidence is at its highest level.
"We have this confidence since the first day," said Corbin. "Now it's filtered out to people outside the program. It's good. We have always been neglected. I think that's where we thrive. "
The Michigan State defensive line is a great position of strength. But Corbin is not worried.
"It does not matter. I have five guys. My five guys will go bad anyway. Of course, Michigan State is really good. Everyone in the Big Ten is good. As you can see, Rutgers is good. Everyone thinks Rutgers is not that good, but Rutgers is a good team. But each team is good. I believe in my five guys. I believe in my offensive coordinator and in my watch. "