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Illini coach Lovie Smith expects ‘results’ this season, but what does that mean?

Illinois coach Lovie Smith knew it wasn’t going to be pretty — let alone easy — when he took over the program in 2016.

Smith faced a tough task in trying to get the Illini, who haven’t had a winning season since 2011, to be a prominent and competitive football program once again.

But in his first two seasons as the leader of what he called a  program “overhaul,” Smith hasn’t racked up many wins. He has a 5-19 overall record and is 2-16 in Big Ten play.

However, this season will be a different story, according to Smith.

Illinois head coach Lovie Smith speaks at the Big Ten Conference NCAA college football Media Days in Chicago, Tuesday, July 24, 2018. | Annie Rice/Associated Press

“Year 3 will produce results,” Smith said.

What’s that mean?

“I try not to put a number on it,” he answered. “How do we define success? First off, we just want to see improvement, which we will. Our players are better, and that should lead to more improved play, better playing on the football field.”

Improvement is almost guaranteed. Last season, the Illini had 15 true freshmen and one redshirt freshman, which made them one of the youngest teams in the FBS.

And although the Illini still have plenty of growing pains, Smith is confident with the players coming in and the veterans coming back, like wide receiver Mike Dudek, who said he’s finally healthy after missing two seasons to ACL injuries and was sidelined by another setback last year.

And all the Illini players at Big Ten Media Days on Tuesday agreed with Smith that this season will be better.

“I just think as far as culture of the team, the morale of our team has changed ever since we lost last year,” Dudek said. “Coach Smith, he challenges us to hold each other to a higher standard.”

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Said defensive tackle Jamal Milan: “It’s something that’s been said for a minute. [The success] has just been taking a little longer than expected. But as players . . . to know our head coach has this much confidence in us means a lot.”

Smith is clearly confident in his job security, too. Despite some putting him on the hot seat, Smith said he doesn’t feel any excess pressure.

“This is what we do: go to work each day, do the best job we possibly can,” Smith said. “When we came here, we had a plan. Part of that plan, we make changes. Normally, it doesn’t say championship the next year.

“I feel the same pressure I feel every other day — to do the best job I can. No more than that, absolutely not.”