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Lovie Smith’s beard steals show; 4 takeaways from Illini coach at B1G Media Days

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

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

Smith faced a tough task in trying to get Illinois, which hasn’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 had much results in terms of wins. He has a 5-19 overall record and is 2-16 in Big Ten play.

However, year three will be a different story, according to Smith who seems overly optimistic for what’s to come.

Here are four takeaways from Illinois coach Lovie Smith’s press conference:

1. The beard is back

Smith didn’t have to say anything, but everyone noticed. When he took the podium, Twitter went wild for Smith’s white beard.

2. Smith expects results

Smith made it clear that he expects results this season, but wouldn’t exactly go into detail of what he meant.

“Year three will produce results,” Smith said Tuesday in his opening statement at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago.

“I don’t think you should ever say this is how many wins we have to have or we’re going to get,” he continued later. “But for us, when we say improvement, when you talk about the young players, first time on the field, I just know behind the scenes they’ve gotten so much better.

“I just know that we’re a better football team right now. And normally, with my history, it’s said that that shows results during the course of the year.”

3. Mikey Dudek is healthy

Wide receiver Mikey Dudek was the perfect story when he came to Illinois. The Naperville native was highly recruited out of high school and decided to stay in his home state.

As a freshman, Dudek had a breakout season in 2014. He led the Big Ten Conference in receptions (50) and receiving yards (716) during conference play.

But since then, Dudek’s career has been derailed by back-to-back knee injuries, one which caused him to miss five games last season.

Smith said Dudek is healthy this season and he’s expected to play a key role in Illini’s offense.

“It’s been a while, but Mike Dudek is an excellent football player,” Smith said. “Mike’s had an excellent offseason. Completely healthy now. And our new offense that we’ll be running, he’ll have an opportunity to be the featured guy and be able to — we should see a lot of production from him. Again, he’s in excellent shape, and he’s going to have an outstanding year.”

4. Smith is in it for the long haul

Record aside, this is exactly where Smith expected to be in year three of what he called a program “overhaul.”

“As we came into our program, we evaluated it. We thought, of course, we needed to do a lot better job, we as a coaching staff needed to do a good job, but we needed to upgrade the talent level,” Smith said. “We’re doing that.

“In an ideal world, we wanted to have more wins right now. But I like where we are. Now that’s behind us, I like how we’re sitting year three. And this is when we expect to see results.”