Illinois students wanting to watch the season-opening game — and coach Lovie Smith’s debut — have an extra incentive to check it out in person.
The Fighting Illini are offering free tickets to all students for the Sept. 3 game against Murray State, the school announced on its athletic website. Students are encouraged to reserve tickets.
— Illini Athletics (@IlliniAthletics) August 11, 2016
This is a good way for Illinois to create even more excitement for the upcoming season. Though the Illini went 5-7 (2-6 in the Big Ten) in 2015 and missed a bowl game, former NFL coach Smith is taking over in hopes of turning around the program. Smith coached the Chicago Bears for nine seasons (2004-12) and then the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for two (2014-15). In 2006, he led the Bears to a 13-3 regular season and an appearance in the Super Bowl, where Chicago lost to the Colts. Smith went 81-63 with the Bears but only 8-24 with the Buccaneers.
Now Smith will try to lead Illinois to its first winning season since the Illini went 7-6 in 2011.
— Josh Whitman (@IlliniAD) August 11, 2016