The quarterback position hasn’t exactly been a strong point over the last decade or more for the Illinois football team.
Let’s think back to the best quarterback we had under center in the last 10 years. I think Nathan Scheelhaase takes the cake, but even he had a lot of struggles. His final season in Champaign was probably his best. That season he threw for 3,272 yards, 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. That team only went 4-8, though.
Since the Scheelhaase era, I think it was fair to say the Illini quarterback situation has been less than ideal. Wes Lunt gave me some hope transferring in from Oklahoma State, but he couldn’t stay on the field. Availability is just as important as actual talent. Although, it was fun to see Reilly O’Toole replace Lunt and lead Illinois to back-to-back victories the final two games of the 2014 campaign. This was the last bowl appearance for the Orange and Blue.
O’Toole was a serviceable backup with a heart the size of the state of Illinois. That kid was fun to watch. But, since that bowl run, the program has gone through turmoil and Lovie Smith was handed the reins. Lovie was handed a team with an injury prone Lunt in his final season and nothing behind him. He started his tenure with the Illini behind the eight ball at the quarterback position. But, it does look like things are finally turning around for the Fighting Illini.
The 2018 campaign finished 4-8 for Illinois. They were a blown fourth quarter lead away from making that record 5-7. AJ Bush came into the program and gave this Illini team a shot in the arm. His passing wasn’t very good, though. He threw for 1,413 yards, 6 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. But, his running was the key to his game. His 733 yards and 8 touchdowns on the ground gave this Illini team an edge against defenses. He was also a bridge for the younger guys since he was a graduate transfer.
Having Bush come in for one season enabled some of the young guys behind him to get some experience while not having to feel the pressure, all the time, to win games immediately. We did get to see MJ Rivers throw the ball around the field some last season. I think he was a better passer than Bush. He threw for 547 yards, 3 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. He wasn’t nearly the runner of Bush, though.
Rivers got some experience under his belt, though. That is the important thing from last season. So, Illinois now has a quarterback, who is in spring practice right now, that has experience behind center at the college level. This is great for the team this upcoming season. We also have Isaiah Williams coming in from the class of 2018 as well.
Williams was the four-star quarterback who had lightning quick feet and the ability to wow people on the football field. He won a state title down in Missouri with his Trinity Catholic team as well. This kid is a winner and is going to be added to the program this fall.
Having Rivers as the experienced guy on the team and Williams as a playmaker coming in, the quarterback position finally has some quality depth. I liken it to the basketball team in a way. Illinois failed to have any depth at guard throughout the John Groce era, but Brad Underwood finally has some quality depth at the guard position just two years in. The same works for the football team. There hasn’t been depth at the quarterback position in a very long time. Finally, Lovie is building this roster to have quality depth at just about every position, including quarterback.