Nathan Scheelhaase returns to Champaign as the incumbent starter at quarterback for an Illinois team that dropped their last six regular season games last season after starting off with a surprising 6-0 start.
A win in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl vs. UCLA was no consolation as Ron Zook was fired as coach and replaced with former Toledo coach Tim Beckman.
This Illinois program has been stuck in mediocrity for years. The Illini will need Scheelhaase to be a dual threat in Beckman’s offense and in year three under center could be poised for a big year.
The Illini also have Reilly O’Toole backing him up in the event Scheelhaase struggles to pick up the scheme or gets injured and has to miss some time. O’Toole came to the Illini after a stellar prep career at Wheaton-Warrenville South where he led his teams to two state titles.
In limited action, O’Toole attempted 67 passes in the 10 games he saw the field while coming on in relief of Scheelhaase, but the classic pocket passer could see more action this season.
Illinois does not have much in the way of playmakers on offense after leading receiver, AJ Jenkins declared for the NFL draft, and the defense will be counted on heavily as the offense adjusts to a scheme and tries to find a lead ball carrier and receiver.
This could be an ugly year for the Illini if Scheelhaase does not deliver a number of spectacular individual efforts on Saturdays.
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Patrick is a diehard Chicago sports and avid college football fan, and the host of “The Wake-up Call,” a weekly sports show on Sportstownchicago.com Wednesday mornings from 8-10. View his show’s website here.