When Wes Lunt announced he would be transferring from the Oklahoma State Cowboys, he immediately became one of the most highly sought “free agents” in college football. He’s displayed a strong arm and the ability to torch defenses at the major college level in the Big 12 and with three years of eligibility remaining could become a cornerstone for a program for the next several years. One of the schools that Lunt announced he was considering was his home-town Illinois Fighting Illini, which on paper would be a strong upgrade for the struggling program. On closer inspection, however, Lunt would not be a great fit for Illinois.
While the former Cowboy has a phenomenal arm and is a lock to be a success in a spread passing offense, one of the reasons that Lunt reportedly is leaving OSU is because the team will be running their quarterback more often in 2013. That doesn’t fit well into Lunt’s skill-set, and likely pushed him down to third among the other quarterbacks in Stillwater, including sophomore J.W. Walsh who led quarterbacks in rushing for Oklahoma State, gaining 301 yards and scoring seven touchdowns. Lunt, meanwhile, finished the year with just one rushing attempt for a six yard loss.
Illinois has already been running their quarterbacks extensively in their spread offense. Last season, Nathan Scheelhaase finished second on the team in carries, rushing the ball 125 times for 303 yards and four touchdowns. He was the most often used option in the running game, averaging 12.5 attempts per game and took some lumps doing it, playing in just 10 games. While part of that was the coaching staff using the athletic abilities of Scheelhaase, another part was self-preservation as the Illinois offensive line has not shown a strong ability to protect their quarterback, allowing 3.25 sacks per game in 2012.
While Scheelhaase is entering his final year of eligibility, the quarterback position isn’t completely barren behind him. Junior Riley O’Toole is waiting in the wings and has shown the ability to run the Illinois system as it stands right now and would be a better fit than Lunt. He’s a big, strong, athletic quarterback with a quick release and excellent mobility. He stepped in and showed flashes of playmaking ability in 2012, completing nearly 75 percent of his passes for 564 yards with six touchdowns and four interceptions in a backup role. He also added 76 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the ground, putting his running ability on display.
On paper, Lunt looks like an upgrade at quarterback for a program that needs to be upgraded at several positions. But when you break it down, Illinois needs more than an immobile quarterback with a strong arm and Lunt needs a program where he won’t have to run. At the end of the day, it’s just not a good fit.