When a team has a battle to determine their starting quarterback, two things are taking place. On one hand, the athletes involved in the battle will usually rise to the occasion, making each other better in the competition. The flip side of that is during spring practices, the team is unsure of who will be their leader on the field, creating a sense of confusion as all three quarterbacks has a little different playing style.
That is no different than what is taking place in the spring practices for the Fighting Illini, as Wes Lunt, Aaron Bailey, and Reilly O’Toole battle for the starting gig for the 2014 Fighting Illini football season. Each student athlete has their strengths and weaknesses, but only one can be chosen to be the starter when Youngstown State comes to town on August 30.
Wes Lunt is the guy most fans are looking at to be under center when the season begins. Lunt, a transfer from Oklahoma State, was a highly regarded recruit out of high school. A four star quarterback, rated as the seventh best and hailing from Rochester, Illinois, Lunt started five games for the OSU Cowboys amid an injury plagued freshman campaign. He was replaced on the field, and his replacement, Clint Chelf, never looked back, putting up solid numbers which caused Lunt to transfer out of Oklahoma and choose the Illini as the place he wanted to continue his college career. In his start time on the field, however, the pro style quarterback put up respectable numbers, completing over 60% of his passes with six touchdowns. Lunt has great field awareness, is an accurate passer, and is solid reader of the defense. The concern with Lunt, which was seen at Oklahoma State, is the injury history. A team need to know that their starting quarterback can play throughout the season, and an injury concern definitely raises a concern with your starter.
Aaron Bailey, coming in to his sophomore season, like Wes Lunt was a four star quarterback out of high school. Bailey was used in situational roles for the Illini in 2013, but many expect his role to increase greatly this season, whether he is the starter or not. While throwing for a touchdown and rushing for three more last season, fans and media alike did not get to see as much of Aaron as hoped for, but many tend to compare him to one of his favorite college quarterbacks, former Illini Juice Williams. Bailey is seen as primarily a dual threat quarterback, showing great skill, strength, and elusiveness in his limited action. With Bailey, there is a concern of, like with Scheelhaase in 2011 and 2012, would Bailey run first and throw second, or would he learn to rely on his superb ability to run the ball when he had to and had an opening. The ability to pass the ball effectively and efficiently will be something that the Illini will want to have in the offense this season, especially after seeing how well the team ran Coach Bill Cubit’s system in its first year.
Reilly O’Toole, the only senior quarterback on the roster, has openly said he believes he has the ability and clearly has the desire to lead this team in 2014. While competing 75% of his passes in 2013 (12 for 16, 141 yards) O’Toole showed glimpses of accuracy and tenacity. Fans will likely have the memory of O’Toole fumbling the ball for a safety against The Ohio State University to end the chance of a comeback bid as their primary thought of O’Toole in 2013. Let it be known that O’Toole has raised his completion percentage each of his three years at Illinois, as well as his passing efficiency. O’Toole should not be overlooked in this battle, as with Cubit’s system he has the ability to garner the starting job. The main concern with O’Toole is that he has shown little ability to run the read option offense in his limited playing time. Given Cubits system, the read option is not the primary method of gaining yards, yet it is an important aspect that needs to be able to be run efficiently. One big positive for O’Toole is that he, for the first time in his Illinois career, is not having to learn a new offensive system in the offseason, as Bill Cubit enters year two of an exciting offensive coordinator campaign.
All in all, there are three able bodied quarterbacks that could potentially start for the Illini in 2014. All three have positives, while all three do have concerns. The offseason and practices should tell us a lot about the guys in the system, but not everything. However, with Bill Cubit running the offense in year two, I see no reason why either of these three could not run this team effectively. Look for a tight race all the way in to August, and do not be surprised if we throw a couple different guys out there in some games.