Cubit says Illini QB competition is wide open
BY STEVE GREENBERG Staff Reporter January 29, 2014 10:01PM
Updated: March 3, 2014 4:26PM
The start of spring football at Illinois is a little less than five weeks away, which hardly seems possible in this arctic weather. Already, though, one of the Big Ten’s most intriguing quarterback competitions is heating up.
Who will replace four-year starter Nathan Scheelhaase?
The QB who does will inherit the keys to second-year coordinator Bill Cubit’s offense, which allowed Scheelhaase to sparkle in 2013, by far his best statistical season.
Cubit said the competition is wide open.
Many Illini fans are anticipating that sophomore Wes Lunt, who sat out last season after transferring from Oklahoma State, will grab hold of the competition early in spring ball and present Cubit with a no-brainer pick.
The 6-5, 215-pound Lunt did, after all, win a three-man QB battle and start five games as a true freshman at OSU, a top program. Throughout 2013 in Champaign, there was background buzz about how well Lunt was throwing the ball.
Lunt ran the scout team for the Illini last year, but he’s no scout-teamer. To win the starting job, he’ll have to beat out senior Reilly O’Toole — to this point, a career second-stringer — and sophomore Aaron Bailey, who was the jewel of coach Tim Beckman’s 2013 recruiting class.
“Every one of us wants to be the starting quarterback, and that’s no different for me,” Lunt said Wednesday, a day when all three contenders spoke by phone with the Sun-Times. “Every day, I’m going to do whatever I can to be the starter.”
Lunt is confident, but no more so than Bailey and O’Toole. Cubit has drilled the same mantra into each of their heads: “Take the job.”
What Cubit said after the season still applies: “There’s three of them with a chance to [start] — I mean that. . . . The guy who goes in there and says, ‘It’s my job,’ is going to have a leg up on everybody.”
Bailey played sparingly as a true freshman, and the majority of his snaps were designed quarterback runs. Although the 6-2, 220-pounder displayed impressive arm strength in his first training camp, his accuracy and ability to read coverages weren’t sharp enough, Cubit thought. Bailey, a state champion at Bolingbrook, believes he has worked his way past all that.
“I’m staying focused,’’ he said, ‘‘studying the playbook more often, watching more film, throwing on my own. I’m just working really hard.
“I’m definitely going for the starting position. I’m not going for the second or third role.”
After backing up Scheelhaase for three seasons — and playing poorly in limited action as a junior — O’Toole doesn’t necessarily offer the same exciting promise as Lunt and Bailey, but that doesn’t mean he won’t wind up being the guy. Would it be an upset? Sure, but not as big of one as some think.
“I fully expect to start,” said the 6-4, 220-pound O’Toole, who won two state titles at Wheaton Warrenville South. “I don’t have more years to fall back on. I’m the senior quarterback. I’m not trying to be a backup all four years. I want to leave my mark on the program.”