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Illinois Fighting Illini: 2017 Quarterback Breakdown
- Updated: February 20, 2017
If the Illinois Fighting Illini were missing one thing from their team last season it was offense. The Fighting Illini averaged 19.7 points per game and ranked 122 out of 128 teams in scoring. The quarterback play was dreadful for most of the season; the Fighting Illini need an upgrade during the 2017 season. Fortunately, they may have their quarterback on the roster.
Due to injuries and inexperience, the Fighting Illini offense suffered through some putrid performances. Wes Lunt should have been one of the best players in the Big Ten. However, the senior quarterback only played in eight games. He only finished with eight touchdowns and three interceptions. During his three seasons with Illinois, Lunt threw 36 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions.
He also played for three different coaches after transferring from the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Now that Lunt has moved on, second-year coach Lovie Smith will be able to maintain some order on the offensive side of the ball. From the looks of things, they’ll have plenty of quarterbacks to choose from.
In addition to Lunt’s absence, the Fighting Illini lost the services of Chayce Crouch early on. Crouch only appeared in four games, completing 18-of-32 passes for 249 yards. He also recorded a touchdown and an interception. Instead of taking the season by the horns, Crouch opted for season-ending surgery in October. Therefore, the Fighting Illini had to rely on redshirt freshman Jeff George Jr.
Unfortunately, George was placed in an unwinnable situation. However, the insertion of George into the lineup may have been a blessing in disguise. Illinois only won three games last season. George was able to lead the team to one of the wins.
But will Crouch or George start the season as the No. 1 quarterback? Entering spring practice, Illinois has four quarterbacks on the roster. The reason for the low number is due to transfers. Once Smith was named head coach, Eli Peters got the heck out of dodge. The early-enrollee transferred out of the program last June. He’s now at Toledo. Meanwhile, Jimmy Fitzgerald left the program three weeks before the start of the season. Due to the turmoil, Fitzgerald may have earned the starting spot. Instead, he will be part of the Dartmouth football program next year.
Trenard Davis is the smallest Illini quarterback on the roster. He’s also a versatile football player that may change positions in the future. As a redshirt freshman, Davis practiced at safety, wide receiver, and quarterback. The 3-star recruit has never taken a snap with the Fighting Illini, however, coach Smith should look to utilize Davis in the offense more often.
Meanwhile, Cam Miller provides depth for the Illinois quarterback rotation. He threw for 3,113 yards and 36 touchdown passes during his senior season at Brother Rice.
The Fighting Illini will be adding two more quarterbacks during the summer. Cameron Thomas is a 3-star recruit coming out of Marian Catholic high school in Chicago Heights. Thomas seems to have all the attributes of a future star, but he may have to wait to realize his potential. Furthermore, Thomas isn’t the most intriguing quarterback recruit in the 2017 class.
That distinction belongs to junior college transfer Dwayne Lawson. Standing at 6-foot-6, Lawson could become the starting quarterback immediately. He still has not enrolled yet, therefore, Lawson won’t be able to learn the offense during spring practice. However, if his skills translate to the practice field, we may see Lawson on the field against Ball State on the first possession.
One thing is certain, after last season’s quarterback play, this job should be up for grabs every day until opening kickoff.
Harrison has covered NFL, NBA, and CBB in the past. Earlier in his career, he was a national college football writer and Team writer for Husker Corner. Harrison also created the college football "Treat 16 Power Poll" some years back when college coaches relied on the running game.
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