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CHAMPAIGN – Nathan Scheelhaase probably isn't reading this. Maybe he'll see it after the year. Or when his career is over.
The Illinois freshman quarterback isn't frequenting fan sites or checking out chats. He is in a self-imposed media blackout. One that figures to last the length of his Illinois career.
Scheelhaase hasn't read any criticism aimed at him: questions about his arm strength or his long-term future as Illini quarterback.
"I definitely don't read message boards," Scheelhaase said. "I'll occasionally read the paper if my mom says, 'There's a good article on such and such.' More about the pictures. I always like the pictures."
If he's reading or watching anything, Scheelhaase said, it will be about Illinois' upcoming opponent. You never know when that extra information will pay off in a game.
"You can kind of find hints through media stuff," Scheelhaase said.
Just past the midway point of his first year as starter, there are plenty of positives for Scheelhaase. His team is 4-3, with more wins than it had a year ago with a senior at quarterback. And even in the losses, his team has been competitive, leading Missouri and Michigan State at the half. Scheelhaase is limiting his mistakes. All but one of his seven interceptions came against Ohio State and Missouri.
Scheelhaase has fans, including Big Ten Network studio analyst Gerry DiNardo. The former Indiana and LSU coach likes the way Scheelhaase is "managing the games."
"He's just doing exactly what they need him to do," DiNardo said. "Obviously, his strength is his ability to run. Obviously, his weakness is that he's not a great passer right now. The genius of this thing is that they've got everybody doing only what they can do. (Paul) Petrino's ego isn't involved in this, or it doesn't appear to be involved in this, where he has to be an offensive guru and have to throw the ball here. Scheelhaase fits perfectly into what they want to do offensively and defensively."
The next step, DiNardo said, is for Illinois to improve its passing.
"But not at the expense of putting the team in a position to win," DiNardo said.
The legend of Scheelhaase's work ethic has reached the Big Ten Network offices. Normally, working harder off the field would be a path to that improvement.
"You can always get better at the no-talent issues," DiNardo said.
"Depending on his arm strength and his accuracy and those mechanical things, that takes him wherever else he can go."
His arm strength has been the biggest beef from the fans. Scheelhaase tries to ignore any negativity.
"That happens, especially in the position I'm in, with fans wanting everybody to do their best," Scheelhaase said. "People are going to be critical at different times. Sometimes they can be right. Sometimes they can be wrong. The biggest thing that's important is in the last couple of years, we were having criticism about not winning games. If they're more focused on us not passing for enough yards, but they're still satisfied with us winning, that's definitely the better slice of the cake."
Everyone hears it, Scheelhaase said, even powerhouse teams like Auburn and Oregon.
"That's life," Scheelhaase said. "There's always going to be good things. There's always going to be bad things. When you're in the football season, as much as you can you want to focus on the positive stuff and deal with the negative stuff internally."
DiNardo isn't surprised there has been criticism from the fans. He's heard it as a coach.
"Fans always do their job at the highest level," DiNardo said. "That doesn't mean that they're rational. They have to have appreciated the improvement from this team, right?"
Down the road, can Illinois win a Big Ten championship with Scheelhaase at quarterback?
"In my opinion, absolutely," DiNardo said.
Illinois’ Nathan Scheelhaase is one of nine freshmen starting for a BCS conference school. Here is how they stack up:
NAME SCHOOL RECORD COMMENT
1. Taylor Martinez Nebraska 6-1 Ranks 20th in the nation in passing efficiency, tops among the rookies
2. Aaron Murray Georgia 4-4 Just behind Martinez on efficiency list, he’s got a 12:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio
3. Danny O’Brien Maryland 5-2 Terrapins are 3-1 since he moved into the starting lineup
4. Nathan Scheelhaase Illinois 4-3 Has more wins as a freshman than Kurt Kittner, Juice Williams combined
5. Rob Bolden Penn State 4-3 After struggling against Illinois and Iowa, hit 11 of 13 passes in win against Minnesota
6. Jordan Webb Kansas 2-5 Shoulder injury will leave him on the bench for Saturday’s game at Iowa State
7. Rob Henry Purdue 4-3 Injured finger could keep Florida product out of Saturday’s game at Illinois
8. Tanner Price Wake Forest 2-5 Hit 37 of 53 passes for 323 yards, two scores against Navy
9. Chas Dodd Rutgers 4-3 Good part: five touchdown passes. Bad part: minus-143 rushing yard