Cards on the table: Illinois' next starting quarterback

 

Listen to this article

The Illinois starting quarterback job is up for grabs, but Sports Editor MATT DANIELS takes a look at the four likely candidates ahead of the 2019 season opener:

He starts Aug. 31 because ... the Michigan transfer has the most college experience of any scholarship quarterback on the Illini roster. Never mind the fact he just announced he was transferring to Illinois on Tuesday night. Never mind that he's more of a pocket passer instead of the dual-threat quarterback suited for Rod Smith's offense. The Indiana native has played in big games before and knows what it takes to fill the role of a starting quarterback in the Big Ten. Plus, you don't leave one Big Ten program, where he was buried on the depth chart, and land at another Big Ten program only to sit on the bench.

He starts Aug. 31 because ... the future is here. Right now. On campus. Even wearing No. 1. The St. Louis native and Trinity Catholic product is the most highly-touted quarterback recruit for the Illini since the other Isiah Williams (people more him better as Juice) arrived before the start of the 2006 season. This Williams has the same penchant for big plays, both with his arm and with his feet. Sure, he may never have taken a college snap before. And he's generously listed at 5 feet, 10 inches. But more eyes will be on Williams this season than possibly any other player on the Illini roster, so why not have him start against Akron to see what you have and what he can build upon not only for the rest of this season, but also the rest of his Illinois career?

He starts Aug. 31 because ... he might know the Illini offense better than any other quarterback once training camp opens Aug. 2. The California native was a last-minute addition to the 2018 class, mainly thanks to Rod Smith. Some thought he might flourish enough last August during preseason practices to serve as AJ Bush Jr.'s backup in 2018. That role ultimately fell to M.J. Rivers II, but when Rivers announced he was transferring in May, Robinson moved up a spot on the depth chart. He played sparingly last season, mostly in mop-up time, so it's unclear how he might respond going against a first-team defense and how he would fare throughout an entire game. He can escape the pocket if a play breaks down, though, and his arm strength has improved in the last year. Add in the motivation he certainly feels with the addition of Peters and all the hype surrounding Williams, and he could turn in an August to remember.

He starts Aug. 31 because ... Rod Smith's offense is predicated on running quarterbacks. Taylor can fit that role and deliver a blow to an opposing linebacker or safety coming into the box, too. The biggest dual-threat quarterback the Illini have, Taylor doesn't have any college experience, though. At least playing in any game. The Peoria native, who led his high school to a Class 5A state title at Memorial Stadium in 2016, only practiced with the Illini last season during his redshirt year. One of the first commits in the Class of 2018, Taylor was a difference-maker his last two seasons in high school, where he accumulated 5,809 yards of total offense. He'll need to improve his accuracy throwing the ball, but he has some raw talent the Illini could tap into.

Sports Editor

Matt Daniels is sports editor at The News-Gazette. His email is mdaniels@news-gazette.com.