At the beginning of most season’s the favorite to win the “most popular guy on campus” award is usually the schools starting quarterback. Well before last season, backup Reilly O’Toole was probably the front runner in most early polls at the University of Illinois. The returning starter, Nathan Scheelhaase, wasn’t impressive at all in 2012. After an incredibly average season in which the offense barely had 2,000 yards through the air, and only had 23 total touchdowns, Fighting Illini fans were desperate for second year head coach Tim Beckman to yield results on the gridiron. Contrary to the quote “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” Beckman had to fix his offense, because it was non-existent.
For starters, last year was offensive coordinator, Bill Cubit’s first season in Champaign. Cubit wasn’t the most desired coach in the country. He was dismissed from the Western Michigan head coaching position after a 4-8 record in 2012. Something that really stuck out to me during Cubits coaching career at WMU was the effectiveness of his quarterbacks. Over his last 5 season’s at WMU starting quarterbacks in Cubit led offensive attacks averaged: 501 attempts – 63% completion pct. – 3,521.6 Yds – 29.6 TDs per season.
When Cubit took over as OC for the Fighting Illini, Scheelhaase’s numbers took off compared to his junior campaign. His final stat line looked like this: 430 attempts – 67% completion pct. – 3,272 Yds – 21 Tds. Look familiar? As Cubit becomes more accustomed to opposing Big-Ten defenses, his offenses should become more effective. As I mentioned in my last article where I was covering highly touted JUCO transfer Geronimo Allison, the Fighting Illini’s leading receiver last season was Steve Hull, a converted safety playing his first season at wide-out. Cubit got a lot out of the talent he had in Champaign last year. Hull and the rest of the receiving corps besides Martize Barr are gone to graduation. But for most Illinois fans, they are expecting an even bigger season from this years offense. The reason? His name is Wes Lunt.
Let’s rewind back to 2012 real quick. Wes Lunt was a true freshman at Oklahoma State. Lunt was a highly touted pro style quarterback coming out of high school. He gained 4-Star recognition from Rivals and was rated the 7th pro style quarterback in the country by the recruiting service. An early enrollee at Oklahoma State, Lunt turned heads the moment he set foot on campus. Lunt was eventually named the starter. Which in fact was the first true-freshman opening game starter since 1950 for the storied program. Lunt showed some promise, but to make a long story short, after an up and down season, which included an injury, and a decline on the depth chart. Lunt decided to transfer. A native of Rochester, Illinois. Lunt ultimately decided on moving closer to home and chose the University of Illinois as his landing spot. With Cubit in town this could turn out to be the best decision of Lunt’s football career.
Lunt has all the tools to be a great quarterback and being in Cubits high powered offense could mean huge numbers in 2014. Not only is Lunt in a quarterback friendly offense, but Illinois did a great job of putting talent around him. Returning starting running back, Josh Ferguson is one of the best all-purpose backs in the country. Highly touted junior college transfers, Geronimo Allison and Tyrin Stone-Davis will provide playmaking abilities outside. True freshman, Mike Dudek could provide Lunt with one of the best slot receivers in the conference, he runs great routes, is quick, tough, and catches everything. Some have even compared Dudek to NFL receiver Wes Welker, and is on analysts “top newcomer” watch lists across the Big Ten. Fellow true freshman, Malik Turner has also turned heads in camp. The more you look at this years roster, as opposed to last’s; the more you realize there is a lot more talent throughout the offense.
If Illinois is going to want to take the next step forward as a program, they will have to improve immensely on the defensive side of the football. The lack of defensive output is bad for the Fighting Illini, but it could mean a huge season for Wes Lunt and the Illini offense. If the Illini are playing catch-up all game and are forced to throw the ball even more-so than Cubit already does. Huge fantasy numbers could be in store. Illinois reminds me a lot of what Indiana was last season. A team with a high powered offense, and one of the worst defenses in the conference. Illinois has done a nice job at trying to bring in talent on the defensive side of the ball. But if they don’t improve drastically, thats exactly what they’ll be. Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson combined to throw for 3,651 yards and 36 touchdowns last season. Lunt could be in for the same, but he isn’t in a platoon situation. If he is available in your league add him.
Projection: 3,500 yards, 32 touchdowns, 10 interceptions.