This afternoon the Illinois football team will take to the field and open spring practice. They'll be doing so in roughly half a foot of snow, but it will be spring practice all the same.
And the start of spring practice means a lot of things, but this spring it also means the beginning of a quarterback competition. Tim Beckman has said in recent weeks that the job is open, and it makes a lot of sense to have an open competition. First of all, a true competition could lead to improvement amongst all those involved, but there's also the fact that Bill Cubit is now our offensive coordinator and we're running a different version of the same spread offense.
So even though Nathan Scheelhaase has started the last three seasons, he has as much experience in Cubit's system that Reilly O' Toole does.
But exactly how open is the competition?
I mean, what exactly can Reilly O'Toole do in 14 practices and a spring game to truly separate himself from Scheelhaase, especially when you consider what Scheelhaase has done in the past? Sure, it may be an open competition, but you just can't forget that Scheelhaase has been successful here in the past.
Frankly, the only way I see Reilly O'Toole emerging from practice this spring as the starter is if Scheelhaase suffers some kind of major injury, and I don't mean that as a knock on O'Toole. I mean, it wasn't that long ago that I was wondering whether or not O'Toole should be getting a start over a "healthy" Scheelhaase during the regular season.
But no matter what the competition goes like this spring, the truth is that the real competition won't show up until the summer when Aaron Bailey comes to campus. He's the real threat to Scheelhaase, and the fact is he may not be that much of a threat.
Bailey is the prize of the latest recruiting class and had a great high school career, but while he may be the quarterback of the future in Champaign, I'm not sure he's going to be ready to take the reins this fall. The truth is that Bailey was more of a runner in high school than a passer, and although I've seen enough of his arm to think he's going to more than capable as a passing quarterback, I don't know if he can step on campus and immediately adapt to an offense that is vastly different than the one he ran in high school.
It's hard enough to learn a new playbook, let alone execute it.
Still, he's going to get a chance because Tim Beckman can't afford to be too patient with Bailey if he shows he can run the offense. That's what happens when your first season was as disastrous as Beckman's was.
So while this quarterback competition may be open, the reality is that whoever "wins" it this spring is not earning the right to start next fall as much as he's earning the right to compete with Aaron Bailey this summer.