Wes Lunt was Illinois’ starting quarterback for the last three seasons. The Oklahoma State transfer’s playing career in Champaign had its ups through 28 appearances (36 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and a bowl appearance) and its downs — 6.4 yards per pass attempt and a cumulative Illinois record of 10-18.
Lunt played for three different head coaches in his three Illini seasons, and now it is time for junior Chayce Crouch to take over and lead this program. Crouch is the undisputed starter and likely will be (decisions are finalized post-training camp) offensive team captain.
Crouch has injury issues in the past. Last season at some point during the road win against Rutgers, Crouch hurt his shoulder and had surgery. He would miss the rest of the season, including losses to Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, and a win against Michigan State. Jeff George Jr. played in those games. The results? 38-of-94 passes completed, 470 passing yards and a touchdown to interception ratio of four-to-five.
Stylistically, Jeff George Jr. and Wes Lunt are similar quarterbacks. Both like to stand in the pocket and have limited mobility outside of the tackle box. George Jr. is a bit more athletic than Wes Lunt was, but both have their limitations and showed tendencies of staring down receivers.
If there comes a point where George Jr. is thrust into the starting role again in 2017, head coach Lovie Smith and Co. will be ready since Chayce Crouch is a running quarterback, which means he is more susceptible to injury on an every-down basis.
Failing to prepare is preparing to fail, and George Jr. went through the fire last season. His first career start — and his first career snaps — came when Illinois fell to then No. 3 Michigan last season at The Big House, 41-8. The lone touchdown came late in garbage time with the stadium more than half empty at that point.
George Jr is capable of coming in and winning football games in 2017. The victory over Michigan State last season proved that. He has nice touch on his passes when he has time to throw:
The real question is if Crouch does get hurt, who is the backup to George Jr.? Does Lovie Smith lift the planned redshirt off of freshman quarterback Cam Thomas?
There are plenty of unknowns regarding Illinois football this season, but the biggest one of them all may be how the offense performs in Jeff George Jr. has to start again in 2017.