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QB MJ Rivers announces decision to transfer from Illinois

QB competition just got interesting.

NCAA Football: South Florida at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

MJ Rivers is transferring, he announced in a tweet on Saturday night.

“Thank you to Illini Nation for an unforgettable year but due to personal circumstances I will be entering the transfer portal,” Rivers tweeted.

The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Rivers started three games as a freshman in 2018 to mixed results. He threw for a career-high 168 passing yards vs. USF in Week 3, and Reggie Corbin rushed for an 80-yard score on his first-career play. He threw for three touchdowns all season.

“I think [Rivers] was cool, calm and collected,” said running back Mike Epstein after the USF game. “He’s a very poised quarterback and doesn’t make a ton of mistakes.”

Rivers will be most remembered for his subbing of an injured AJ Bush in the second half against Western Illinois, guiding the Illini to victory.

He entered the 2019 season as the presumptive starter.

Rivers ran with the first-team offense during Illinois’ 2019 Spring Game, but neither he or sophomore Matt Robinson stood out with their reps.

Rivers is a native of Frisco, Texas, and played his high school ball at Lone Star. He was ranked as a three-star recruit, per 247.

Rivers’ classmate and fellow QB, Coran Taylor, tweeted words of support on Saturday night shortly after Rivers’ tweet.

What We Said

Our Kyle Huisinga wrote on if Rivers was the Illini’s QB of the future back in December.

As a passer he’s a bit raw, but he can sling it, throwing for almost 3,000 yards and 29 touchdowns this year. Rivers isn’t afraid to take chances downfield, which is something Illinois’ offense has sorely needed the last several seasons. He can also be incredibly accurate in the short to intermediate route and would be a boon for speed receivers such as Mikey Dudek and grad-transfer Shaedon Meadors.

A QB that can get the ball in the hands of his playmakers was what the Illini lacked more than anything last season, so an adept distributor such as Rivers could be a breath of fresh air.

And yet, he’s so much more.

Supremely gifted athletically, Rivers won’t blow by you with quickness, but he’s a smart runner who’s a load to bring down in the open field, as attested by his 1,082 rush yards and 23 rushing TDs.

I wouldn’t advocate for Rivers to start immediately, as some time to watch and integrate himself to whatever offense Illinois runs next season would be extremely beneficial. However, the sky’s the limit for a player of Rivers’ caliber as a possible future star awaits.

Here’s what our Brandon Birkhead had to say about Rivers’ 2018 season from November.

MJ Rivers has a great throwing motion and a good arm, but may not be the best fit for this offense since he is not the best running QB. That’s what I was able to discern from Rivers’ freshman season.

He can run, he just doesn’t excel at it, and this Rod Smith offense needs the QB to be a big running threat. Rivers did look very comfortable running the option and made good decisions. He can run this offense and will be the leader in the QB battle going into 2018, but with an electric runner like Isaiah Williams coming in for 2019, Rivers will have his work cut out for him if he wants to win the starting job.

What may lead him to winning the job is his throwing. He has a very clean, well-coached throwing motion, but at times he would be inconsistent and miss throws that he should have made. His short throw accuracy was fine, but when he expanded his range to more down the field throws, the accuracy came and went. Because of this Rod Smith rarely let Rivers throw more than 5 yards past the line of scrimmage, which is why his YPC is so low.

There were some things to like for sure. His two TD passes to Edwin Carter in the WIU game were very nice. He will have to improve his running and his consistency with his accuracy. He was the only freshman QB that Rod Smith trusted to play, which means he is the favorite to be the starter in 2019, but there will still be a competition for him. He has all the tools you want. We’ll see if he can put them all together.

The Illini have been active shoppers in the transfer market with ties to Penn State transfer Tommy Stevens and USC transfer Matt Fink.

The Response

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