Earlier this week, the Illinois Fighting Illini football team named Brandon Peters to be the starting quarterback against Akron on Aug. 31.
Peters wasn’t flawless in camp by any means, and has relatively little experience in Rod Smith’s offense, but his playing time in game situations at Michigan should serve him well at least during the non-conference play. If he shows enough ability to run the ball and keep opposing defenses honest, while limiting turnovers and developing chemistry with Ricky Smalling, Trevon Sidney, and others, then he should be able to hold down the job for the foreseeable future.
While at Michigan, he completed 57 passes on 108 attempts (52.8%) in 2017 during the 6 games in which he played, while he also has a career -36 rushing yards at Michigan. For comparison, Wes Lunt had an Illini career completion percentage of 58% and Nathan Scheelhaase had a career 63% completion percentage. Although Peters has substantially more live snaps than anyone else on the Illinois roster, it remains to be seen whether or not he can consistently play at a Big Ten level, especially in Rod Smith’s run-first offense.
Challenging Peters from day one has been redshirt freshman Matthew Robinson, Rod Smith’s first hand-selected recruit. Robinson saw limited action last season against Penn State (when both AJ Bush and MJ Rivers went down with injury) and again against Purdue. Taking advantage of the new NCAA rules, Robsinson was able to redshirt last season and return with four additional years of eligibility. He received first string snaps in the spring ahead of MJ Rivers, along with second string snaps in the summer behind Peters. Robinson is a true duel threat quarterback, but his inability to lock down the job this offseason prompts questions about his ability to start for extended periods during the 2019 season.
True freshman Isaiah Williams was a prize recruit in the class of 2019 and figures to see significant playing time in the upcoming season simply because his speed is impossible to keep on the bench. Expect Rod Smith to use Williams in specific situations and possibly for entire drives to keep opposing defenses off-balance. Williams’ impressive ability to evade tackles drastically contrasts with Peters’ style of play, and switching between the two playcallers mid-game could cause headaches for defensive coordinators.
Finally, redshirt freshman Coran Taylor has also challenged for playing time this year, but has not made substantial progress up the depth chart to this point. He saw no playing time last season, but possesses considerable athletic potential.
It’s anybody’s guess how the quarterback depth chart will look even a few games into the upcoming season. We should expect significant volatility from week to week unless Peters can hold off Robinson and Williams and emerge as a reliable option. I see that as unlikely at this point, and would not be surprised if all three quarterbacks end up starting at least one game as Lovie Smith evaluates each quarterback’s grades from prior games, practice performance, and injury status on a week-to-week basis to determine starters.