When Brandon Peters committed to the Fighting Illini in the spring of 2019, the decision was met with quite a bit of skepticism. The former four-star recruit had fizzled out at Michigan and he obviously wasn’t Lovie Smith’s first choice. The Illini were connected to at least two other Power Five QBs in the transfer portal — Khalil Tate had a relationship with Illinois offensive coordinator Rod Smith during Smith’s time at Arizona and seemed like a natural fit, while USC quarterback Matt Fink had the chance to join former teammates Wole Betiku, Josh Imatorbhebhe & Trevon Sidney in Champaign (there were multiple reports that Fink had actually committed to Illinois before electing to stay with the Trojans).
But Illinois’ coaching staff knew what it had to do. They saw firsthand how pitiful the quarterback play had been in 2017 and 2018 (five different starters in two seasons) and understood that this team had no chance of competing at the Big Ten level without a satisfactory signal caller. Enter Peters.
He didn’t receive a hero’s welcome like fellow transfer Wes Lunt did — Lunt, a central Illinois native, began his career at Oklahoma State before coming home — and didn’t possess the game-changing athleticism of guys like Juice Williams or Nathan Scheelhaase. But Peters won over Illini fans with his grit, toughness, and intangibles. He seemed to have a knack for hitting a key completion or finding room to run to extend a drive.
Peters finished 2019 with 1,884 passing yards. Certainly not “video game” numbers, but it’s actually on track with how most Illinois quarterbacks have fared historically. If Peters averaged that same total for a full four seasons, he would have compiled 7,536 yards, behind only Juice, Scheelhaase, Kurt Kittner & Jack Trudeau in the Illini record book.
Peters needs another 3,305 yards to crack the top 10 — not entirely unattainable, but not likely, either. Tony Eason has the top two passing seasons in program history (3,671 in 1982; 3,360 in 1981) and Kittner, Illinois’ passing TD leader, never finished with more than 3,256 yards in a single season.
With his 18 TDs last year, Peters just missed entering Illinois’ top 10 for season touchdown passes. With 13 more scoring strikes Peters will tie Jeff George Sr. for 10th in Illini history. The redshirt senior is also within range of climbing into the top five — Jason Verduzco (1989-92) is currently fifth with 42 career touchdowns.
The term “game manager” has a negative connotation. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see my team’s quarterback fling 40 TDs and throw for 4,000 yards. But savvy also goes a long way towards helping your team — knowing when not to throw that risky pass can be just as useful. Brandon Peters has demonstrated that he may not be the reason Illinois wins, but he probably won’t be the reason Illinois loses. When his time with the Illini has passed, I think fans will remember him in a positive light — a quarterback who helped stabilize a fledgling football program, give credibility, and provide hope for the future.
Let’s just hope we can see Peters, and our Illini, back on the field.