The Illinois Fighting Illini have five quarterbacks on the roster, including returning starter Brandon Peters. Depth in numbers is sometimes the case, but not always, especially when it comes to the quarterback position. Let’s break that down a bit more.
Illinois fans and coaches should feel excited, optimistic and confident at the prospect that Brandon Peters is back to start at quarterback. There is no competition for the No. 1 spot, and there will be no controversy here — the Illini’s offensive captain is back following a promising and far from underwhelming first year in Champaign after transferring from Michigan.
Eighteen passing touchdowns. Three rushing touchdowns. Eight interceptions. Peters is by no means a freak athlete, but he does nice job of getting outside of the pocket to buy himself just enough time to get off the throw. When he sees his receivers are covered, he pulls the ball down and runs for some tough yardage to make a little something out nothing.
More than that, he shows moxie and toughness required to play quarterback in the Big Ten. He needs to cut down on his errant throws (he threw an interception in all but three games he played in last year), but he’s a player that can put the team on his back will them to victory.
Offensive coordinator Rod Smith loves Matt Robinson. The former 2-star quarterback from southern California had no other Power 5 offers, yet Smith hand-picked him to be a player capable of running his uptempo, zone-read option offense at Illinois.
In the 2019 season, Robinson saw significant time in games against Minnesota, Michigan and Northwestern — all losses. In 77 pass attempts, Robinson completed just 42 of those passes for one touchdown and no interceptions. The Northwestern game in particular made Illinois fans want to stop watching and put on the Ohio State-Michigan game instead. Robinson and the Illini were inept offensively, as 160 yards of total offense against the Wildcats was the worst performance of the season.
This is not to say Matt Robinson can’t improve — he likely will. But when given the reigns last season, Robinson struggled, and Illinois can’t help but pray that Peters stays healthy, something the starter was unable to do for the entirety of the 2019 season.
Just what does Illinois have in former top recruit Isaiah Williams? The answer to that is still unclear. Williams turned down offers from some of the best programs in the country because he wanted to have the opportunity to play quarterback. Rod Smith likely saw what Williams was able to do at high school powerhouse Trinity Catholic and was wowed at what the player did with the ball in his hands on a game-to-game basis.
Williams barely played last season and was given a redshirt, so he still has four seasons of eligibility left. He’s extremely fast and can definitely make guys miss, but there are real doubts given his size and lack of experience thus far as to whether or not he can ever be a full-fledged starting Big Ten quarterback.
He’s a weapon in Rod Smith’s arsenal, and Illinois fans are hopeful that Williams can be used effectively, especially considering the abundance of playmakers teams like Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and others have at their disposal.
The redshirt sophomore from Peoria has a ways to go before he sees significant playing time. It would not shock anyone if Taylor eventually transfers away from the program, and in some ways, it’s a surprise he’s still on the roster.
Taylor was one of three quarterbacks in Illinois’ 2018 class along with Robinson and MJ Rivers, the latter of whom transferred out. Between Taylor and Robinson, Rod Smith has a clear preference between the two— and it’s extremely obvious given the amount of playing time both have received since arriving on campus.
Taylor was a lightly recruited 3-star quarterback, likely because he gave his commitment to nearby Illinois early on in the process. For all we know, Taylor could be a very good Group of 5 or FCS starting quarterback, but it just doesn’t seem that he’ll ever get his chance as long as Rod Smith is running the offense.
Gregory ‘Deuce’ Spann
True freshman Spann is a 6-foot-4 giant at the quarterback position, and he turned down some major offers in order to play for Illinois. Auburn wanted Spann. As did Florida State, Georgia, Miami and others.
Will Spann see the field this season? Unlike the other four guys mentioned previously, Spann is not listed on the spring roster, so he is behind on learning the playbook and getting acquainted with life as a college student.
Expect Spann to redshirt and be part of the conversation in 2021 once Peters has exhausted his eligibility and there’s a more open competition for the starting job.