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2021 Illinois Football: Quarterbacks Preview

Brandon Peters leads an experienced group of playcallers in 2021

Illinois v Northwestern Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Illinois quarterback room has seen quite a few new faces enter the picture this year, but Brandon Peters is still unquestionably QB1 for Illinois barring injury. And as such, we’ll begin our preview with him.

Projected Starter

Brandon Peters (SR)

Redbox Bowl - California v Illinois Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Having started 16 games for the Illini since 2019, as well as 4 for the Michigan Wolverines, Peters brings plenty of experience to the table. Peters has passed for 2,313 yards over his two seasons with Illinois, good for 21 touchdowns against 8 interceptions. He also sports mobility both inside and outside of the pocket, with 349 rushing yards and 4 rushing touchdowns to his name.

As a testament to his talent and abilities, Peters’ has started to gain some national attention. He was named to the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm watch list ahead of both the 2020 and 2021 seasons, and just a few weeks ago Peters participated as a counselor for the Manning Passing Academy in Thibodaux, Louisiana.

Brandon Peters’ commitment and dedication is unquestioned. He’s been the focal point of the some of the most memorable moments in Illini history over the past few seasons. Not the least of which was his 368 passing yards and three passing touchdowns as part of the biggest comeback victory in Illini program history.

Peters also passed for 174 yards and two touchdowns as part of Illinois’ historic homecoming win against the Wisconsin Badgers.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention this display of effort from his performance in the Redbox Bowl, which is still memorialized on the banner for the TCR Twitter account to this day.

Many of the past few Illinois football seasons have been hamstrung due to the lack of talent or depth at the quarterback position. But 2021 should not be one of those years with Brandon Peters at the helm.

Depth Players

Artur Sitkowski (SO)

Nebraska v Rutgers Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images

Illinois fans should be somewhat familiar with the fourth year sophomore quarterback from the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. And it’s no secret that Sitkowski struggled in his first year at Rutgers, passing for only four touchdowns against 18 interceptions.

But after bottoming out in 2018, Sitkowski improved over the next two seasons: he passed for 429 yards on 44 completions during three games in 2019, and threw for 444 yards on 52 completions in four games last season. Most importantly, he significantly cut down on his interceptions, only throwing two in 2019 and none at all in 2020.

As a former four-star recruit with offers from the Ohio State Buckeyes, Florida Gators, and Miami Hurricanes, among many others, it’s clear that Sitkowski has talent and that too much was expected of him as a true freshman in 2018. His highlights from last season show him to be a much improved quarterback with serious arm strength and good decision-making abilities.

We’ll almost certainly see Sitkowski play in 2021, whether it’s due to injuries, change of pace, or (hopefully) blowouts in Illinois’ favor, and I’m looking forward to seeing his continued progress.

Ryan Johnson (JR)

Illinois has a long history of being a destination for transfer quarterbacks, and Ryan Johnson joins Sitkowski as being among the latest. Johnson comes to Champaign from Northern Michigan University, where he played in two seasons over four years for the Wildcats. He finished his career at NMU with 2,844 passing yards and 17 touchdowns during the 2017 and 2019 seasons. He missed the 2018 season with an injury, and the 2020 season was cancelled due to COVID-19, which gives him two years of eligibility with Illinois.

Johnson clearly has a solid arm and pocket awareness, but whether or not he’ll be able to translate his success to the Big Ten is unknown.

Matt Robinson (SO)

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When Rod Smith took over as the offensive coordinator in 2018, he quickly realized that he needed quarterbacks who fit his scheme. He looked all over the country and offered Matt Robinson out of San Juan Capistrano, California. Robinson has since played as a reserve quarterback in every season since joining the Illini, and has started a total of three games since 2018.

Robinson’s most productive season was in 2019, when he threw for 475 yards and one touchdown. He’s faced stiff competition throughout his career, and though he will likely remain a backup, Matt Robinson represents an important source of bench strength at the quarterback position and mentorship for some of the younger players.

Deuce Spann (RS-FR)

Illinois v Penn State Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Spann came to Illinois from St. Petersburg, Florida as part of the class of 2020, and chose Illinois over a host of substantial offers from the likes of the Auburn Tigers, Florida State Seminoles, Georgia Bulldogs, and others. He briefly played in one game last season against the Penn State Nittany Lions, thereby preserving his redshirt. Having committed to the previous Illini regime, it’s an open question how he’ll fit in Tony Petersen’s system, which seems to favor pocket-passers like Peters and Sitkowski over dual threat quarterbacks like Spann.

Samari Collier (FR)

The true freshman Samari Collier played his high school years at DeSoto in Texas, passing for over 4,000 yards and throwing 56 touchdowns. Like Spann, Collier committed to Rod Smith and his offensive system, but I’m intrigued by how he might fit in Petersen’s schemes. Given the talent and experience above him on the depth chart, I expect Collier to redshirt this year.

This list is clear evidence that Illinois should have no difficulties finding experienced quarterbacks who would be able to step up right away should Peters be injured. But I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Peters can stay healthy and put together a big year for himself and the Illini.