There’s no higher-profile position battle in Champaign this offseason than the one going on at quarterback. And if the spring game is going to be a significant part of determining who wins that job, there’s a clear frontrunner.
Saturday, it was Reilly O’Toole — the primary backup to Nathan Scheelhaase the past two seasons — shining brightest among the signal-callers at the Illini spring game. O’Toole completed 12 of 17 passes for the blue team, throwing for 126 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He also gained 30 yards on the ground, not an impressive number, but not an insignificant one either.
If you’re wondering why O’Toole now has an edge with these perhaps less-than-eye-popping numbers, it’s because his competition didn’t really do anything to keep themselves in the conversation at the top of the list.
Aaron Bailey, who saw more action than O’Toole as a freshman a season ago mainly due to his terrific running ability, completed nine of 13 passing attempts for 43 yards, getting sacked four times. He did flash that dual-threat ability, though, rushing for 53 yards (only 16 net yards, though, with the sacks) and a touchdown.
Meanwhile, transfer Wes Lunt, who played on that same blue team as O’Toole, completed six of 16 attempts for 99 yards and also threw an interception.
True freshman Chayce Crouch completed three of six attempts. He also threw an interception that was returned 92 yards for a touchdown by defensive back V’Angelo Bentley.
So will O’Toole be the one? Whether the coaching staff puts the same weight on these spring game performances as many observers do is unknown, and there’s still a ton of practice to go on between now and the Illini’s Aug. 30 opener vs. Youngstown State. But it's pretty obvious which QB looked the best Saturday in Champaign. Many observers were ready to anoint Lunt and were also thrilled with Bailey's flashes last season. But O'Toole is showing why the guy who's actually thrown the most passes in orange and blue deserves just as much consideration.
Tim Beckman and Bill Cubit: The decision is yours.