By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) He’s already been compared to Tom Brady. He’s already been projected as the Big Ten’s leading touchdown passer for 2014. And he’s already become the biggest name on the University of Illinois football roster without even playing a game.
But Wes Lunt hasn’t yet been named a starting quarterback.
That he hasn’t is actually one of the more savvy decisions that coach Tim Beckman has made during his Illini tenure.
With an unsightly 6-18 overall record – and a downright brutal 1-15 mark in the Big Ten – following his first two years in Champaign, Beckman’s job security hangs in the balance as he prepares his team for its season opener against Youngstown State at Memorial Stadium on Aug. 30.
While it may well be desperate times during training camp for Beckman, he’s not behaving like a desperate coach. If he was, then he surely would have already named Lunt – the strong-armed 6-foot-5, 228-pound redshirt sophomore transfer from Oklahoma State – as his starting quarterback.
That’s because for a man thus far allergic to victories at Illinois and struggling mightily with his popularity, Beckman’s best hope to win games, excite a grumbling fan base and save his job lies in Lunt. But instead of panicking, he’s being patient, which is good for both his coaching image and the mindset of his team.
Regarding Lunt, Illini offensive coordinator Bill Cubit has described him as “body-type-wise, Tom Brady” and “ahead of where (Trent) Edwards was when I was (at Stanford),” while BTN.com analyst Tom Dienhart has tabbed him as the quarterback most likely to lead the Big Ten in passing touchdowns. With praises such as those, it’s almost certain that he will ultimately get the starting nod over senior Reilly O’Toole and sophomore Aaron Bailey, his competition at quarterback.
However, a lackluster showing by Lunt during the Illini’s spring game in April gave Beckman valid reason to delay that starting decision, and he’s wisely made use off the opportunity to keep O’Toole and Bailey engaged all summer long – and to keep Lunt focused and on his toes.
“We want to try to determine our quarterback, so I’d like to do that probably right after Rantoul and two scrimmages,” Beckman said earlier this week. “Our players understand what time frame we’re in. We played at Toledo with two quarterbacks all the time, and everybody used to talk about that. Well, the players know when they’re coming in.”
With his various off-field missteps and myriad on-field losses, Beckman hasn’t done much to impress since his arrival in Champaign. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised thus far with his handling of Lunt and the naming of a successor to four-year starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase. If Beckman can handle his team in a similar fashion this fall, the Illini might have a shot to make a bowl.
And that would be a refreshing sight indeed.