COLUMN: Illini QB Battle is Over & Anybody Who Says Otherwise is Lying

Illinois head coach Bret Bielema would rather not name a starting quarterback right now. That's fine. Illini Now/Sports Illustrated editor/publisher Matthew Stevens is happy to do it for him.
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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Bret Bielema would rather not name a starting quarterback following his first spring game as the leader of the Illinois football program.

No problem. I’ll do it for him.

Peters, Brandon - No. 18 - 23 years old - Born in Avon, Indiana to the parents of Dave and Barb Peters. This is who will be taking the first and a majority of the snaps for Illinois in this upcoming 2021 season.

It’s over. Done. And if anybody with a media platform wants to manufacture a positional battle into fall camp for the sake of content creation, that idea is neither logical nor appreciated beyond a take that is designed to create controversy for a message board.

As he approaches his first season as the Illini head coach, Bielema knows he has one quarterback with the arm talent to make nearly every throw possible and has the full command of an offense that will see the quarterback be based directly under center. That arm talent has a name and it is Brandon Peters.

The 23-year-old signal caller, who is returning to Illinois for his sixth season of college football, had a relatively easy night carving up the Illini backup defense for 291 yards in the air. And look, I get it. It was against a second-team defense that has walk-on players in the secondary because the Illini injuries created such a drastic shallow pool of depth at safety. The current response to Peters finishing six drives in one half of football on 12 of 18 passes is, of course, that is what should’ve happened. This begs the question of why should rewards be given out for expected results? The answer is simple. This is Illini football we’re talking about here. When is the last time an Illinois football coach or player did exactly what he was expected to accomplish when he arrived on the campus? When results in Champaign are never expected, taken for granted or forecasted, they must be appreciated as nothing more or less than progress.

Peters was in full control of a vanilla offense that still did showcase a pro-style formation, a shotgun look and multiple personnel groups. Peters led the Illini offense to touchdowns in five of the first six drives and completed passes to six different receivers on a chilly and windy night in front of a few thousand folks in the stands and a Big Ten Network audience.

“Brandon is a guy that since we got here, has been a blessing for us,” Bielema said. “He’s a guy that has gotten more and more confidence with each and every practice.”

On the flip side of this so-called quarterback battle, Isaiah Williams spent an entire first half in front of the second-team offensive line running for his life. When he was given snaps with the first-team offense to assumably produce some a second half of highlight reel material to further extend this quarterback battle talking point into the summer months.

However, when the clock hit zero and Illinois’ launch into a Big Ten Network theater stage by its new circus ringleader named Bielema was over, Williams ended this spring game with two more completions and one less touchdown pass than a Big Ten Network sideline reporter.

This is not to say Williams can’t eventually become a solid option for the Illini under center and Bielema better hope so because the backup options behind Peters and Williams are not capable and will not be capable of leading a Power 5 Conference program.

By his own admission in his latest media Zoom, Williams’ biggest flaw as a quarterback is his inability to find consistent play. Ladies and gentlemen, when you’re talking about arguably the most important position in team sports, a consistency problem isn’t something you can scheme around or ignore. It’s the biggest red flag possible. And on Monday night, Williams, a player who has a paltry career completion percentage of 39.7, did little to nothing to prove he’s taken another step in overcoming this consistency issue.

With the lack of access Bielema’s program has given the media this spring in what he says is to preserve some mystery toward a first game against Nebraska on Aug. 28 but likely a desperate attempt to hide the warts of the roster he’s inherited, we in the media are left with nothing else but to read everything into every comment made by this coaching staff. Therefore, when is the last time you heard a head coach call a backup quarterback “a blessing”?

After the completion of the spring game, Bielema was asked by Champaign News-Gazette reporter Bob Asmussen if he wanted to name a starting quarterback but declined to do so. I’m fairly certain Asmussen, who has covered the Illini since 1996, doesn’t ask that question if the gap between QB1 and QB2 is fairly wide. In the midst of his answer to Asmussen’s question, Bielema mentioned how “obviously, Brandon continues to be impressive”.

Illinois head coach Bret Bielema looks over pre-game warmups for the 2021 spring game on April 19, 2021. 

Illinois head coach Bret Bielema looks over pre-game warmups for the 2021 spring game on April 19, 2021. 

So, if it’s obvious to a man who has now led three Power 5 Conference programs and has coached in one less Rose Bowl than the Illini has ever participated in, why shouldn’t it be obvious to me, you and all of God’s children?

I would urge all Illini fans that in order to know who the starting quarterback will be when Bielema makes his return to college football and debut with Illinois all you needed Monday night was one working brain, two eyes with clear vision and the ability to recognize and disregard coordinated efforts to fool the public.

This quarterback battle is over. It was won by the two-time incumbent. Ignore anybody who tells you otherwise.