Big Ten Football: Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase Is Set for a Breakout Campaign

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Big Ten Football: Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase Is Set for a Breakout Campaign
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase has the potential to be one of the Big Ten's brightest stars

Illinois Fighting Illini fans are well aware that words such as promise and potential only mean so much and can only take a quarterback so far before a question arises—can we win with this guy or not?

The Fighting Illini faithful were forced to witness it firsthand recently. They watched quarterback Juice Williams, a once promising star recruit, deteriorate with each passing season until his career in Champaign finally fizzled out like a dud firework in 2009.

Williams never came close to living up to his lofty recruiting status, and although he was able to guide Illinois to a Rose Bowl berth in 2007, his career went downhill in a hurry shortly thereafter.

Williams’ successor, Nathan Scheelhaase, a former four-star recruit out of Missouri’s Rockhurst High School, arrived at Illinois amid similar fanfare and with the same type of hype and expectations attached to his name as his predecessor.

Like Williams, Scheelhaase was projected to be a versatile dual-threat quarterback who could tear up a defense with either his arm or his legs.

So far, after just one season, that forecast appears to be spot on.

In just his first year as a starter, Scheelhaase proved to be the type of game-changer that everyone hoped Juice Williams could have been.

Even though he was only a redshirt freshman, the 6'3'', 195-pound ultra-athletic signal caller was able to guide the Illini to just their second winning season in nine years. He added a dominant statement victory over Baylor in the Texas Bowl to top things off.

Scheelhaase finished the 2010 season with over 1,800 yards through the air, 868 yards on the ground and 22 total touchdowns. And his performance as both a passer and a runner solidified his status as a valuable weapon and an important element to the Illinois offense.

Since he doesn’t play for one of the sport’s prominent programs, Scheelhaase failed to make much of an impact on the national college football scene in 2010. But that could be about to change this season.

The Big Ten conference already has a bona fide star, dual-threat quarterback in Michigan’s Denard Robinson. Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez and Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson, two proven difference makers, will also be joining the party this year.

Oh, and let’s not forget about the two pro-style pocket passers, Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins and Northwestern’s Dan Persa, who will demand their fair share of attention as well.

Needless to say, the Big Ten is going to be overflowing with quality quarterbacks in 2011. Setting yourself apart from the crowd will be no easy task. But Scheelhaase seems like he could have that special "it" factor that warrants the spotlight.

His uncanny resemblance to former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, right down to the No. 2 that both wear, is a tad bit eerie.

Maybe when it’s all said and done, Scheelhaase will be everything we wanted Terrelle Pryor to be. Maybe he’ll turn out to be the player that Illinois fans were hoping they were getting with Juice Williams.

Maybe, just maybe, he’ll turn into the savior for much-criticized head coach Ron Zook.

Saying Scheelhaase is going to carry Illinois to the top of the loaded Leaders division this season is certainly a bit of a stretch at this point. But it’s obvious that the potential is there for Scheelhaase to become one of the breakout stars of the Big Ten in 2011.

Learn how to say his name now Big Ten fans, because you might be putting plenty of expletives in front of it when Scheelhaase scores on your favorite team this season.

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