Sep 7, 2013; Champaign, IL, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase (2) looks for an open receiver during the first quarter against the Cincinnati Bearcats at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bradley Leeb-USA TODAY Sports

Nathan Scheelhaase Reemerging for Illinois Fighting Illini

I have a confession to make.

A few weeks ago, before this 2013 season got underway, I took a look at the Illinois quarterback situation and what the prospects were for this year. After my research, it didn’t look good. Many could clearly tell that head coach Tim Beckman had a gigantic cloud of uneasiness surrounding him.

One on hand, he had Nathan Scheelhaase. The once-electrifying quarterback who took the college football world by storm his freshman season by showcasing his dual-threat skills that made him stand out in the–what some consider–very bland Big Ten. However, he’s mightily struggled since then, especially last season.

Those struggles led some to believe that backup Reilly O’Toole would possibly be a better solution this season. O’Toole seemed to fit Beckman’s pro-style offensive system a little better and maybe it was time to move on and consider Scheelhaase a flash-in-the-pan, injury prone, failed experiment.

But you see, my confession is that with every word that I typed that day, I rooted more and more for Scheelhaase to prove every doubter wrong this season on his way out the door of Champaign. Something told me that there was a distinct possibility that we could be treated to one last showing of just how talented this young man is when he’s healthy.

I began to feel vindication when Beckman had announced that Scheelhaase was going to start this season. He was getting a shot to redeem himself, and that’s all–as a fan of college football–I ever really wanted for him. Just give him the chance.

He indeed did get that chance and, so far, he’s making the most of it and I’m enjoying every second of it.

Through two weeks of this young season, Scheelhaase has looked like that younger version of himself that began to get him nationally recognized in the first place. The senior has already racked himself up 728 yards passing and six touchdowns. He’s confident, he’s poised, he seems well on his way to getting back to–well, just being Nate.

Sure, in the opening week Illinois defeated a Southern Illinois team that wasn’t exactly going to light the world on fire with a stunning upset, no matter how porous you thought the Illini were coming into the season.

Now last week, that was the eye opener.

Scheelhaase tore through Tommy Tuberville’s Cincinnati team en route to a 45-17 victory. This was a Bearcats defense that gave up just 243.5 passing yards per game last season and only allowed 11 touchdowns through the air. No matter what conference you play in, that’s not a slouch of a defense.

So how did Nate do in his first real test against a solid defense?

I guess you can say he fared rather well. That’s if you consider “well” going 26-of-37 for 312 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. But what may have been even more impressive was the fact that he spread the ball out to 11 different receivers. Facing a defense the likes of Cincinnati, finding the holes in that defense to target 11 different teammates is a sign of someone who’s ready to prove a point this season.

Is Nathan Scheelhaase back? As excited as I am about this reemergence, I’m not ready to thrust that label on him just yet.

However, if he can keep up this performance this week against #19 Washington, then it’s most certainly time to accept the fact that Nathan Scheelhaase has played his way back into our hearts in his swan song season–and I, for one, couldn’t be happier about it.

Tags: Football Illinois Fighting Illini Nathan Scheelhaase

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