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College football: Let the competition begin

Nathan Scheelhaase sat at the podium Wednesday and spoke of the future of Illinois football.

At the same time, he refused to dwell on the past.

Sure, not much looks promising for an Illini team that finished 2-10 last season, including 0-8 in the Big Ten. But as Scheelhaase prepares for his final season as the team’s quarterback, he sees reason for optimism.

“We’ll definitely play with a chip on our shoulder,’’ Scheelhaase said. “It’s not necessarily because of what writers are picking, or what people say. It’s because we didn’t do what we wanted to last year as coaches, as players.”

Scheelhaase suffered an ankle injury in the first game a year ago, then injured a knee midway through the season.

Second-year Illini coach Tim Beckman is committed to Scheelhaase – for now.

“Right now, Nathan Scheelhaase is our starting quarterback,’’ Beckman said. “He had an outstanding spring in Bill Cubit’s new offense.”

Junior Reilly O’Toole of Wheaton Warrenville South and freshman Aaron Bailey from Bolingbrook provide the competition behind Scheelhaase. Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt won’t be eligible until 2014 and will have 3 years of eligibility remaining.

O’Toole appears far from challenging for the starting spot.

“Reilly O’Toole had a good spring for us also, but he’s got to take away some of those turnovers,’’ Beckman said. “Way too many turnovers in the spring game. He understands that.’’

Bailey is the unknown in the mix. He was the nation’s No. 3 dual-threat quarterback recruit according to the 247 Sports composite ratings.

But Scheelhaase will get the first shot.

“There’s not many Nathan Scheelhaases out there,’’ Beckman said. “He’s an exceptional human being.’’

The Illini need him to have an exceptional senior season.

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