Jon Beutjer knows he has to master the Illini's pro-style
offense in order to win the quarterback job this fall. So the
junior signal-caller, who sat out last season after transferring
from Iowa, spends two hours after dinner each night in the film
room, scrutinizing game tape with the same ardor most college
guys have for Girls Gone Wild videos. His bedtime reading is the
Illini's Yellow Pages-sized playbook. "I fall over that playbook
when I get out of bed," Beutjer says, laughing. "I'm constantly
visualizing situations and thinking about plays."
Beutjer is battling last year's backup quarterback, Dustin Ward,
to succeed Kurt Kittner, the program's alltime winningest
quarterback, who last season threw for 3,256 yards and 27
touchdowns, leading Illinois to its first outright Big Ten
championship since 1983. "In the ideal situation, we'd have named
the starter after spring ball," says sixth-year Illinois coach
Ron Turner, whose final decision may not come until the week of
Illinois's Aug. 31 opener against Missouri. "That didn't happen,
but in a positive way. Both guys came on."
Beutjer has more game experience than Ward--at Iowa he completed
61.6% of his passes for 841 yards and six touchdowns in 2000--but
Ward, a fourth-year junior who has thrown only 70 passes as a
collegian, better understands the Illinois offense. "With the set
of receivers we have, the quarterback needs to do his job and
make the right reads," says Turner, referring to junior wideout
Brandon Lloyd and senior Walter Young, who combined for 1,952
yards and 18 touchdowns last season. "He doesn't have to play on
fire, he just has to play efficiently."
Since the bulk of the roster is status quo (14 starters return),
the Illini's title defense will depend primarily on how well
Beutjer or Ward replaces Kittner. "We both want to be the
starter, and we both are preparing the right way," Ward says. "We
are going to have a quality QB at Illinois." The only question
is, Who? --D.G.H.
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID BERGMAN GOAL ORIENTED Lloyd's sure hands and nose for the end zone will take some of the offensive burden off of Kittner's successor.
2001 RECORD: 10-2 (7-1, 1st in Big Ten)
FINAL RANKING: No. 12 AP, No. 12 coaches' poll
Team record for sacks, set last year, when four defenders had
five or more and 18 players had at least one.
An opposing coach's view
Kittner may be gone, but the passing game is still a threat
"Ron Turner's offense puts tons of pressure on the quarterback
to make plays. Dustin Ward is an unknown, but Jon Beutjer did
show potential while at Iowa.... Illinois's big, tall wideouts
create huge mismatches. Brandon Lloyd is an elusive player who
makes things happen.... The line's toughness will be a factor,
since they don't have a big-time tailback.... The defense isn't
the fastest, but it beats you up. The line is stacked, and
they're solid at corner with star Eugene Wilson."
Aug. 31 at Missouri*
Sept. 7 at Southern Miss
14 ARKANSAS STATE
21 SAN JOSE STATE
Oct. 5 at Minnesota
Nov. 2 at Penn State
9 at Wisconsin
16 OHIO STATE
23 at Northwestern
* in St. Louis