- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Each Friday during the season, we'll be taking a look at a Big Ten player to watch when the games kick off Saturday.
This week's selection: Illinois junior QB Nathan Scheelhaase
Saturday assignment: home vs. Western Michigan, noon ET
Scheelhaase is a familiar name to Big Ten fans, having started the past two seasons for the Illini. But he enters the 2012 season at the helm of an offense cloaked in mystery. New head coach Tim Beckman has brought an up-tempo spread system to Champaign, and co-offensive coordinator Chris Beatty will be the primary play-caller for the first time in his career. The scheme change could benefit Scheelhaase, who in many ways fits the mold of a spread quarterback and has rushed for 1,492 yards and 11 touchdowns in his first two seasons. Scheelhaase had a strong start to the 2011 season but faded fast after defenses started to take away his primary weapon, wideout A.J. Jenkins. Illinois is looking for playmakers to emerge at receiver, running back and tight end to help Scheelhaase this fall.
The Illini likely will need some points in the opener as they host Western Michigan, which boasts a dangerous quarterback in senior Alex Carder and an offense that ranked 18th nationally in scoring and eighth in passing in 2011. Despite some talk of a two-quarterback system in the preseason, Beatty said this week that it's Scheelhaase's show against the Broncos. If Scheelhaase can reinvent himself a bit in a new offense, Illinois could make some noise in the wide-open Leaders division this fall.
3hBrian Bennett and Austin Ward