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Illinois QB competition down to two

Illinois' quarterback competition is down from three candidates to two, but when it will be cut to one still is unknown.

Illinois coach Ron Zook said during a news conference Tuesday that redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase and sophomore Jacob Charest were the frontrunners for the starting position, while freshman Chandler Whitmer was now slightly behind them.

"Everybody wants to know who the starting quarterback is," Zook said. "It depends on the day. Nathan has done some pretty nice things in the scrimmages. Jacob has done some nice things as well.

"It's probably between Nathan and Jacob. I know Chandler Whitmer is a very hard-working guy. He'll be on the field all summer, and he'll make big progress as well."

Zook may come to a decision this week as Illinois has three remaining practices and Saturday's spring game, but he also thought he might wait until the team reunited in August.

"I think [offensive coordinator] Paul [Petrino] would probably like to have a decision," Zook said. "He's going to be big in that decision. I don't know if it's imperative you have to have a starting quarterback. I think it's imperative to continue to improve over the summer."

The quarterback competition has been different for Zook this spring. The past few years he knew Juice Williams was his starter from the outset. Zook has found some benefits having it this way.

"I think the one thing that's helped the offense is the competition," Zook said. "All three of those guys are competing. They're up in the office, watching the tape on their own. That's the good thing."

Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at spowers@espnchicago.com.