Scheelhaase, Illini haven't lost confidence

Nathan Scheelhaase is pleased to hear Illinois coach Tim Beckman is sticking with him as the team's starting quarterback.

But Scheelhaase didn't necessarily need a public vote of confidence. It'll take more than Illinois' shaky 2-2 record, a nagging ankle injury or a mid-game quarterback switch during last Saturday's embarrassing loss to Louisiana Tech to shake up Scheelhaase.

"It takes a lot for me to lose any confidence," the Illini junior signal caller told ESPN.com on Monday. "I felt honestly I had a really good rhythm going and made a couple of dumb plays that I wish I could have had back. That's going to happen from time to time. It would take a lot to really throw me off. I've been through a lot. I've had games where I've struggled, games where I had success, and realize confidence is something that you never lose."

Those are encouraging words for an Illini program that could be questioning its confidence after being blown out in two of its past three games. After an impressive performance in the opener against Western Michigan, Illinois has seen its defense surrender 97 points and 913 yards in losses to Arizona State (Sept. 8) and Louisiana Tech (last Saturday).

The offense, still trying to establish its identity, played without Scheelhaase for two games. Scheelhaase returned against Louisiana Tech but had an interception and a fumble in the first quarter of the Illini's six-turnover debacle. He also took a shot on the first play of the game that concerned Beckman, who eventually turned to backup Reilly O'Toole late in the first quarter.

"He will compete, he was healthy [Sunday]," Beckman said. "Nathan Scheelhaase is our starting quarterback."

Scheelhaase's ankle is getting "better and better," and he hopes to soon regain the mobility that helped him rush for 1,492 yards and 11 touchdowns in his first two seasons as Illinois' starter. He understands Beckman's decision to go with O'Toole last Saturday, citing Illinois' 14-point deficit at the time.

"If me being out there wasn't the best way for our team to win, I'm not the type of person to [act out] if it's detrimental to the team," Scheelhaase said. "It never has been my style, it never will be my style. I'm a pretty positive guy."

And Scheelhaase remains positive about Illinois' future, despite the rocky start to the season. The entire Big Ten slate remains, beginning with Saturday's league opener against Penn State at Memorial Stadium.

Illinois is just one of four postseason-eligible teams in the wide-open Leaders Division, vying for a spot in the league title game Dec. 1 in Indianapolis.

"When Wisconsin and Michigan State played last year at Lucas Oil [Stadium], I'm pretty sure nobody was talking about what they did in nonconference," Scheelhaase said. "They were talking about what those teams did to win their divisions and got a chance to play for a championship. That's the position we want to put ourselves in."

And if any team understands the it's-not-how-you-start mantra, it's Illinois.

"You look at our season last year," Scheelhaase said. "We did the whole 4-0 nonconference, great start to the season, and at the end of the year, everybody's saying, 'What the heck happened to Illinois?’ At the end of the day, Big Ten Conference play is what counts.

"That's what everybody cares about."