CHICAGO — It looks like Illinois could be starting a second straight season without a quarterback who has any starting experience.
That remains true even after a Los Angeles Times report Monday night that quarterback Matt Fink will join the Illini as a graduate transfer from USC.
The addition of Fink would help soften the blow after M.J. Rivers II's announcement Saturday that he is transferring from Illinois.
While that news wasn't overwhelmingly surprising to many observers -- Rivers, who started three games as a true freshman last fall, faced increased competition in spring practice, particularly from redshirt freshman Matt Robinson -- the status of Illinois' quarterback room is indicative of a team stuck in a rebuilding phase rather than one prepared to take a significant step forward in 2019.
Until Fink and highly touted freshman Isaiah Williams arrive this summer, Robinson and fellow redshirt freshman Coran Taylor are the only two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Fink, who appeared in seven games for the Trojans as a backup over the last two seasons, visited Illinois last weekend, according to Illini Inquirer. He will be eligible to play this fall and has two seasons remaining after redshirting in 2016.
A native of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., Fink has completed 13 of 18 career passes for 89 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. A strong runner, he also has 106 rushing yards on 14 carries (7.6 per carry) with one touchdown.
Illinois was also pursuing Penn State graduate transfer Tommy Stevens, who visited Champaign last weekend and is also considering Mississippi State, Kentucky and Miami of Ohio.
The Illini were in a similar boat last season and never fully sorted out the quarterback situation. Illinois needs to find an answer this year.
Many believe it might be Williams, who brings strong credentials from St. Louis' Trinity Catholic High School but doesn't arrive until June. And the 5-foot-10, 170-pound Williams' size will remain a question until he gets on the field.
Robinson threw six passes in three games last season, keeping his redshirt intact. Taylor did not play last fall and practiced in the spring mostly with the third- and fourth-stringers.
A year ago, Illinois entered the summer with only one scholarship quarterback, Cam Thomas -- and he left the program a week into the 2018 season. The Illini added Rivers, Robinson, Taylor and Virginia Tech graduate transfer AJ Bush Jr., who started nine games and rushed for 733 yards but struggled with a hamstring injury and inaccurate passing.
Whether it's Williams or Fink -- or Robinson or Taylor -- the Illini need a quarterback to emerge, set a tone and play with consistency to help set a long-term standard.
Rivers' departure doesn't make Illinois' outlook that much more pessimistic. The quarterback situation was going to be a question anyway. But heading into every season with such uncertainty at the most important position isn't helping.
The Illini, coming off a 4-8 season (2-7 in the Big Ten), haven't had a consistent quarterback since Wes Lunt's final season in 2016.
As they try to move forward in coach Lovie Smith's fourth season, they need someone who can start steering them in the right direction.