Illinois wide receiver Jarred Fayson knows a little bit about playing quarterback from his days at Hillsborough High School in Tampa. So he had some advice for redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who somersaulted into the end zone against Northern Illinois and often left his feet to get extra yards early in the season. "He was jumping all over the place,'' Fayson said. "I said, 'Nate, I understand you've only played in three games. You're jumping like a skydiver. Every time I look up, you're falling out of the sky. Man, relax. Slide sometimes. Be a quarterback.' ''

Illinois wide receiver Jarred Fayson knows a little bit about playing quarterback from his days at Hillsborough High School in Tampa.

So he had some advice for redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who somersaulted into the end zone against Northern Illinois and often left his feet to get extra yards early in the season.

"He was jumping all over the place,'' Fayson said. "I said, 'Nate, I understand you've only played in three games. You're jumping like a skydiver. Every time I look up, you're falling out of the sky. Man, relax. Slide sometimes. Be a quarterback.' ''

Fayson isn't the only Illini who went head over heels for Scheelhaase, the former prep star from Kansas City. Entering the season as a question mark as a rookie starter, Scheelhaase not only showed he can play college quarterback but became a building block for the future. When Illinois hosts Minnesota on Saturday in search of bowl eligibility on senior day, Scheelhaase has the Illini firmly behind him.

"He keeps maturing and getting better every game,'' said Illini center Graham Pocic. "It's fun out there protecting for him.''

Running back Mikel Leshoure, defensive tackle Corey Liuget and middle linebacker Martez Wilson will have decisions to make after the season. Meanwhile, Scheelhaase found a groove late in the season. More of a threat to run earlier this season, he also developed into an efficient passer.

"It's big for our offense when I'm playing well, making good decisions and helping get us into good situations,'' Scheelhaase said. "It does wonders for our offense.''

In the last three games, Scheelhaase completed 43-for-66 passing for 529 yards with nine touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed for 264 yards and one touchdown. Like everyone else, Scheelhaase can see the improvement in his play.

"Personally, I can feel it,'' Scheelhaase said. "When I'm out there on the field, things are coming more naturally. Things are easier to see. In the weeks of preparation, you can start to feel it during the week, the exact feel you're going to get during the games.

"They talk about getting in the zone. You can kind of feel when you're getting into that zone and getting into that rhythm. It has felt like that the last few weeks.''

Everyone has confidence in everyone, Fayson said, but "you have to get out on the field and prove it.''

Scheelhaase gives the Illini a foundation for the future, said offensive coordinator Paul Petrino, who played to Scheelhaase's strengths.

"He's played awful well in the last few games,'' Petrino said. "The sky is the limit. You keep working and improving. Who knows? He's just a freshman. I think he can be real good.''

A four-year starter?

"You would never start a guy and hope he would get beat out,'' Petrino said.

Scheelhaase has three years of eligibility remaining, something that could scare way future recruits, but Petrino's versatility as a coordinator might also help. He came here with a reputation as a pro-style coordinator but played to Scheelhaase's strength.

"We can show them either way,'' he said. "I can show them tape at Arkansas and Louisville (as an assistant under his brother) if he's that type of kid. I can show tape of Nate if he's that type of kid. We're going to adapt to whatever they do best.''

Illinois faces its best opportunity to get bowl eligible by going against the last-place team in the Big Ten before games away from home against Northwestern and Fresno State. He wouldn't mention it to the media, but coach Ron Zook used bowl eligibility as a motivating factor while trying to get the Illini to bounce back from the triple-overtime loss at Michigan last weekend.

"You don't have a choice but to shake it off,'' Zook said. "The most important thing we can do is play Minnesota to the best of our abilities.''

John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.

Illinois (5-4) vs. Minnesota (1-9)

When: 11 a.m. Saturday
Where: Memorial Stadium (62,870), Champaign
Series record: Minnesota leads 32-28-3
Big Ten records: Illinois 3-3, Minnesota 0-6
Last meeting: Illinois 35-32 (2009)
Rankings: Both teams unranked
Radio:
TV: Big Ten Network
The line:
Coaches: Ron Zook, 26-43 in sixth year at Illinois, 49-57 in ninth year overall; Jeff Horton, 0-3 in first year at Minnesota, 20-51 in seventh year overall.

NCAA rankings: Illinois offense -- rushing 20th, 207.8; passing 109th, 154.5; scoring 40th, 31.1; total 71st, 362.3. Illinois defense -- rushing 36th, 133.0; passing 52nd, 210.0; scoring 47th, 22.3; total 43rd, 343.0. Minnesota offense -- rushing 90th, 127.1; passing 52nd, 232.2; scoring 97th, 21.3; total 72nd, 359.3. Minnesota defense -- rushing 106th, 200.5; passing 45th, 207.3; scoring 103rd, 33.8; total 86th, 407.8.

Notable: Illinois seeks its first bowl berth in three seasons. ... Thanks to 65 points in the loss to Michigan last week, the Illini offense is averaing 50.7 points over the last three games. ... Illini running back Mikel Leshoure ranks fourth in the Big Ten with 900 yards rushing. ... Horton took over the Gophers after Minnesota fired Tim Brewster as coach on Oct. 17. Brewster, a former Illini tight end, was 15-30 in four seasons as Gophers coach.

Quotable: "The fear is that it's there. We can never go back to there again. We have to be full throttle or you see what you saw on Saturday.'' -- Illinois defensive coordinator Vic Koenning.

Betting line:

Prediction: Illinois 33, Minnesota 13