In a matchup between two teams whose seasons got off to good starts in Week 1, the Illinois Fighting Illini will travel out west to take on the Arizona State Sun Devils in a Big Ten vs. Pac-12 showdown.
The Illini played a methodical game against Western Michigan in Week 1 to walk away with a 24-7 victory. They will need to open things up on the offensive side of the ball if they want to hang in there with a good Arizona State team.
The Sun Devils used a cupcake game against Northern Arizona to make their mark on the 2012 season. There is nothing wrong with that—just ask Oklahoma State—but the competition will get markedly better from this point on.
Which First-Year Coach Will Have A Better Career?
Where: Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, AZ
When: Saturday, Sept. 8 at 10:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: Watch ESPN
Radio: WHMS-FM 97.5 (Illinois); KTAR 620 AM (Arizona State)
Betting Line: Arizona State (-6), according to Vegas Insider
Illinois Injury Report (via USA Today)
Questionable: DL Justin Staples (Suspension); QB Nathan Scheelhaase (Ankle); CB Supo Sanni (Undisclosed); DB Steve Hull (Shoulder)
Out: LB Henry Dickinson (Leg)
Arizona State Injury Report (via USA Today)
Questionable: TE Max Smith (Back); WR Kyle Middlebrooks (Shoulder); DT Corey Adams (Back)
What's At Stake?
For Illinois, 2012 is all about a fresh start. New head coach Tim Beckman is trying to establish a foundation on which he can build this program into at least a consistent bowl contender. Games against a team like Arizona State, which has a solid reputation, will show the new regime just how far away the Illini are.
Arizona State found its footing against an easy opponent in Week 1. Illinois is not exactly a national power, but will provide more challenges and better athletes than Northern Arizona did. This could easily turn into a trap game for the Sun Devils if they aren't careful.
Illinois Player to Watch: RB Josh Ferguson
With quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase battling a sprained ankle, there is going to be more emphasis on the running game.
Ferguson had a lackluster debut against Western Michigan, with 38 yards on 11 carries. He has to perform far better than that in this game if Illinois is going to hang around long enough to keep it competitive.
Arizona State Player to Watch: QB Taylor Kelly
Last week was quite the debut for Kelly, as he went 15-for-19 with 247 yards and one touchdown. However, It was basically a warm-up game, or the equivalent of an NFL preseason game, as it came against an FCS school.
Kelly threw four passes in his freshman season last year, so he is hardly a seasoned veteran ready to take the next step. This is going to be a developmental season for him, which could have far-reaching ramifications on the Sun Devils' year.
Key Matchup: Illinois QB vs. Arizona State Defense
Illinois could enter this game with a decided disadvantage, since starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase has a bum ankle.
Whoever is taking snaps for the Illini will have the task of staring the Sun Devils defense in the face. That is not exactly a daunting task, as Arizona State is not known for stopping opponents, though a game against a team with a hobbled quarterback could be what this team needs.
As much as I like what Beckman can do in the future, Illinois is still very much in a rebuilding mode. Arizona State is not a national powerhouse, though it is in far better shape right now than the Illini.
Arizona State 37, Illinois 20