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ASU set to play pivotal game

September 7, 2012: Illinois game may define season

It’s week two and already the 2012 Arizona State football team is at a crossroads.

Yes, the season-opening 63-6 win over in-state NAU was impressive. But it will mean nothing if ASU is not able to capitalize on that momentum and defeat Big 10 opponent Illinois Saturday night at Sun Devil Stadium.

“The path to our goals—this is a big step for us, a huge step,” head coach Todd Graham said after the team’s final on-field preparation Thursday. “We can take a big step forward this week by being successful.”

The difference between 2-0 and 1-1 is not much until you examine the Sun Devils’ schedule.

Here is what awaits Graham’s team after Illinois:
at Missouri
vs. Utah
at CAL

Three games in which ASU will likely be considered the underdog.

Beat Illinois and the Sun Devils will enter that three week stretch 2-0 and feeling good about themselves. Lose, and the Sun Devils could be staring at a 1-4 record by the end of September.

OK, so how does ASU make sure its path is the former opposed to the later?

“Got to finish,” senior running back Cameron Marshall said when asked the key to defeating Illinois.

The Sun Devils did not finish in last year’s match-up against the Fighting Illini, losing 17-14 when in the fourth quarter Nathan Scheelhaase found AJ Jenkins for a 16-yard touchdown capitalizing on ASU’s third turnover of the game.

“We didn’t execute as well as we should have,” Marshall said, “and it ended up costing us toward the end of the game.”

The Sun Devils do have this going for them: a 7-0 all-time record vs. Big 10 teams in Tempe.

And we all know a successful season starts with being successful at home.