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For Illinois, trips west haven’t been the best

Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase’s status remains uncertabecause sprained left ankle. | Seth Perlman~AP

Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase’s status remains uncertain because of a sprained left ankle. | Seth Perlman~AP

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TONIGHT

ILLINOIS AT ­ARIZONA STATE

The facts: 9:30, ESPN, 560-AM.

Updated: October 9, 2012 3:06PM



In 1973 and 1974, Bob Blackman took Illinois on road trips to California and Stanford and came back to Champaign with victories.

Nobody knew then that in the next 28 years, the Illini would win only two more regular-season games in the homes of the Big Ten’s Rose Bowl partners.

Pac-8. Pac-10. Pac-12. They all have piled on, saddling the Illini with a 2-10 record since Blackman’s back-to-back feat, including 0-3 in Arizona.

On the bright side, Illinois’ game Saturday night at Arizona State looks pretty evenly matched, and a victory would be very encouraging. After winning at USC in 1989 and at Cal in 2001, Illinois went on to 10-2 seasons.

Like Illinois, Arizona State is transitioning to a new coach. And like Illini coach Tim Beckman, new ASU coach Todd Graham knows the importance of a good start.

‘‘The first five games of this season are so critical for us as a program,’’ Graham said. ‘‘Obviously, they get harder and harder and harder. It jumps up a whole bunch harder this week. To have the kind of buy-in to what we are doing, success is needed.’’

Amid questions about the status of Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase (sprained left ankle), oddsmakers have made the Sun Devils a 31/2-point favorite, up from one point at the start of the week.

If Illinois is without Scheelhaase, who has started all 27 games of his college career, it faces uncertainty. But Beckman and his staff have an interesting pair of replacements in Reilly O’Toole and Miles Osei.

O’Toole, a sophomore who appeared in 10 games last year, has played under unfavorable circumstances. Osei, a junior, is a jack-of-all-trades who’s coming off an excellent training camp in which he showed a strong arm and impressive mobility.

Coming off a 24-7 victory over Western Michigan, the Illini are pumped to keep it going against the Sun Devils, who throttled Northern Arizona 63-6 in their opener.

‘‘They have a great, explosive offense,’’ Illini defensive end Michael Buchanan said. ‘‘But I can guarantee they won’t have a day like they did in their first game against us.’’

When it comes to Illinois winning in the West, though, there are no guarantees.



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