Ten Trap Games for 2012
By Matt Smith
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ACC and SEC teams will need to be focused when heading into these potential trap games this fall.
Every year, they come right when we least expect them. They’re the dreaded trap games in which a highly-ranked team finds itself losing to a team to which it is far superior. Often times, these occur prior to, or following, a marquee game. Oklahoma was stunned by Texas Tech as a four-touchdown favorite the week before a big road trip to Kansas State. Nebraska was on an emotional high after a rout of Michigan State to grasp control of the Big Ten Legends Division, but fell a week later to 3-5 Northwestern.
Part of the lure of these “trap games” are that they are difficult to predict. Nevertheless, it’s always fun to analyze what truly defines a trap game and where some of college football’s elite could stumble in the upcoming season.
Here are the top 10 trap games for ACC and SEC teams in 2012.
10. N.C. State at Connecticut (Sept. 8)
Tom O’Brien and September have never been a good match. O’Brien’s teams have historically been slow starters before strong finishing kicks. The Wolfpack open with Tennessee in the Georgia Dome, followed by a trip to face the Huskies, who missed a bowl last year for the first time since 2006. UConn has eight starters back on defense and will have nine days to prepare for the ‘Pack after facing UMass on a Thursday night. It’s also a dreaded internet-only game with a Noon ET kickoff. The Huskies aren’t a great team, but are good enough that they could catch a sleepwalking Wolfpack team off of its guard.
9. BYU at Georgia Tech (Oct. 27)
The Cougars were off of the radar for much of last season due to a soft schedule and not being in a conference. They finished with 10 wins, and bring back a very strong team in 2012. Georgia Tech could find itself physically struggling late in the season after facing Virginia Tech, Virginia, Miami (FL) and Clemson in the first six weeks. BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall is no stranger to the triple option, having faced Air Force annually while the program was in the Mountain West. While a loss wouldn’t hurt the Jackets in the ACC title race, it could be the start of another late-season swoon.
8. Florida at Vanderbilt (Oct. 13)
No one is quite sure what we’ll get out of the Gators this season. Quarterback play remains a major concern, but the defense will be one of the SEC’s best. In just his second year, James Franklin has Vanderbilt as competitive as it’s ever been in the nation’s toughest conference. The trip to Nashville, where Florida has not lost since 1988, comes after a game with LSU and prior to the Gators’ two big divisional games against South Carolina and Georgia. Florida won by just five points last year in the Swamp. While Vanderbilt isn’t exactly a hostile atmosphere, a top-10 Arkansas team needed a minor miracle to survive there last year.
7. Virginia Tech at Miami (FL) (Nov. 1)
If the NCAA doesn’t impose a bowl ban on the Hurricanes this season, they’ll likely self-impose one. The future is bright in Coral Gables, but Miami is likely to take its share of lumps this fall. Nevertheless, head coach Al Golden is one of the best motivators in the game, and the team has enough young talent to pull at least one big upset this season. With the Hokies staring at a showdown with Florida State in Blacksburg a week later, they could be a step slow in an always quiet Sun Life Stadium. Virginia Tech needed a near-flawless performance from Logan Thomas last year to beat the ‘Canes, but they’ve won three of their past four trips to south Florida.
6. Tennessee at South Carolina (Oct. 27)
The visit from the Volunteers comes at the end of an extremely difficult month for South Carolina, which has them hosting Georgia and traveling to LSU and Florida in back-to-back weeks, arguably the two most difficult environments in college football. Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks struggled last year in Knoxville against a Tennessee team with a freshman quarterback making his first start. That likely won’t be the case this year in Columbia. The Vols also might be playing for their head coach’s job by this point in the season.
5. Clemson at Wake Forest (Oct. 25)
It’s hard to pick just one trap game for Clemson. Every week in which they don’t play Florida State or South Carolina is a potential pitfall for the perennially flaky Tigers. However, with the combination of a road game, an overachieving opponent, and a Thursday night game, Clemson’s trip to Wake Forest just screams trap game. The Deacons led theTigers by two touchdowns last year in Death Valley before collapsing. Can’t you already picture recently-named ESPN Thursday night sideline reporter Samantha Steele interviewing a Gatorade-covered Jim Grobe after the game?
4. Missouri at UCF (Sept. 29)
There won’t be a lack of storylines here. In addition to a rare visit to Orlando by an SEC team before New Year’s Day, former Tiger quarterback Tyler Gabbert (Blaine’s younger brother) will be under center for George O’Leary’s Golden Knights. With 16 starters back, UCF is a contender for its second Conference USA title in three years. Missouri will be coming off a difficult early-season stretch against Georgia, Arizona State, and South Carolina. The Tigers want to show the nation that they’re worthy of playing in the SEC. Losing to a C-USA team that went 5-7 in 2011 won’t help their cause.
3. Arkansas at Mississippi State (Nov. 17)
This SEC West battle has become an annual trap game for the Razorbacks over the past few seasons. They struggled in Starkville in 2010 the week prior to a game with LSU for a BCS bowl bid, escaping in double overtime. There were no such difficulties last year in Little Rock, however, as Arkansas tuned up for the Tigers with a 44-17 pasting of the Bulldogs. With Mississippi State looking to rebound from a disappointing 7-6 season a year ago, this will be the game it has circled as its best chance to make a big splash nationally. Arkansas head coach John L. Smith was no stranger to head-scratching losses while at Michigan State.
2. Florida State at USF (Sept. 29)
It takes a lot to sell out Raymond James Stadium in Tampa on a fall Saturday (or Sunday, for that matter). The Seminoles are one of the few opponents who can generate a significant buzz for the Bulls, who pulled arguably the biggest upset of last September when they beat Notre Dame in South Bend. USF coach Skip Holtz also knocked off a top-10 West Virginia team in 2008 while at East Carolina. The Bulls are led by senior quarterback B.J. Daniels, who beat the ‘Noles in Tallahassee as a freshman. FSU will find itself in between divisional showdowns with Clemson and N.C. State, a key ingredient in any trap game recipe.
1. LSU at Texas A&M (Oct. 20)
Ask Bob Stoops what it’s like to go into Kyle Field as a national title contender. Oklahoma needed furious late rallies to survive College Station in 2000 and 2004 as No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, but was not so fortunate in 2002, falling 30-26. Despite having one of the best defenses in the country last year, the Bayou Bengals struggled against West Virginia and Mike Leach disciple Dana Holgorsen’s spread offense. They’ll be facing another Leach protégé here in Kevin Sumlin. The game comes after a trip to Florida and a home date with South Carolina. Alabama looms two weeks later. LSU could find itself on the ropes against the Aggies, much as the Sooners often did a decade ago.