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Top 10 ACC and SEC Trap Games

By Matt Smith
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In 2012, Florida State hung 49 points on Clemson and survived Lane Stadium on a Thursday night, but was shut out in the second half of a loss to an N.C. State team which fired its coach after the season.

By nature, a true trap game is hard to predict. If it were easily spotted, then it wouldn’t really be a trap game at all.

Stanford upset both USC and Stanford, but 7-6 Washington handed the Cardinal their only conference loss last season. Florida State hung 49 points on Clemson and survived Lane Stadium on a Thursday night, but was shut out in the second half of a loss to an N.C. State team which fired its coach after the season.

As the summer kicks into high gear and we inch closer to the kickoff of the 2013 college football season, I’ve identified a potential pitfall for 10 ACC and SEC teams. These games are not perceived to be titanic clashes on the surface - exactly why they could prove to be season-changing upsets for some of the two leagues' power programs.

10. Syracuse at Georgia Tech – Oct. 19

Most signs point to a rebuilding year in upstate New York with a new coach, new quarterback and new conference. Meanwhile, the arrows are pointing up on The Flats after Georgia Tech closed strongly down the stretch last year with wins over North Carolina and USC. A brutal early-season stretch for the Yellow Jackets concludes with road games at Miami and BYU. The Orange head to Atlanta the following week. The Jackets will likely be running on fumes after four straight divisional games and the long trip to Provo, making them ripe for an upset. Syracuse may need a win to remain in bowl contention.

9. Toledo at Missouri – Sept. 7

Gary Pinkel turned Toledo into one of the MAC’s best programs before bolting for the greener pastures of Missouri in 2001. He’ll face his former employer for the first time this September when the Rockets come to Columbia. Toledo didn’t miss a beat in 2012 after losing coach Tim Beckman to Illinois, winning nine games and upsetting unbeaten Cincinnati. Nine starters are back on offense to test a young Missouri defense, including powerful running back David Fluellen and quarterback Terrance Owens. After opening at Florida, the Rockets won’t be intimated by an SEC crowd.

8. Marshall at Virginia Tech – Sept. 21

You may have never heard of Rakeem Cato, but the Thundering Herd junior quarterback is on pace to challenge Chad Pennington’s school passing record of over 13,000 yards. His toughest test to date may come this September when Marshall travels to Blacksburg. The game comes at the beginning of a short week for the Hokies, who travel to Georgia Tech for a key ACC Coastal showdown just five days later. Playing in a watered down Conference USA and with two MAC teams and an FCS team on the schedule, there is no doubt that this will be the game of the year for Doc Holliday’s Herd.

7. Ball State at Virginia – Oct. 5

It’s only a matter of time before Pete Lembo is running a major program. After a successful run at Elon, Lembo has quickly rebuilt the Cardinals in just two years after the program had dipped following Brady Hoke’s departure. Ball State will be looking for its second upset of a BCS program in as many years when they visit Charlottesville. It’s a sandwich game for the Cavaliers in between conference road games against Pittsburgh and Maryland. Like Marshall, the Cardinals’ non-conference schedule is soft outside of their one ACC foe, so expect Ball State to bring its best effort to Scott Stadium.

6. Georgia at Tennessee – Oct. 5

The Bulldogs face one of the most rugged first months in the country, going to Clemson and hosting South Carolina and LSU. The month of October commences with a trip to Knoxville to face the Volunteers, who nearly upset Georgia in Athens last season. The talent gap between the two programs is significant, but a dominant offensive line and an improved front seven should make Tennessee more competitive than it was a year ago. The Vols have a layup the week before against South Alabama, while Georgia hosts LSU. You get the feeling Butch Jones may have one big upset in him this year, and Mark Richt’s Bulldogs might be the perfect victim.

5. Florida at Missouri – Oct. 19

A 14-7 win over the Tigers was one of many ugly victories for the 2012 Gators, who went from 7-6 to 11-2 despite one of the toughest schedules in the SEC. Florida visits Columbia in October (they’ll visit the other Columbia four weeks later) in a game in between rivalry games with LSU and Georgia. It will also be the Gators’ longest road trip for a regular season game since going to Syracuse in 1991. The game also marks Missouri’s SEC home opener, a situation in which the Tigers put a major scare into Georgia a year ago. A deep and talented group of receivers should test a strong Gators secondary.

4. South Carolina at UCF – Sept. 28

The 2013 Gamecocks will be thrown to the fire quickly, opening with North Carolina, Georgia and Vanderbilt. While a bye week follows that difficult start, South Carolina may need the extra week more so to rest than to prepare for their Sept. 28 trip to Orlando. UCF, in its first (and only) season in a BCS conference, also has a week off for what could be the highest-ranked opponent the Knights have ever hosted. George O’Leary’s team nearly upset Missouri last year and has the firepower to take down one of the SEC’s heavyweights if the Gamecocks aren’t fully invested.

3. Clemson at Maryland – Oct. 26

Quarterback injury after quarterback injury doomed Maryland’s 2012 campaign, but a number of signs point to a bounceback season for the Terrapins in 2013. C.J. Brown is healthy and back under center, while wide receiver Stefon Diggs is poised for an all-ACC sophomore season. Clemson returns to College Park for the first time since 2011, when it fell behind 35-17 before staging a furious rally for a 56-45 win. That Maryland team finished 2-10. This year’s Terps should be much better. In its final year in the ACC, Maryland will want to make one last statement. Catching the Tigers the week after their colossal clash with Florida State provides a great opportunity to do so.

2. Texas A&M at Arkansas – Sept. 28

While the win at Alabama was Johnny Manziel’s biggest moment of 2012, his true coming-out party came six weeks earlier in a 58-10 rout of Arkansas. This year’s meeting is in Fayetteville, where a bad Razorbacks team nearly upset LSU in last season’s finale. The Hogs should be fired up for Bret Bielema’s first SEC game and may need a win to avoid an 0-4 start in league play with Florida, South Carolina and Alabama on deck. Arkansas’ offensive line should have some success against a young Aggies’ front seven, which could keep the ball out of Manziel’s hands for much of the game. Will that be enough to pull off the upset?

1. LSU at Mississippi State – Oct. 5

Despite going to three consecutive bowls, Mississippi State is just 4-12 against SEC West competition since 2010. Those four victories came against teams that finished a combined 3-29 in SEC play. The Bulldogs’ best chance to finally slay a giant may come in early October when LSU makes it biennial visit to Starkville. The Tigers will be on the road for the second consecutive week after a difficult trip to Georgia, with Florida on the docket a week later. While LSU and Georgia are doing battle, Mississippi State will be enjoying an off week. It’s a game the Bulldogs desperately need to finally get over the hump after an uninspiring close to 2012.

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.