The Biggest Trap Game Remaining for Each BCS Top 25 Team
As we enter the final month of the regular season, each game is more important than ever before.
It's now all but impossible for any team to absorb a loss and still maintain a lofty position in the BCS rankings. And conference championships can be won or lost well before championship Saturday rolls around in December.
But even as we look to blockbuster showdowns still on the calendar—like Alabama and LSU or Notre Dame and USC—we shouldn't forget that the season lasts four more weeks, not one or two.
Each of the teams in the current BCS rankings has an opportunity to ruin the season, and some of these opportunities may come from places we least expect.
So, where are these pitfalls hidden? Let's take a look at the games in which a heavily-favored Top 25 team could fall into that dreaded late-season trap.
No. 25 Louisiana Tech
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Unsurprisingly, the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs are the odds-on favorite to win the WAC this season.
While there is still the conference title showdown between the Bulldogs and the Utah State Aggies coming on November 17, it's actually the November 24 season finale against San Jose State that could end up trapping Louisiana Tech.
The Spartans are a much improved 6-2 this season, and they still have an outside chance to win the WAC title this season (SJSU is currently 2-1 in conference play, with both Louisiana Tech and Utah State undefeated—2-0 and 3-0, respectively).
While Louisiana Tech enters this game as a heavy favorite, if the Bulldogs sleep on the Spartans and try to coast into the postseason, they may find the Spartans surprisingly difficult to beat.
No. 24 Oklahoma State
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With all of the offensive weaponry that Mike “I'm a Man” Gundy lost after last season's Fiesta Bowl, it shouldn't come as a galloping shock that the Cowboys took a bit of a step backwards this season.
Still, the Pokes are hanging on at No. 24, and there's still plenty of time to improve upon that 5-2 (3-1) mark.
For some reason, the Big 12 muscled its way into having a slate of mostly meaningless regular season conference games, cluttering up an otherwise exciting championship Saturday in early December. Either way, teams like Oklahoma State have five more potential regular season stumbling blocks.
While it's doubtful the Pokes can even make it to the end of the season still ranked in the BCS (games against Kansas State, West Virginia, Texas Tech and Oklahoma are still to come), we're picking the season finale as the trap game—mainly because it might be the only remaining game on OSU's schedule where the Cowboys will actually be favored.
The December 1 game at Baylor looks to be the perfect opportunity for the Cowboys to come up short unexpectedly...But by that time, it might not be so shocking.
There's a real chance Oklahoma State could go 0-4 over the next four weeks, and this game against Baylor could be the difference between bowling and sitting on the couch come the postseason.
No. 23 Texas
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We're still waiting for that long-promised Texas resurgence.
Mack Brown hasn't been able to deliver much lately, and the Longhorns are languishing among the barely-ranked programs at No. 23.
Texas also doesn't have much fluff left in its schedule this season, as the Longhorns' final five weeks consist of Texas Tech, Iowa State, a bye week, TCU and Kansas State.
And it won't shock many if we pick Iowa State.
The Cyclones have a history of late-season wins against teams they shouldn't be able to hang with, and Texas will fill this role perfectly in 2012.
If the Longhorns aren't careful from here on out, they could be sporting a 6-4 record heading into their final two games against TCU and Kansas State—also games that are potential losses.
No. 22 Arizona
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The Fighting Rich Rods certainly showed the nation that they're a different team this season, knocking off USC and ending any fantasy of a Trojans BCS title miracle this year.
The win also helped gain some respect for the 5-3 Wildcats—the only three-loss team in the BCS rankings this week.
Moving forward, the remaining games on the schedule all seem winnable, especially now that we know Arizona is capable of beating teams like USC.
While Colorado certainly jumps out as a team Arizona should beat, we don't think the Buffaloes has anywhere near enough talent to hang with anyone in the Pac-12 South Division—even on the team's best day.
That's why we're naming 3-5 Utah as the trap game for Arizona down the stretch.
First, Utah has thus far underperformed in 2012. Secondly, the game is at Utah—an always difficult venue for visitors.
No. 21 West Virginia
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Wow. All that national championship and Heisman Trophy talk ended pretty quickly for the Mountaineers and Geno Smith.
A team that was once viewed as a legit national title contender has fallen precipitously from the graces of the pollsters after being unmasked as a BCS fraud in two ugly losses to Texas Tech and Kansas State.
Apparently, the West Virginia offense is only great as long as their opponents don't have a defense.
With five games remaining for WVU, it's easy to see how the Mountaineers could win or lose almost all of them. But like Texas, we've selected Iowa State as a potential unseen stumbling block for West Virginia—especially considering the November 23 game is in Ames, Iowa.
No. 20 Nebraska
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Nebraska did itself a huge favor in its quest for a Big Ten title by knocking off the Denard Robinson-less Michigan this past weekend.
The Cornhuskers are now 3-1 in conference play, and they own the tiebreaker over the fellow 3-1 Wolverines.
But the biggest trap remaining for Nebraska comes this Saturday, when the sure-to-be favored Huskers roll into intimidating Spartan Stadium in East Lansing.
The Spartans have fallen on tough times in 2012, as their dominating defense is constantly let down by the anemic offense.
Last week against Wisconsin, we started to see glimpses of maturity from MSU's offense, and that's what leads us to believe this weekend could be the trap for Nebraska,
If the Spartans can put together a halfway decent game on offense, the Huskers could suddenly find themselves trailing Michigan in the standings once more.
No. 19 Boise State
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Boise State may have destroyed its BCS chances way back in Week 1 with a loss at Michigan State.
At the time, it wasn't that terrible of a loss, as MSU eventually made its way into the Top 10. But since then, the Spartans have dropped four games, and that loss now looks very, very ugly on the Broncos' record.
Still, the 7-1 Broncos will be favored in their remaining four games this season, so we can pick any as a trap game.
Regardless, we're going with the favorite—or least favorite, if you're a Boise fan—trap for the Brocnos: the Nevada Wolf Pack.
Boise State is intimately familiar with what a season-ending loss in Reno can do to a season, and the Broncos will be in a similar situation this year.
Let's just hope it doesn't come down to kicking this time.
No. 18 Texas Tech
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Texas Tech may be the surprise of the Big 12 this season, with a 6-2 record and a No. 18 ranking.
The Red Raiders have already unmasked a few teams this season and appear ready to coast to an impressive finish.
But we're again going with Baylor on the trap game list, as the Red Raiders finish their regular season with a November 24 visit from the Bears.
Baylor is capable of scoring points in bunches, and if that typically-sound Red Raiders defense decides to take a day off, Baylor is more than capable of exploiting any exposed weaknesses.
No. 17 USC
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Remember all those weeks ago when USC was supposed to be the team that finally dethroned the SEC from atop the BCS mountain?
Now USC needs to win out in the regular season just to make it to the Pac-12 Championship Game.
The former No. 1 team in the nation has four games remaining in the regular season, two of which are against Top Four teams (Oregon and Notre Dame). But it's the rivalry before the rivalry that is a potential trap for the Trojans.
USC will travel a few miles to the Rose Bowl to take on UCLA in their annual grudge match on November 17. While this game is always full of emotion, this year's game could be for a trip to the Pac-12 Championship Game.
USC will likely be favored, but UCLA has really been reborn under Jim Mora this season. And there's also the specter of defending a South Division title from last season on UCLA's side...
No. 16 Texas A&M
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As it turns out, Texas A&M will be a good fit for the SEC.
The Aggies have already shown an ability to win games in the West Division, but there's a lot of meat left on the calendar.
Games against Mississippi State and Alabama will be the real tale of 2012 for Texas A&M, but even if those games end up as an unlikely string of victories, it's the season finale against improving Missouri that has us concerned for A&M's bowl selection.
Missouri finally got that first SEC win under its belt this past weekend against Kentucky, and the Tigers can now look to build on that minor success.
Remember, this Missouri team has given a few of the top conference teams solid opposition earlier in the season. And the Tigers could be playing with their backs against the wall for that seventh, and bowl-guaranteeing, win.
Gary Pinkel's squad may not win any championships this season, but that doesn't mean it won't take advantage of a ranked opponent looking to jog across the finish line.
No. 15 Mississippi State
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You really didn't think Mississippi State was BCS good, did you?
The Bulldogs were utterly dismantled by a clearly superior Alabama squad this past weekend, but at 7-1, there's still plenty to play for this season.
That typical season finale against rival Ole Miss is the clear standout when looking for a trap game for Mississippi State.
The Rebels are improving under new head coach Hugh Freeze, and you can bet that a win over Mississippi State is foremost on the mind of every Ole Miss player.
And if the Bulldogs get caught looking ahead to a possible January bowl game...
No. 14 Stanford
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For many Stanford fans, the Cardinal's season came to an unceremonious end when Stepfan Taylor was bought down just millimeters from the end zone in South Bend.
But before Stanford gets too hung up on what might have been, there's the all-important game against Oregon looming on November 17—a game that could determine the Pac-12 North Division champion.
But even if the Cardinal somehow manage to do the unthinkable and knock off the Ducks, it then becomes very, very easy to suffer a massive letdown against a resurgent UCLA Bruins squad on November 24.
With Jim Mora reshaping the UCLA program, there's no reason why we can't list the Bruins a second time as a possible trap game.
No. 13 Clemson
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Clemson is just one of a plethora of one-loss teams hoping to find its way back into the good graces of the pollsters during the last month of the regular season.
The Tigers' early loss to Florida State could be all but forgotten if the Tigers can find a way to last down the stretch against four teams with questionable ability to beat them.
The biggest trap game remaining for Clemson is NC State on November 17.
NC State has already shown the ability to beat top teams—like Florida State—this season. And the fact that the Tigers will host the Wolfpack the week before the Battle of the Palmetto State could mean the Tigers are looking ahead to a BCS-defining showdown with the Gamecocks.
No. 12 Oklahoma
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Believe it or not, the Sooners will inevitably have an impact on the BCS this season.
Unfortunately, that impact might not be through first-hand interaction with any of the bowl games themselves. Oklahoma's loss to Notre Dame proved that the Irish are a legitimate team this season, and with their remaining schedule, Brian Kelly's team should be a lock for a BCS trip at this point.
Oklahoma, now with two losses, cannot afford another slip-up before season's end if there's any chance of a BCS invite now.
Believe it or not, the game that gives us the most pause as a trap this season is the finale against TCU on December 1.
Coming on the heels of Bedlam, it's easy to see why Oklahoma could have trouble gearing up for this game.
No. 11 Oregon State
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Oregon State has to be the surprise of 2012.
The Beavers came out of nowhere to break into the Top 10 before suffering their first setback of the season last week against upset minded Washington.
Still, the Beavs are 6-1 heading into November, with a possible season finale against Oregon for a trip to the Pac-12 title game.
Man, it really has been a while since the Civil War game meant something, hasn't it? But we digress...
Before Oregon State can dream of a BCS trip this season, the Beavers will need to get past Arizona State this weekend in Corvallis.
The Sun Devils aren't threatening to win much of anything this season, by they have proven to possess a bit more staying power down the stretch this year.
That, added to the fact that Oregon State is coming off of a major letdown against Washington, gives this week's game all the ingredients for a major disaster.
No. 10 Louisville
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The Big East has become a surprisingly competitive conference, even without West Virginia in the mix.
Louisville seems to have a clear path to the BCS this season—as long as it can get past the only other team without a conference loss: Rutgers.
But before that November 29 showdown, the Cardinals will take on three other conference opponents: Temple, Syracuse and Connecticut.
And Syracuse is no stranger to playing the role of spoiler.
The Carrier Dome can be a tough place to play, even for the best of programs, and this season's Syracuse team is still 3-1 in conference play and an outside contender for the Big East.
Louisville may not care, but you can bet the Orange sure do.
No. 9 Florida State
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All hope of a Florida State BCS title run disappeared on October 6, as the Seminoles came up short against NC State.
With two FCS programs on the 2012 schedule, Florida State no longer has the scheduling strength muscle necessary to overcome a loss to an NC State team that now has three losses of its own.
Nonetheless, the Atlantic Division still belongs to the Seminoles, and only a loss can derail a trip to Miami for the ACC championship game.
But that loss could happen sooner than many think.
The 'Noles could be walking into the perfect trap in a fortnight when they travel to Blacksburg, Virginia, to take on the Hokies.
Virginia Tech is a shadow of its former self, having cobbled together just four wins so far this season. That 4-4 record, however, belies an ability to beat any team on any given day with the Hokies' unorthodox style of scoring points.
Florida State will surely be a heavy favorite, but with an epic in-state showdown with Florida looming at season's end, it's possible Beamerball could sneak one past while the Seminoles aren't looking.
No. 8 South Carolina
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The Gamecocks have been on the receiving end of some very bad news as of late, with superstar running back Marcus Lattimore out for the remainder of the season—and likely all of 2013 too—following a devastating knee injury.
The Gamecocks also need quite a bit of help to earn a berth in the SEC title game, as both Florida and Georgia would need at least another loss to make it interesting.
Still, there's no reason South Carolina fans can't count on a January bowl game this season...unless the Gamecocks fall in a potential trap prior to their annual season-ending showdown with Clemson.
The Gamecocks will have just such an opportunity to stumble this weekend when they host Arkansas.
Arkansas has been the surprise dog of the SEC West this season, losing game after game, much to the consternation of Hogs fans around the nation. Something is rotten in Fayetteville, and the 3-5 Razorbacks are fighting just to earn a bowl trip this season.
With such little room left for error, you can bet the Hogs will be fired up for a crack at a Top 10 team this Saturday.
And the Hogs, coaching woes aside, do have the weaponry needed to take down a depressed Gamecocks team.
No. 7 Florida
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All it took was one fumble, and Florida suddenly went from darling of the East to likely missing the SEC Championship Game.
And don't think Missouri doesn't smell blood in the swamp.
The Gators had one heckuva letdown last weekend in Jacksonville, as the Georgia Bulldogs pulled off an impressive victory against then-No. 2 Florida.
With just one SEC game remaining—against Missouri—and the rest against the FCS, Sun Belt and Florida State, we can only put Mizzou in the position of a trap game.
Florida will be heavily favored, and rightly so. But a team responds from an epic letdown in one of two ways: with a renewed impetus towards finishing strong or by falling into the quagmire of a late-season collapse.
We'll have our answer about Florida on Saturday.
No. 6 Georgia
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The new SEC East frontrunner is Georgia.
After beating Florida in a thriller last Saturday, the Bulldogs are now the team to beat in the East Division.
Georgia and Florida are both one-loss teams, but with the Bulldogs holding that ever-important tie-breaker, the only thing left for Gator fans is the trap.
So, who has the best shot at upsetting the Atlanta-bound Bulldogs?
Surprisingly enough, it might be the team from Atlanta. But unfortunately, that won't do anything to help Florida's shot at the SEC title.
Georgia Tech comes to Athens on November 24 for some Clean, Old-fashioned Hate. And while the Yellow Jackets are a meager 3-5 so far this season, don't think it wouldn't make 2012 a success if Tech upset Georgia.
And with Georgia looking forward to the SEC Championship Game, it's certainly a possibility.
No. 5 LSU
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LSU may have suffered its one loss at just the right time of the season to make amends.
Apparently, the pollsters and computers, invariably tilted towards the SEC, are perfectly willing to forgive LSU for losing on the road at Florida a few weeks ago. And the Tigers can make up even more ground this weekend if they can knock off No. 1 Alabama in Death Valley.
If that happens, don't expect any of the three remaining opponents to be given much of a shot against LSU.
But Mississippi State is a quiet 7-1, and the Bulldogs could throw a titanic wrench into the whole system if they can sneak up and bit the Tigers.
Plus, LSU has been guilty of some lackluster performances against lesser opponents this season.
No. 4 Oregon
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Believe it or not, Oregon's BCS title chances took a huge hit this past weekend.
No, not because the Ducks only managed 70 points against the hapless Buffaloes, but because arch foe Oregon State fell to Washington.
The Ducks really needed those computer points come Civil War time.
But before we even get there, there's this little matter of USC.
It seems odd calling USC the underdog capable of trapping an opponent, but that's exactly what we have brewing in the Pac-12 this season.
And it's not like USC isn't used to beating the Ducks when they least expect it.
With two-loss USC out of the BCS picture for now, the eyes of the Pac-12 will be squarely focused on Oregon. The Trojans can change all that with one victory this weekend at the Coliseum.
No. 3 Notre Dame
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The naysayers are out of excuses, and the detractors have all retreated into their mothers' basements.
Notre Dame is back.
And who would have guessed it would be thanks to an Irish-Catholic head coach?
The Irish are one of just five remaining undefeated teams amongst the 124 FBS programs. And with an impressive win over Oklahoma—in Norman, no less—last Saturday, the Irish have been rightly rewarded by both the human voters and the computers with a No. 3 spot in the BCS rankings.
But hold on a minute. There's more football to be played.
Before we crown Notre Dame king of all non-SEC college football, the Irish will need to knock off a few more opponents this season.
First on that list is Pittsburgh.
The Panthers are a woeful 4-4 after a humiliating start, losing to FCS Youngstown State. But since then, Pitt has only dropped games to Big East title contenders and has had some impressive performances against teams like Virginia Tech.
While the Irish will be hailed as heroes upon their return to South Bend this Saturday, don't expect the Panthers to just roll over for them. But can the Irish really stay focused on the task at hand now that the eyes of nation are squarely focused on the Golden Dome?
No. 2 Kansas State
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There's only one team in the Big 12 with fewer than two losses right now, and it's unbeaten Kansas State.
The Wildcats haven't been seriously challenged this season, other than that perplexing six-point victory at Iowa State a few weeks ago, and quarterback Colin Klein seems to be everybody's favorite Heisman front-runner these days.
K-State's remaining schedule seems to set up the Wildcats perfectly for a BCS title run, but that November 10 game at TCU could be a trap to end all BCS traps.
TCU fields a solid defense and is capable of scoring as many points as needed to win games this season.
The Horned Frogs are 5-3 this season, but considering it's their first foray into the realm of the AQ'ers, that's not too shabby.
And by the time we get to November 10, don't think the pressure won't be palpable in Manhattan.
No. 1 Alabama
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We finally come to the No. 1 team in the BCS—probably the team least likely to fall into a trap of any sort.
The Alabama Crimson Tide have looked like a team of destiny this season, knocking off every challenger with seemingly minimal effort.
And while this Saturday's trip to Baton Rouge probably offers the best chance for an Alabama loss in 2012, it's not a game that falls into the category of a typical “trap.”
For that distinction, we're going all the way to the end of the regular season and o the Iron Bowl.
Sure. After all, don't games against a clearly over-matched and downtrodden rival make the best traps? Aren't these the games from which legends are born?
Auburn may be in the midst of a 1-7 season, and Gene Chizik has to be feeling the temperature of his chair climb, but a win over Alabama—particularly an 11-0, No. 1-ranked Alabama—could be just the thing to take the sting out of 2012 for Tigers fans everywhere.
And it might just buy Chizik another 12 games.
But even if all of that wasn't true, the simple ability to completely destroy the SEC's best laid plans for continued BCS dominance is what makes this such a great trap game for the Crimson Tide.