By nature, a true trap game is hard to predict. If it were easily spotted, then it wouldn’t really be a trap game.
However, it’s July, and the 2013 college football season is just eight weeks away. Because Notre Dame plays with a constant bullseye, it rarely is the team doing the trapping. However, in a rigorous 12-game schedule, the Irish will likely at some point not bring their A-game against a perceived lesser opponent.
In 2012, Notre Dame barely survived home games against Purdue and Pittsburgh, teams that both finished with losing records. What game could potentially trap the 2013 Irish on their quest to return to a BCS bowl?
While you can make an argument for others (at Air Force, Pittsburgh), I’ve identified three potential traps, and we’ll debate the merits of each to be called a true trap game.
Sept. 14 at Purdue (8 p.m., ABC/ESPN)
It’s a trap: It’s a classic sandwich game for Notre Dame in between games with Michigan and Michigan State. The Boilermakers have a first-year coach in Darrell Hazell who will be looking to make a splash with a marquee easy-season victory. Purdue has given the Irish trouble before, including last year’s game that Notre Dame won on a field goal with seven seconds remaining.
It’s not a trap: Notre Dame dominated Purdue in its last trip to West Lafayette. Despite struggling at home last season, the Irish were virtually flawless on the road, allowing just 38 points in six games away from South Bend. The Boilermakers are unsettled at quarterback after Robert Marve’s departure and lose their best defensive player in Kawann Short.
Oct. 5 vs. Arizona State (7:30 p.m., NBC)
It’s a trap: Like Purdue, Notre Dame’s third meeting in its 126 seasons with the Sun Devils comes in between showdown games – home to Oklahoma and USC. Playing in palatial Cowboys Stadium could be a distraction for the Fighting Irish. Arizona State coach Todd Graham has beaten Notre Dame before – a 28-27 upset in South Bend in 2010 while at Tulsa.
It’s not a trap: Arizona State is too good to be considered a trap game. It’ll be in the spotlight often prior to the game in Arlington, as it faces Wisconsin, Stanford and USC in the season’s first month. By October, the Sun Devils will be on everybody’s radar. Notre Dame has dominated all of its Shamrock Series games in the past, including in historic venues such as Yankee Stadium and Soldier Field. Cowboys Stadium is just another stadium.
Nov. 23 vs. BYU (3:30 p.m., NBC)
It’s a trap: Bronco Mendenhall’s Cougars led for most of last season’s meeting, also in South Bend. They have arguably the best possession receiver in the country in senior Cody Hoffman, and linebacker Kyle Van Noy should contend for the nation’s sack lead. While it doesn’t really fit the sandwich game mold, the game does come a week before the Irish travel to Stanford, where the stakes could be even higher than last year’s game that brought ESPN’s College Gameday to South Bend.
It’s not a trap: It was a trap game last year in between games with Stanford and Oklahoma, so the Irish won’t overlook a team constructed similarly to themselves. While Notre Dame struggled on Senior Day under Charlie Weis, the Irish have allowed just 17 points in three home finales under Brian Kelly. The second of the team’s two bye weeks comes a week earlier, so the Irish should be well-rested, unlike last year when they hosted BYU following an overtime slugfest with Stanford.
While there are strong cases for and against all three, the vote here is for Purdue. Notre Dame is more talented than its in-state rival, but Purdue finally has the right leader in Hazell after four years of sputtering under Danny Hope.
I’m a huge believer in Graham and Arizona State this season, so I don’t see any way the Irish look past the Sun Devils. As for BYU, while the Irish were flat after a week off in 2011 against USC, they played perhaps their best games of the season following bye weeks in 2010 (Utah) and 2012 (Miami).
While Hazell has a lengthy rebuilding project on his hands, there are enough pieces in place for Purdue to catch at least one big-name opponent napping this season. Nebraska, Ohio State and Notre Dame all come to Ross-Ade Stadium. If trapping season starts early in Indiana this fall, the Irish might not be as fortunate in 2013 as they were in 2012.