'Tis the season to be upset. Every November, the college football landscape is turned on its head from the many traps planted in conferences around the nation.
Recently, the Pac-12 is a prime example of the chaos November brings. Oregon has twice in the last two seasons had its national championship aspirations thwarted this month. The Ducks' showdown with Stanford on Thursday hardly qualifies as a trap, since this date has been circled on the calendar the moment the 2013 schedules were released.
However, the Ducks do travel to Arizona two weeks later in a prime trap game. The Wildcats have not matched up well with Oregon in the post-Mike Bellotti era. However, they have contributed to Oregon's November woes in the not-too-distant past.
Arizona knocked Oregon from the No. 2 spot in late 2007, in a game at Arizona Stadium. Other mitigating factors played a huge role—specifically, quarterback Dennis Dixon suffering a season-ending knee injury in the first quarter—but such is the nature of late-season football.
Championship teams must overcome adversity, and that includes escaping trap games. Each of the four remaining weeks in the 2013 season features at least one possibility for a campaign-altering loss.
Traps are sprung throughout the Pac-12, starting immediately with Week 11. South division-leading Arizona State has cruised in conference play, and faces a team it's had no trouble dispatching the last two seasons in Utah.
Furthermore, the Utes are coming off two disappointing performances in losses at Arizona and USC, since upsetting Stanford on Oct. 12.
It would seem Arizona State has no need to worry Saturday, but such scenarios are conducive to favorites slipping up. Yes, Utah is coming off two poor showings, but both were on the road.
The Utes have been much better at Rice-Eccles Stadium, and in the state of Utah in general, than in their two forays elsewhere. Salt Lake City offers one of the more unique home-field advantages in the conference with an altitude approaching 4500 feet, and, at this time of year, an average temperature of 41 degrees.
Which trap game is most likely to impact the Pac-12?
That's quite a departure from Tempe, Ariz., for the Sun Devils, and so is the welcome they'll receive from the MUSS—Mighty Utah Student Section—among the conference's more boisterous audiences.
Travis Wilson returning to quarterback the Utes offense should give an excellent defense more support than it's had in the last two weeks.
Should the Sun Devils escape, their Nov. 23 trip to UCLA could determine the Pac-12 South championship—assuming the Bruins can make it that far unscathed.
Not all traps are road games. While UCLA faces a test this week at Arizona, the Bruins have an inter-divisional home tilt on Nov. 15 that could derail their road to a third straight Pac-12 championship game. Washington is somewhat under the radar now, after losing three straight games to ranked opponents Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State.
While those losses might have knocked the Huskies from the polls, the facets that made Washington a Top 20 team are all still there.
Washington is among the conference's best sack-generating defenses, thanks to Hau'oli Kikaha, Cory Littleton and Josh Shirley. With the Bruins' injury issues up front, the Huskies pose a similar challenge to quarterback Brett Hundley that frustrated him against Stanford and Oregon.
Like UCLA, Washington played Stanford tough, even having an opportunity to win on the final possession. The Huskies were also within a score of Oregon going into the fourth quarter.
The Bruins have little wiggle room in their pursuit of the Pac-12 South title, because right after facing Arizona, Washington and Arizona State, and the next trap awaits at USC.
The Trojans are the perfect spoilers in the Pac-12 landscape. USC is finding the rhythm that was missing in the first half of the season at the most opportune time, with both Stanford and UCLA visiting the Coliseum.
USC's style is especially built for trapping unsuspecting opponents. Rare is the trap game decided in a shootout. Rather, the trapper frustrates its opponent with a tenacious defense that makes the offense work for every point. The longer an opponent goes without scoring, the more desperate
Stanford's win over Oregon last November is the prime example.