Big Ten's Biggest Trap Games to Watch for in 2014
Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014, will be almost seven years to the day since Appalachian State stunned No. 5 Michigan in the Big House, 34-32. The Mountaineers will get another swipe at the Wolverines to open this season.
Though time has passed, and Michigan has new coaches and players, no one in Ann Arbor has forgotten that day. Expect Michigan to prepare as such. No matter the result, Michigan won't overlook Appalachian State this time.
But what are some other Big Ten trap games in the making this year? With this season less than 100 days away, it's time to gaze into the crystal ball and predict which under-the-radar games could be problematic.
Ohio State vs. Navy
Saturday, Aug. 30
In all likelihood, Ohio State has this one in the bag. But, there's this feeling that won't go away that, perhaps, Navy may catch the Buckeyes at the right time.
Some of Ohio State's key players will be getting healthy just before the start of the season. Quarterback Braxton Miller, tight end Jeff Heuerman and defensive back Vonn Bell will be returning from injuries that held them out for the spring.
Not to mention Ohio State's offensive line is a work in progress. Week 1 against a motivated Navy team would be a bad time to shake off some rust.
In 2009, the Midshipmen gave the Buckeyes everything they could handle in a 31-27 nail-biter to open the season. The triple option can be a nightmare to prepare against, but the offseason will give Urban Meyer and his coaching staff extra time.
Ohio State's defense—especially the defensive line—should be the difference, but this one could be another close call.
Ball State vs. Iowa
Saturday, Sept. 6
An argument could be made that Iowa needs to be ready for its season opener against Northern Iowa. The Panthers haven't gone quietly in their previous two meetings against the Hawkeyes, and in 2012, Iowa lost its following game against Central Michigan.
Which brings up Ball State. The Cardinals are sandwiched between UNI (Aug. 30) and in-state rival Iowa State (Sept. 13), and they are coming off a 10-win season. Ball State coach Pete Lembo is one of the best mid-major coaches in the country and a five-year deal recently made him the highest-paid coach in the MAC.
All of this is to say that conditions are perfect for an upset—or, at least, a game that's too close for comfort. Iowa is going to get its opponent's best shot three weeks in a row to start the season. That can be tough for any team.
Nebraska vs. Fresno State
Saturday, Sept. 13
By now, you'd think Fresno State would no longer be considered a trap opponent given its history of "Anybody. Anytime. Anywhere." However, the Bulldogs lose quarterback Derek Carr and receiver Davante Adams.
That means it's time for Fresno to rebuild, right? Perhaps, but with the Huskers coming to town for an early-season nonconference game, Bulldog Stadium should be bouncing.
With another intriguing nonconference game against Miami looming the following week, do the Bulldogs get the Huskers at just the right time? Fresno will be ready, that's for sure.
Tulane vs. Rutgers
Saturday, Sept. 27
Well, this would be unfortunate for Rutgers as it enters Big Ten conference play.
The Scarlet Knights will have already played one Big Ten game—against Penn State—by the time Tulane comes to town in late September. A huge home game against Michigan takes place the following week.
The Green Wave have quietly improved under head coach Curtis Johnson, who led the team to its first winning season last year since 2002.
Even though Rutgers has lost some momentum under head coach Kyle Flood, this should be a winnable game, right? Right?
This one could be interesting, and potentially embarrassing, for the Scarlet Knights.
Wisconsin vs. Northwestern
Saturday, Oct. 4
This is a trap game for Wisconsin.
Northwestern will be looking for blood this year after the wheels completely fell off the wagon during last season's 5-7 debacle. The Wildcats were 4-0 before sustaining a crushing 40-30 loss to Ohio State.
Northwestern never recovered. Wisconsin took advantage by beating the Cats 35-6 the following week and Northwestern lost five more games in a row after that.
Northwestern isn't sandwiched between any big games—Wisconsin plays South Florida the week before and Illinois the following week—so the Badgers should be ready. But the Wildcats will remember last year's slaughter. They'll want payback at home.
Michigan State vs. Indiana
Saturday, Oct. 18
Yes, Indiana. Yes, this is probably a stretch. But here's how it could work.
The Hoosiers have no trouble passing the ball and scoring points. They also lose leading receiver Cody Latimer. However, Michigan State has several key players to replace on defense.
Indiana coach Kevin Wilson has done a nice job getting the program turned in the right direction; the next step is a bowl game. With the exception of his first year in Bloomington in 2011, Wilson has also done a good job of giving the Spartans everything they can handle.
In 2012, Sparty escaped with a 31-27 win. Last year, Indiana scored 28 points on Michigan State's defense, which was the best in the nation in just about every major category. That was the most points allowed by Sparty's defense that year.
With a game against Michigan the following week, Indiana could catch Michigan State looking ahead.
Ohio State vs. Minnesota
Saturday, Nov. 15
This is a possible let-down game for Ohio State. The Buckeyes travel to Michigan State the previous week in a rematch of last season's Big Ten championship.
Another bitter loss to the Spartans could put a damper on Ohio State's playoff hopes. And who should be waiting for the Buckeyes the following week? Minnesota, at home.
The Gophers are steadily trending upward under head coach Jerry Kill. The first big victory for the program was last year's upset over Nebraska. Beating the Buckeyes would be a program-changer.
Maryland vs. Michigan
Saturday, Nov. 22
One of the Big Ten's two new members could get a signature win in its first year in the conference. And in one of college football's most storied stadiums, no less.
Maryland travels to Michigan on Nov. 22, a week before the Wolverines end the season against Ohio State. It's a prime opportunity for the Terps to catch head coach Brady Hoke's team looking ahead. Hoke has only lost two games at home since coming to Michigan in 2011—both came last year against Nebraska and Ohio State.
It's still tough to win at Michigan, but the Huskers and Buckeyes showed it could be done. If Maryland can stay healthy this year—a big if under head coach Randy Edsall—it has the talent on offense to stay with the Wolverines.
Looking past Maryland has the potential to be a huge mistake for any team this year.
Penn State vs. Illinois
Saturday, Nov. 22
It's no secret that 2014 is a crucial year for Illinois coach Tim Beckman. To ensure his job is safe for another year, he likely has to match his win total from his first two seasons (six) and become bowl eligible.
Beating Penn State toward the end of the season would be a nice, late-season step to get there. Ideally for the Illini, the offense is clicking by that point in the season and the defense has finally jelled.
With the Nittany Lions transitioning in Year 1 under head coach James Franklin, Illinois could catch Penn State at an opportune time.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. Did we miss any trap games? Think there's no way Ohio State loses to Minnesota? Let us know.