1 Trap Game for Every College Football Team in 2014
If every college football team had complete control over its schedule, you'd see a very distinct pattern of schools splitting up their road trips and ensuring quality opponents aren't lumped together in succession.
It would be kind of like how the SEC does it, where many of the top programs either have a bye week or a walkover nonconference opponent the week before a big game. But not every team has that kind of flexibility, especially when conference offices and television networks get their hands on the schedules and manipulate them in the interest of maximum drama and ratings.
As a result, many teams end up with at least one spot in their schedule that isn't ideal, and a lot of slates often feature a game or two that ends up becoming tougher than it should be. Those are commonly referred to as "trap" games.
Scheduled on a preferred date, at a specific time and without much schedule-driven conflict before or after, most of these games should be penciled in as Ws. But where's the fun in that?
After closely reading the 2014 schedules of each and every FBS team, we've found that one game they should be worried about more than any other. Scroll through to see who will be setting a trap for whom this fall.
Air Force Falcons
Sept. 13 at Georgia State
Air Force is coming off one of the worst seasons in program history, and coach Troy Calhoun's job is on the line heading into 2014. The Falcons can't afford to give away any winnable games, few as they are, and that's especially true of this trip to Atlanta.
Georgia State went 0-12 in its first year of FBS play, and depending on how it fares before this one it could be 0-2 or 2-0. Either way, the Panthers are a dangerous opponent for Air Force in a must-win season.
Oct. 4 vs. Eastern Michigan
Akron nearly pulled off a massive upset at Michigan last season, capitalizing on what was evidently some overconfidence from the home Wolverines. With the Zips looking to get back to a bowl game for the first time since 2005, doing the same to another team could be devastating.
A visit from lowly Eastern Michigan could provide such a situation, since the Eagles have been just as bad (if not worse) for just as long. But EMU has a new coach, Chris Creighton, and new culture, so for Akron to assume it can beat a team it hasn't defeated since 2009 wouldn't be wise.
Alabama Crimson Tide
Oct. 25 at Tennessee
Alabama and Tennessee are locked into the future SEC scheduling rotation as "traditional rivals," though the series has been very lopsided of late. Alabama has won the last seven meetings, and six of them weren't close.
This year's meeting is in Knoxville, Tennessee, and comes on the front end of one of Alabama's pair of two-game road tips. It's also right after the Crimson Tide have hosted Texas A&M and right before they visit LSU after a bye week, so it's in a spot where the Volunteers could manage to avoid Alabama's best effort.
Appalachian State Mountaineers
Oct. 11 vs. Liberty
Now that Appalachian State is officially an FBS program (albeit a transitioning one), does it automatically become susceptible to overlooking FCS opponents? If so, the Mountaineers could face trouble when Liberty comes to Boone, North Carolina, for Homecoming.
Appalachian actually lost four times at home last season, including its 2013 homecoming against Samford. In Liberty it will face a team that went 8-4 last year, is led by former Buffalo and Kansas coach Turner Gill, and has made it known it would like to move into the FBS in the near future.
Can there be a more perfect way to show it's ready than to knock off one of the new FBS teams?
Sept. 4 at UTSA
Arizona is one of a small handful of power-conference teams that doesn't face anyone from another one of the five major FBS leagues, yet the Wildcats might still have one of the more difficult nonconference games thanks to their trip to San Antonio on a short week.
Six days after its opener, Arizona travels to Texas to serve as one of the biggest home opponents ever for UTSA, which is entering its fifth season of college football. The game was moved to Thursday for TV purposes, and the scenario just screams for an upset.
Arizona State Sun Devils
Nov. 15 at Oregon State
The opportunity to host Notre Dame is an occasion that Arizona State had to fight hard to hold on to, after Notre Dame originally made attempts to cancel the three-game series after just one meeting in 2013. Now that the Fighting Irish's visit is locked into this year's schedule, it could prove to be the catalyst for a letdown the week after.
The high of hosting Notre Dame may lead to Arizona State taking its foot off the gas when the Sun Devils visit Oregon State the following week. ASU has struggled in Corvallis, Oregon, losing on its last four trips there, and none of those came after such a potentially emotional contest.
Sept. 20 vs. Northern Illinois
Arkansas has to face some of the most fast-paced teams in the country this season, something coach Bret Bielema is not a fan of. That lineup includes Northern Illinois, which even without star quarterback Jordan Lynch will pose a difficult test.
The Huskies have won 24 games over the past two years, and though Lynch was a major factor in that success, the program is also a solid one with other standout players. Arkansas can't afford to lose at home in the preseason if it wants to get back to a bowl game, regardless of where the opponent comes from.
Arkansas State Red Wolves
Nov. 1 at Idaho
Arkansas State has managed to overcome the adversity of annual coaching changes to win 28 games over the last three seasons, ending all three with bowl appearances despite patchwork staffs. But how will the Red Wolves handle a November trip to the northern Rockies at the tail end of a month away from home?
ASU has played out west before in recent years, opening the 2012 season at Oregon, but that was by choice (and for a nice paycheck). With Idaho and New Mexico State joining the Sun Belt, though, most league teams are forced to play one of those newcomers on the road each year.
ASU will have played at Georgia State and league front-runner Louisiana-Lafayette prior to this one, and might be at risk of having homesickness trump any preparations for the lowly Vandals.
Army Black Knights
Sept. 27 at Yale
It's a rare occasion to see an FBS team play on the road against an FCS opponent, but so it goes for an independent that has had one winning season since 1996 (7-6 in 2010).
The Black Knights open at home against Buffalo but then play three straight on the road. The first two are at Stanford and Wake Forest, so it wouldn't be surprising to see them overlook Yale at the back end of that three-game road trip while looking ahead to a tough Oct. 4 visit from Ball State.
Army has lost to FCS opponents in two of the previous six seasons, falling at home to Stony Brook in 2012 and New Hampshire in 2008.
Sept. 18 at Kansas State
Auburn and Kansas State set up their home-and-home series a long time ago, with the Tigers hosting K-State back in 2007. No one had any idea that the return game would have such significance, but as it stands it's one of the biggest nonconference games on the 2014 schedule.
Auburn isn't challenging itself with its other nonleague games, and with all the tough opponents in the SEC it probably doesn't need to. But while the Tigers are battle-tested to play in the big stadiums of their own conference, having to travel to the Little Apple for a Thursday night game is a completely different atmosphere.
Ball State Cardinals
Oct. 4 at Army
Ball State's impressive 10-win season in 2013 began with a victory over Army, but to assume another one will come this year in West Point is foolish.
The Black Knights were 3-9 a year ago, but they're now coached by Jeff Monken, who last November was at the helm of Georgia Southern when it posted a historic upset win at Florida. That, more than anything, should make the Cardinals leery, not to mention they'll be using a new quarterback this season after several years with the strong-armed Keith Wenning under center.
Sept. 27 at Iowa State
Two of Baylor's most important games this season will come on the road, when the Bears visit Texas and Oklahoma in a quest to repeat as Big 12 champions. Both of those games will require the best possible focus and game-planning from Art Briles and his staff, so much so they might try to use some of the preparation time for the games preceding these clashes.
While that shouldn't be cause for concern ahead of the Oklahoma game, because it means taking some time away from getting ready for Kansas, it could be a problem before traveling to Texas.
Iowa State only won three games last season but was competitive in several others, particularly at home. The Cyclones would love to throw a wrench into Baylor's Big 12 and College Football Playoff plans, and with Mark Mangino running the offense we could see a potential upset in Ames, Iowa.
Boise State Broncos
Sept. 13 at Connecticut
Boise State is one of the first teams that comes to mind when thinking which non-power-conference team will get a slot in the inaugural College Football Playoff's bowl lineup. The Broncos have a chance to help that cause when they open against Ole Miss in Atlanta, but they also need to take care of business with other trips.
The mid-September visit to Connecticut doesn't look tough on the surface, but a second cross-country trip in three weeks (not to mention a noon ET kickoff) could lead to some tired legs and a poor outing.
Boston College Eagles
Aug. 30 at Massachusetts
It makes sense for the only two FBS programs in Massachusetts to face each other, yet this will only be their fourth meeting in the past 30 years. If BC struggles playing on the road against the Minutemen, though, the chances of future meetings beyond scheduled ones in 2016 and 2018 might not happen.
Aside from in-state pride, the game doesn't mean much for the Eagles. It's far more important to UMass, a new FBS program looking to gain some footing. As a result Boston College could be running into a buzz saw to start the 2014 season.
Bowling Green Falcons
Sept. 27 at Massachusetts
Bowling Green won the Mid-American title last year by knocking off unbeaten Northern Illinois in the championship game, though it seemed to have suffered a letdown in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl when it lost to a Pittsburgh team it should have beaten.
If the same kind of situation were to happen this year it would come when the Falcons finish the tail end of their only two-game road trip of the season. Bowling Green isn't expected to win at Wisconsin on the front end, but it might not give enough attention to the back end's trip to Massachusetts.
UMass has only two wins in as many years of FBS competition, and any chance to play any sort of power at home will get the Minutemen pumped up.
Sept. 27 vs. Miami (Ohio)
The departure of stud linebacker Khalil Mack and other strong contributors to last season's bowl team could lead to a down year for Buffalo, but there's enough talent in place that the Bulls should still be able to topple the lower-tier teams in the Mid-American.
But assuming that is a given could prove costly, and when Miami (which was winless last season) comes into town at the tail end of a three-game homestand it could be just the team to catch Buffalo napping. The RedHawks should be much better this year and will not be anywhere near as big a pushover as in 2013.
Sept. 11 vs. Houston
Without a lucrative television contract that comes with being part of a conference, BYU is at the mercy of the networks when it comes to when its games are played. This is very evident in how the Cougars' schedule begins and could lead to a rare home loss.
BYU opens with two straight road games, the second at a Texas team that's going to be out for revenge after last year's embarrassing defeat in Provo, Utah. That will be a hard-fought game, regardless of the result, and BYU will have little time to recover before hosting Houston on a Thursday night for ESPN.
Houston will have had the same gap between its games but will be coming off a clash with lowly FCS Grambling at home.
California Golden Bears
Sept. 6 vs. Sacramento State
California's only win last season was against an FCS team, and even that 37-30 triumph over Portland State wasn't easy. The Golden Bears once again don't have a walkover from the FCS ranks this season, as Sacramento State has twice beaten FBS teams, including Colorado in 2012.
Cal wants to use a high-scoring attack to outrun opponents, but when facing the low-division teams it seems to not mind getting into shootouts. After what should be a tough game the week before at Northwestern, the Bears might be looking a little down and get sloppy.
Central Florida Knights
Nov. 28 at South Florida
When the league now known as the American added Central Florida to a lineup that already had South Florida, the hope was that a rivalry would blossom between two of the state's middle-tier programs. Last year's meeting was only the fifth in the series, and the first won by Central Florida.
UCF didn't give USF much of a thought in dispatching the Bulls last season, but the placement of this late-November trip to the Gulf Coast in between a visit from SMU and what is likely to be a de facto league championship game Dec. 4 at East Carolina makes this contest ripe for a trap scenario.
Central Michigan Chippewas
Oct. 4 vs. Ohio
Most of Central Michigan's toughest games this season will be on the road, including trips to Toledo and Northern Illinois during a three-week span. In between those is a visit from Ohio, a perennial winning program that could get overlooked because of where it sits on the Chippewas' schedule.
CMU slipped into Athens, Ohio, last season and won, so revenge could be on the menu for the Bobcats. The Chippewas have a chance at making a bowl after going 6-6 last year and can't afford to drop many home games.
Oct. 18 at SMU
Cincinnati's 2014 schedule is comprised like that of a team that's really hoping it can impress a selection committee. The Bearcats play at Ohio State and Miami (Florida) in nonconference action, and impressive performances in those games could help solve any sort of tiebreakers that come from not facing all of the top teams in the American.
But Cincinnati's tough early schedule might either deflate its confidence or make it overconfident once league play comes about, making this trip to SMU a dangerous one that might not rate as important in the team's mind as facing power programs.
Nov. 6 at Wake Forest
Clemson's schedule in 2014 is filled with tough challenges from known entities, whether it be the opener against Georgia, the finale against South Carolina, or clashes in the ACC against Florida State, Georgia Tech and Syracuse.
Wake Forest is a familiar face as well, but the Tigers aren't used to the new version of the Demon Deacons coached by Dave Clawson. No one knows exactly what to expect from this team. And though Clemson will have some tape on the Deacons by early November, there's still some uncertainty that will come from the game. Throw in the Thursday night road atmosphere, and the Tigers should be wary of a trap.
Sept. 6 at Massachusetts
While the opponent itself might not be that difficult—Massachusetts is 2-22 in two years of FBS play—the concept of flying across the country for the equivalent of a noon local time kickoff right in between clashes with rival Colorado State and the Pac-12 opener against Arizona State suddenly makes this voyage a lot tougher.
The Buffaloes have lost eight straight on the road, and with struggles of their own the last few years they could be the first victim of the season for a UMass program desperate for positive results.
Colorado State Rams
Nov. 1 at San Jose State
Colorado State's epic comeback to beat Washington State in the New Mexico Bowl was one of the best moments of last year's bowl stretch and gave the Rams great momentum heading into what should be an even better 2014 campaign.
The schedule has good balance, except for a five-game stretch late where four of those are in Fort Collins, Colorado. The Rams should win at least three of those but could slip in the middle on a trip to San Jose, where the Spartans seem to pull off one significant upset (see Fresno State last year) every season.
Nov. 8 vs. Army (in Bronx, New York)
Connecticut has a very ambitious nonconference scheduled for a team that was 3-9 and is breaking in a new coach, Bob Diaco. But the weirdest game of them all is the neutral-site affair with Army right in the middle of the stretch run of league play.
The Huskies will face Army at Yankee Stadium, in between arguably their two biggest American Athletic Conference games: Central Florida and Cincinnati, both at home. With that kind of lineup, an out-of-league game against a struggling Army program might not get as much attention.
Duke Blue Devils
Nov. 8 at Syracuse
Now that Duke has risen from the doldrums of college football to become a solid program—one that's made back-to-back bowl games and played for a conference title in the past two seasons—the Blue Devils also have to learn how to handle the role of the hunted.
That means having to be prepared for taking everyone's best shot, especially on the road. The Devils face teams that had .500-or-better records last year in each of their five away games, capped by the road finale at Syracuse. They've never played in the Carrier Dome. Combine that with Syracuse's penchant for solid defense, and it could be a long trip home afterward.
East Carolina Pirates
Nov. 28 at Tulsa
East Carolina has a strong familiarity with many of its American opponents this year, since most were in Conference USA in the past. With that being said, the Pirates know what will be in store during their season-ending clash against defending league champion Central Florida.
They also know what playing at Tulsa is like, but with the stakes being as high as anticipated for that Dec. 4 contest, the chance of overlooking a visit to the Panhandle State is possible.
Eastern Michigan Eagles
Sept. 13 at Old Dominion
As one of the worst-performing FBS programs of the past decade, Eastern Michigan needs revenue from lopsided road games to help its budget. That continues this year, with the Eagles playing at Florida and Michigan State in September.
But in between, EMU also visits Old Dominion, a transitioning FBS program that has never hosted a team from the FBS ranks before. Of the three straight road games, this is the one the Eagles might have the least amount of energy for.
Nov. 8 at Vanderbilt
Florida only has to play four true road games this season, including just three outside its home state. Only one of those occurs during the final two months of the schedule, but that trip to Vanderbilt won't be an easy one.
Many players who were on the Commodores team that registered a historic win in Gainesville, Florida, last season are still around, as are many Gators players. For a program looking to turn around after the horrible 2013 campaign, exorcising such past demons can help; losing to the same team again can only make it worse.
Florida Atlantic Owls
Sept. 13 vs. Tulsa
Florida Atlantic only gets five home games this season, as its football budget requires playing revenue-generating games at Nebraska, Alabama and Wyoming in September. Tucked into there, too, is a visit from Tulsa that shouldn't get overlooked.
Tulsa might have gone 3-9 last year but is expected to be much better this season as it moves from Conference USA to the American. The Golden Hurricane would benefit well from an early road win, and if FAU isn't prepared it could start 0-4 and have its season ruined almost before it starts.
Florida International Golden Panthers
Sept. 27 at UAB
If college football used the same scheduling format as the NFL, Florida International would have a much easier slate in 2014 than it's been dealt after going 1-11 a year ago. But the Golden Panthers also get most of the tough ones at home, part of an eight-game home schedule.
The road trips don't begin until the fifth week, and that's the one that could be most troublesome. UAB was just as bad as FIU in 2013, going 2-10, but the Blazers have a new coach in Bill Clark and will have marked this game as a great chance to get a victory.
Florida State Seminoles
Oct. 30 at Louisville
As the defending national champions, it's fair to say that every game in 2014 is a potential trap for Florida State. Opponents will want to knock off the title holders and lay claim to part of the crown, so no game will be easy as far as the foe's effort goes.
Looking at the competition aspect of these games, the toughest spot for FSU this fall will be when it heads to Louisville just before Halloween. Coming 12 days after a nationally significant clash with Notre Dame, the Seminoles will have just gone through a major battle under the spotlights. They'll be prepared for the Cardinals as well, but the atmosphere will be one that could make a loss very possible.
Fresno State Bulldogs
Oct. 11 at UNLV
Whether Fresno can defend its Mountain West title depends on if it can find a replacement for all of the offense lost when quarterback Derek Carr graduated and wide receiver Davante Adams turned pro. If adequate replacements can step in, the Bulldogs should be a contender again.
Midway through the year Fresno will face San Diego State and Boise in a three-week stretch, but in between is a visit to UNLV that could be a major pitfall if too much time is spent focusing on the more notable opponents.
Oct. 18 at Arkansas
Georgia fans don't have a lot of memories associated with games involving Arkansas outside of the 2002 SEC championship game, won by the Bulldogs. The crossover nature of the SEC scheduling will make this the first game between the teams since 2010 and the Bulldogs' first trip to Arkansas since 2009.
Georgia hasn't lost in Fayetteville in three previous meetings, but the Bulldogs are heading there on the back end of a two-game swing that starts in Missouri and sits on the schedule just before a much-anticipated bye week. The possibility of daydreaming about time off could affect the performance.
Georgia Southern Eagles
Oct. 4 at New Mexico State
Georgia Southern somehow manages to avoid the two strongest programs in the Sun Belt during its first season of FBS play. But even without having to face Arkansas State or Louisiana-Lafayette, the Eagles' schedule includes numerous challenges, including a rare trip west.
The visit to Las Cruces, New Mexico, comes in between home games against fellow FBS newcomer Appalachian State and woeful Idaho, a trio of contests that are all winnable. But having to make the 1,458-mile trip in between might lead to more than just jet lag.
Georgia State Panthers
Aug. 27 vs. Abilene Christian
Georgia State has never won a game as an FBS team, having gone 0-12 last season in its first year transitioning to major college football. But that could all change before anyone else in FBS plays a game this fall, as the Panthers host the season's first contest on the schedule.
But Abilene Christian shouldn't be discounted, despite having just moved up from Division II to FCS in 2013. The Wildcats went 6-5 last season, including 3-2 against FCS opponents, and played New Mexico State to the wire last November.
This is GSU's best chance to get that first win, and if it just assumes a victory it could lead to another winless season.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Sept. 6 at Tulane
No one wants to be the first of anything, especially if it's something bad. For Georgia Tech, it gets to be the first team that Tulane hosts in its new on-campus stadium and may very well be the Green Wave's first victim in that facility.
Georgia Tech struggled on the road in hostile environments last season, losing badly at BYU, Clemson and Miami (Florida). It stands to reason that the Tulane crowd will be amped up for this inaugural game, so it could be another rough go for the Yellow Jackets away from home.
Hawaii Rainbow Warriors
Sept. 13 vs. Northern Iowa
Traveling to Hawaii is no longer as enticing to power-conference programs, especially with the advent of conference title games during the weeks in early December when some of those teams used to make a late trip to the islands. Because of that, the Warriors have had to pick up some FCS opponents the last few years, and this time around they scheduled a very dangerous one.
Northern Iowa opened last season with a win at Iowa State and is a trendy pick to do the same to start this year at Iowa. With that kind of ability, Hawaii better not overlook the Panthers in advance of road games at Colorado and Rice.
Oct. 11 at Memphis
Houston started off hot in 2013 and then tailed off during the second half of the season. Another fast start is possible, as could be another sluggish finish if the Cougars can't avoid slipping after big games.
Houston hosts Central Florida on Oct. 2, a game that can set the tone early in the American. Nine days later the Cougars have to visit a Memphis team that's much better than last year's 3-9 record would indicate and has the kind of defense that can shut down a potent passing game.
Sept. 13 vs. Western Michigan
For a team that went 1-11 a year ago as a (forced) independent and was outscored 46-18 on average, trap games don't really exist.
But now that the Vandals are in a conference—even if it is the geographically challenged Sun Belt—they might be focusing too much on their league opponents and forgetting about the one nonconference team they were able to work out a deal to have them travel to.
Western Michigan was also 1-11 in 2013, but the Broncos should be trending upward thanks to players like wide receiver Corey Davis. As a true freshman he had 941 receiving yards and six touchdowns, and he should feast on an Idaho pass defense that probably won't be that good.
Illinois Fighting Illini
Sept. 6 vs. Western Kentucky
For Illinois to get back to a bowl game it needs to win as many nonconference affairs as possible each season, but the slate in 2014 isn't very kind to that goal. Besides a trip to Washington, the Illini have to host a dangerous Western Kentucky team that shouldn't be considered a pushover.
The Hilltoppers have a good quarterback who will try to light up Illinois' suspect pass defense, and if the home team isn't able to match those points it could be a long day in Champaign, Illinois.
Nov. 15 at Rutgers
Indiana has spent a long time serving as one of the Big Ten's doormats, but with a pair of new teams in the league this year the Hoosiers have a chance to move up in the overall standings. But that also means being able to beat those new guys, particularly one that will possibly be looking for its first-ever conference victory.
Rutgers has a tough schedule for its first year, and Indiana is probably the most winnable game on its slate. It wouldn't hold as much prestige as beating someone like Michigan or Ohio State, but the Scarlet Knights should still be pumped for this chance.
Nov. 15 at Illinois
Iowa's 2014 conference schedule is back-loaded with three tough games over the final month. The Hawkeyes have to visit Minnesota while also getting to host Wisconsin and Nebraska, with a trip to Illinois thrown in there as well.
The Fighting Illini have had only one conference victory in the last two seasons, but that doesn't mean they don't put up a good fight at home. Iowa was an impressive 4-1 on the road in 2013 but could very well be in line for a letdown performance on this trip due to the games surrounding it.
Iowa State Cyclones
Aug. 30 vs. North Dakota State
If Iowa State isn't aware of what North Dakota State has managed to accomplish the last few years, its entire coaching staff should get fired. We know the Cyclones will be ready for the three-time defending FCS champions, who have beat an FBS team in each of the past five years, but that still doesn't mean they're not susceptible to an upset.
Iowa State lost at home to Northern Iowa to start last year, setting the tone for a 3-9 campaign. This is a no-win situation, where even a victory might not be considered that great because it's against an FCS foe.
Sept. 13 at Duke
When Kansas scheduled a stretched-out home-and-home series with Duke, the Jayhawks were at the peak of their program and Duke was a perennial doormat. That was in the mid-2000s, and the teams first met in 2009 in Lawrence, Kansas.
Now comes the return game, and Kansas has a 27-game road losing streak. Duke is coming off a 10-win season and a spot in the ACC championship game—not exactly what the Jayhawks were looking for from this series. And it's not the game that's likely to end Kansas' long road skid.
Kansas State Wildcats
Sept. 27 vs. UTEP
This is the third straight season that Kansas State doesn't play a nonconference road game, and while its home slate includes a great game against Auburn, the other two opponents aren't much to write home about. Worst of the lot is UTEP, one of the worst programs in FBS last year.
Yet UTEP comes to Manhattan in between the big Auburn game and another home contest against Texas Tech. Both of those are much more important to K-State's 2014 goals, yet the potential for a letdown and a devastating result is more prevalent when the Wildcats host the Miners.
Kent State Golden Flashes
Oct. 11 vs. Massachusetts
There will likely be a lot of wound-licking going on when Kent State finally returns home following a three-game, four-week road trip to Ohio State, Virginia and Northern Illinois. Each of those are likely to be losses, and all the bumps and bruises will have piled up.
Hosting a team like Massachusetts right after that should be a blessing, but it could also be a curse if the Golden Flashes are too banged up to give a program with back-to-back 1-11 records the proper amount of preparation.
Sept. 6 vs. Ohio
Aside from the well-placed finale at Louisville, Kentucky's nonconference schedule isn't anything to write home about. But for a program that's had four straight losing seasons, it's more about collecting wins than registering impressive victories outside of league play.
Ohio is by no means a juggernaut, but as the toughest of the remaining out-of-conference opponents, the Bobcats will pose the biggest test. Coached by Frank Solich, the former Nebraska coach, the Bobcats have knocked off Marshall the past two seasons and took down Penn State in 2012.
Sept. 20 at Florida International
Louisville has finally completed its long journey from the lower leagues of FBS to a power conference, joining the ACC this year. But the Cardinals still have some games scheduled that aren't normally befitting of a power program, such as this year's trip to Florida International.
The Golden Panthers were 1-11 last year and got destroyed at Louisville, and if they're even the slightest bit better this season the opportunity to pull off a major upset of a power team could shoot this program forward like nothing else. It's not apt to happen, but if Louisville discounts the opponent there could be some fireworks in South Florida.
Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns
Oct. 14 at Texas State
The reigning Sun Belt champs are building one of the best non-power programs in FBS, and with scheduled games against Boise State and Ole Miss the Ragin' Cajuns have some chances to assert themselves as a real contender for the at-large berth in the College Football Playoff.
But ULL can't afford any losses, which means overlooking some of the teams within the Sun Belt wouldn't be wise. The league proved very unpredictable at times last season, and this midyear trip to San Marcos, Texas, is tougher than it looks thanks to the presence of veteran coach Dennis Franchione and a program on the verge of finally getting into a bowl game.
If ULL is truly an elite mid-major program, it can't afford to slip in such a game.
Nov. 8 at Appalachian State
Louisiana-Monroe has trips to Kentucky, LSU and Texas A&M on its schedule, a trio of games in which the Warhawks will very likely be overlooked. For them to do the same to someone else shouldn't happen, but it might when traveling to the mountains a week after visiting Kyle Field in College Station, Texas.
ULM was actually better on the road (4-3) than at home (2-3) last year, a sign that complacency is possible for this program. The Warhawks haven't faced Appalachian State since joining the FBS 20 years ago, so the lack of familiarity with the team and venue could lead to disaster if preparations aren't done right.
Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
Oct. 25 at Southern Miss
The departure of East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa leaves Conference USA very wide open for the league's two berths, and after a down 2013 season Louisiana Tech should contend for one of those spots. But the Bulldogs will need to make sure they win the games they're supposed to, especially against clubs that were 1-11 a year ago.
Southern Miss was horrible until erupting in its season finale to beat UAB and appears to be trending upward. The Golden Eagles' best hope this season is to pick off some teams that overlook them, which Louisiana Tech could be doing in between visits from UTSA and Western Kentucky.
Nov. 15 at Arkansas
For the first time in nearly 20 years, LSU won't wrap up its regular-season slate with a game against Arkansas. No longer considered the Tigers' geographic rival, as far as scheduling goes, the annual clash with the Razorbacks has been moved up two weeks in favor of a more TV-friendly matchup with Texas A&M.
We saw how close LSU came to losing at home to Arkansas last year, when the game had more attention on it. Now just another piece of the SEC schedule puzzle and on the road this season, it might get overlooked in between the big ones against Alabama and A&M before and after.
Marshall Thundering Herd
Sept. 20 at Akron
Marshall's nonconference schedule is very heavy on teams from Ohio, as three of the four contests are against Mid-American schools from that state. All of them should be wins for the Thundering Herd, but rising Akron could pose a stiff test.
Akron went 5-7 last year and is poised to have its first .500-or-better season since 2005. Being able to knock off a program that won 10 games in 2013 would be a huge accomplishment, and the game will get treated by the Zips as one of their most important on the home slate.
Sept. 6 at South Florida
With all of Maryland's focus on the move to the Big Ten, the nonconference slate it lined up for this first year in a new conference hasn't gotten much attention outside of the rivalry game with West Virginia. That's the kind of thing South Florida can capitalize on, especially when it's trying to rebound from a horrible 2013 season.
The Terrapins traditionally don't do well with long road trips, having lost every game played in Florida since 2007. This game is bigger to South Florida than it is to Maryland, and the trap could already be getting set by the Bulls.
Oct. 4 at Miami (Ohio)
Massachusetts gets to host four of its toughest opponents this season, opening with Boston College and Colorado and also having Mid-American powers Ball State and Bowling Green come to town. While winning any of these games for a program with only two victories in two FBS seasons will be difficult, they'll still be the ones the Minutemen are most focused on.
That leaves less preparation for some of the more winnable games, especially those on the road. UMass' only victory last year was at home to winless Miami, and it was a close one. It's a great shot at a victory again this season but shouldn't be considered automatic.
Nov. 7 at Temple
Memphis is familiar with most of the teams in its league, since what used to be Conference USA has pretty much become the American. But the Tigers have never played in Philadelphia, and having to go there late in the season is a recipe for disaster.
Memphis made one trip to the Northeast late in its first season in the American last year and lost at Connecticut. Another voyage to that part of the country doesn't fit with the rest of November and is a prime spot for the Tigers to struggle.
Miami (Florida) Hurricanes
Sept. 13 vs. Arkansas State
Miami (Florida) enters the 2014 season with a sour taste still left over from how 2013 ended—with a broken-down offense and some bad losses. Getting off to a great start in 2014 will help erase that, though the schedule isn't kind.
Even after the opener against Louisville, the Hurricanes face other challenges, including ones that might not seem tough on the surface. But when Arkansas State comes into town it will be a week after Miami likely has rolled over FCS Florida A&M, and the Hurricanes could be swelling with overconfidence. The Red Wolves are no pushovers and could capitalize on complacency for a huge upset.
Miami (Ohio) RedHawks
Sept. 6 vs. Eastern Kentucky
Miami is riding a 16-game losing streak, a skid that will likely hit 17 after the RedHawks open against Marshall. But there's an end in sight, thanks to the visit from FCS Eastern Kentucky—though it shouldn't be considered a given.
EKU went 6-6 last season, and the Colonels will be looking at this game as a chance to collect their first victory over an FBS team since 1985.
Sept. 13 vs. Miami (Ohio)
It would be easy to list the opener against Appalachian State as the trap game on Michigan's 2014 schedule, but we're trying not to conjure up bad memories for Wolverines fans. Instead, it's a visit from a team that was 0-12 a year ago that could be the most tenuous.
Seeing how Michigan played last year at home against Akron, nearly losing in the final moments, the team is susceptible to playing down to the level of competition. The RedHawks were winless last season but feature a new coach and a likely starting quarterback that both came from Notre Dame. And the Wolverines will have just traveled to Notre Dame for possibly the last time the week before.
Michigan State Spartans
Nov. 15 at Maryland
As the defending Big Ten champions, Michigan State will have a major target on its back. The Spartans will have a good idea of what's in store for 2014 with an early trip to Oregon, as well as the many tough opponents they'll face in conference play.
MSU will also serve as "the" game on the schedule of many teams' home slates, including Maryland. The Terrapins will be looking to make a major splash in their first year in the Big Ten and will have this mid-November visit circled on the calendar.
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
Nov. 29 at UTEP
Middle Tennessee gets a favorable schedule draw when it comes to crossover games in Conference USA, getting to face two of the weakest teams from the West Division to balance out the tough ones it's forced to play from the East. But that means having to make the trip to El Paso, Texas, at the end of the season, when bowl-eligibility scenarios will be in play.
UTEP went 2-10 last year but did benefit from Florida International's long travel to pick up a win in that situation. It's not as far for MTSU to go, but the complacency that can come with a road trip against a weak opponent could spell disaster for the Blue Raiders.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Sept. 13 at TCU
Minnesota's season didn't end on a high note, as the Golden Gophers dropped three straight after an 8-2 start. The three-game losing streak included a loss to Syracuse in the Texas Bowl. Now, another trip to the Lone Star State stands in the way of the Golden Gophers posting a third consecutive 4-0 nonconference record.
TCU needs all the wins it can get outside of Big 12 play to become bowl eligible, and getting a chance to knock off a power-conference foe along the way will do wonders for future confidence. Minnesota has dropped games in Texas (both bowls) each of the last two years and wouldn't want to make that three in a row.
Sept. 13 vs. Louisiana-Lafayette
Ole Miss has managed to capitalize on its nonconference schedule to get the wins it's needed the last two years to secure bowl eligibility. That might be harder this season, not just because of an opener against Boise State but also because of a visit from a very tough mid-major foe.
Louisiana-Lafayette is the class of the Sun Belt and as a rising program is just a victory over a power team away from becoming the next Boise State. The Ragin' Cajuns will look at this game as a real chance to make a statement, and if Ole Miss treats them like Memphis or Presbyterian (its other non-league opponents) we could see ULL get that big win it's been searching for.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
Sept. 13 at South Alabama
Mississippi State doesn't have the same level of prestige as most of the other SEC programs, but it's still surprising to see that it would end up scheduling a series that requires it to travel to a program outside the five power conferences. For it to be pitted against a team in just its third season of FBS play is even more surprising.
The Bulldogs' trip to Mobile, Alabama, will instantly become the biggest home game in South Alabama history, even more so if the Jaguars can manage to pull off the upset. And with MSU set to visit LSU the following week, the chance of overlooking the Sun Belt foe is possible.
Sept. 6 at Toledo
Long before Gary Pinkel was leading Missouri into the SEC title game, he was coaching Toledo to several successful seasons in the Mid-American. He hasn't been back to coach a game since leaving there in 2001, but now gets a chance to return to those old stomping grounds as the enemy.
Toledo has knocked off some name opponents at the Glass Bowl over the years, but Missouri would be the best of the bunch if the Rockets were to pull off the upset. The Tigers might be down a bit from last year's lofty season and could be ripe for a knockout.
Nov. 28 at South Alabama
Navy clinched bowl eligibility (and a spot in the Armed Forces Bowl) last year with a win over South Alabama, and depending on how the schedule pans out this season that same scenario could present itself again.
If Navy were to head to Mobile on Thanksgiving weekend in need of a win, it would mean having sat around since a Nov. 15 game against Georgia Southern thinking about the situation.
Adding to the complexities: Navy already has an arrangement to play in the Poinsettia Bowl in December if it becomes eligible, but if the Midshipmen aren't at six wins after this game they won't get a chance to get there until the Dec. 13 game against rival Army.
Bowl bids will be finalized on Dec. 7, meaning the Poinsettia (and likely other bowls) would need to have a contingency plan in place in case Navy failed to meet its commitment.
Sept. 13 at Fresno State
Nebraska will spend almost the entire first month of the season camped out inside Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, playing four of its first five games there. But the one trip away from home looms large, because Fresno State will be jumping at the chance to knock out a Big Ten team.
The game in California is a rare one for the Cornhuskers, who have visited the state five times for bowl games (including in 2009 and 2010 for the Holiday Bowl in San Diego), but are making just their second trip to the Golden State for a regular-season game in the past 15 years.
Nevada Wolf Pack
Oct. 25 at Hawaii
Last year was a rare down season for Nevada, which made the transition from longtime coach Chris Ault to Brian Polian while also battling injuries. A turnaround is expected this year, with the Wolf Pack looking to get back into the bowl picture.
Getting those necessary six wins won't be easy against a schedule that features two Pac-12 opponents as well as games against six other programs that made bowls last season. That means Nevada can't afford to drop a winnable game, like the trip to Hawaii that comes right after visiting BYU and just before hosting San Diego State.
New Mexico Lobos
Oct. 4 at UTSA
New Mexico's rough 2013 season got off to a bad start with a home loss to UTSA last year, so you'd think the Lobos would have that memory fresh when preparing for the return trip to San Antonio.
But the way New Mexico's schedule is set up, the game against the Roadrunners falls smack dab in between home games against Mountain West powers Fresno State and San Diego State. Those will take on much more importance than a nonconference game, which might make a likely loss that much more likely.
New Mexico State Aggies
Oct. 18 at Idaho
The innocent victim in the realignment craze, New Mexico has gone from being in the Western Athletic Conference to an independent to somehow a part of the Sun Belt. Yet through it all, one constant has remained: Idaho.
The teams have faced each other each of the past nine seasons, and NMSU has claimed three of those contests. That accounts for about 15 percent of the Aggies' 22 wins during that span, including two in the past three years.
In a season full of unfamiliar opponents, NMSU could fall victim to thinking it knows the Vandals so well it doesn't have to plan for them. But the Aggies have lost the last five times they've traveled to Moscow, Idaho.
North Carolina Tar Heels
Sept. 20 at East Carolina
It's very unlikely that North Carolina is going to head to Greenville, North Carolina, without some lasting memories of last season's home loss to East Carolina. Even still, that doesn't mean even the most prepared team isn't susceptible to falling into a trap.
East Carolina has moved up from Conference USA to American, and after 10 wins last season the Pirates could do the same again this year and get that coveted College Football Playoff spot awarded to a non-power conference team. To do so, they'll need to knock off a big boy, and UNC would be a nice triumph to showcase.
North Carolina State Wolfpack
Sept. 13 at South Florida
North Carolina State is coming off a winless ACC season in 2013, though it fared well in nonleague play other than a loss to East Carolina. The Wolfpack should win a couple in the conference this season, but to get to a bowl they'll need to claim every out-of-league matchup.
South Florida won't be so obliging and will look at the visit from NC State as a good place to score a win over a power program. Granted, NC State hasn't been that good of late, but it would still be an accomplishment for the Bulls, and the Wolfpack need to be prepared for such a scenario.
North Texas Mean Green
Sept. 11 vs. Louisiana Tech
Usually, the conference opener wouldn't be the kind of game a team isn't prepared for. But when it comes five days after the last contest—one that North Texas may very well win against SMU—the situation is there.
Louisiana Tech won't be a pushover, and the Mean Green have to prepare as such. But after what could be an emotional game the week before in what's essentially a battle for Dallas-area supremacy, it wouldn't be out of the question to see a letdown.
Northern Illinois Huskies
Nov. 18 at Ohio
After two years of the Jordan Lynch show, Northern Illinois should come back down to earth but still compete for Mid-American division and conference titles. To do so, it'll need to avoid the kind of pitfalls that come with playing on the road after a pair of tough opponents.
The Huskies will be coming off back-to-back games against Ball State and Toledo, teams that should also contend in the MAC. The same goes for Ohio, though the Bobcats are probably the least worrisome of the trio and could get overlooked as NIU heads toward the final stretch.
Nov. 22 at Purdue
Northwestern has traditionally struggled against fellow private school Purdue, though the teams haven't met since 2010, so the Wildcats haven't had a chance to pick on the Boilermakers during their downward trend.
Northwestern's visit to West Lafayette this season comes right after it visits Notre Dame, making for back-to-back Saturdays spent in the state of Indiana. It's also the week before the rivalry game with Indiana, back at home, and therefore could lead to the Wildcats dwelling on the past or looking to the future instead of paying Purdue its proper mind.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Oct. 11 vs. North Carolina
Notre Dame faces a schedule in 2014 that features 10 bowl teams, three conference-title holders and the defending national champions. With that kind of a lineup on the way, it's hard to really consider one game as a trap for the Fighting Irish.
But if one had to be chosen, it would be North Carolina's visit to South Bend, Indiana. It marks the final game of a season-opening stretch where Notre Dame plays three times at home and twice at neutral sites, and it is also smack dab in between a visit from rival Stanford and a trip to Florida State.
The emotions of the week before and the anticipation of the game ahead could spell disaster if Notre Dame tries to overlook UNC, one of the hottest teams in the country when last season ended.
Sept. 27 vs. Eastern Illinois
Ohio hasn't lost to an FCS team since 2002, but that could change this year when the Bobcats play host to one of the more explosive programs at that level. Eastern Illinois blew out San Diego State and nearly beat Northern Illinois last season, and this year also gets a chance to take out Minnesota on the road.
Games this like are huge for the FCS teams, and for the home school they're not given as much attention. This is why so many FCS teams are winning against the big brothers, and for Ohio the presence of this game just before getting into Mid-American play for the rest of the season is a recipe for disaster.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Aug. 30 at Navy
Ohio State has been making forays away from home for nonconference games the last few seasons and has future trips to Oklahoma, Oregon, Virginia Tech and Texas on the books. All of those should be tough, but before any of those happen the Buckeyes have to open this year against a dangerous Navy team.
Quarterback Keenan Reynolds is as good a runner as OSU's Braxton Miller, and last year he ran for 31 touchdowns. Throw in the presence of Navy's option game, and the Buckeyes don't exactly get to coast into the 2014 season like in years past.
This could very well provide us with the first major upset of the season.
Sept. 6 at Tulsa
Oklahoma makes a rare trip across the state for a game with the Golden Hurricane, playing in Tulsa for the first time since 2007. The Sooners have played a nonconference road game most seasons, but this one has a little extra to it because of the in-state bragging rights.
Tulsa is coming off a 3-9 season, but as it moves into the American it would love to have the chance to put together a program-defining victory. Oklahoma isn't likely to overlook the Hurricane, but with bigger games looming such as against Tennessee and the Big 12 slate, it's possible the Sooners won't put forth their best effort.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
Oct. 18 at TCU
Oklahoma State opens the season with a game against defending champion Florida State and ends with a four-game stretch of Kansas State, Texas, Baylor and Oklahoma. In between, the Cowboys look to have it pretty easy.
The one hiccup could come at the tail end of a two-game road trip in October, with OSU following up a visit to Kansas by playing at TCU. The Horned Frogs should be better than what was seen in 2013, and that team held OSU's potent offense to just 24 points in a loss.
TCU provides the biggest midseason challenge for OSU, and like last season's loss at West Virginia it could mean the difference between a good season and one that involves championships.
Old Dominion Monarchs
Sept. 26 vs. Middle Tennessee
Old Dominion isn't eligible for the Conference USA title this season while completing its transition from FCS, but the Monarchs get to play a full schedule and will impact who does claim division championships. They get to play both of last year's division winners, Rice and Marshall, in a three-week span.
In between, though, is a dangerous Middle Tennessee team that should be contending for the East Division lead and will be looking at the trip to Norfolk, Virginia, as a great way to pick up a road win. As exciting as getting to play Marshall and Rice will be, ODU has to make sure not to forget about the opponent in the middle.
Oct. 24 at California
Oregon has won five in a row over California, as the teams have moved in opposite directions over the last decade. That trend continued last season when the Ducks dismantled the Sonny Dykes-led Golden Bears 55-16.
Whether Cal is improved from last year's 1-11 squad remains to be seen, but what is known at this point is that Oregon has shown a tendency over the years to play down to opponents after having played a big game. The Ducks will be coming off a stretch in which they visit UCLA and then host rival Washington, and the Cal trip also comes right before the big showdown with Stanford.
If there's any game in that span that will draw a reduced amount of effort, it's the Cal game.
Oregon State Beavers
Sept. 20 vs. San Diego State
Part of Oregon State's great first half of the 2013 season involved a comeback win in San Diego, one of the few times a team was able to hold off the Aztecs late in a game. The return contest should be just as exciting, and for OSU it provides a dangerous challenge just before Pac-12 play begins.
The Beavers start their conference schedule the following week at USC, a huge game to set the tone for the rest of the season. Looking ahead to that game could lead to a lackluster effort against SDSU, which wouldn't be wise, considering the Aztecs' track record the last few seasons of hanging with (or beating) strong programs.
Penn State Nittany Lions
Sept. 13 at Rutgers
Back before Penn State joined the Big Ten, and even for a bit afterward, it used to consider Rutgers as an annual whipping boy to help pad its record. The Nittany Lions are 22-2 all time against the Scarlet Knights, last losing to them in 1988.
But now both schools are in the Big Ten, and PSU's visit to New Jersey signifies the first conference game for Rutgers as a Big Ten program. It's a perfect made-for-TV scenario, but it's also one where the emotions of what PSU used to do to the Knights until the series ended in 1995 could lead to a hostile environment for the visitors.
Sept. 27 vs. Akron
Pittsburgh's schedule floats in and out of league play during the first month, with its second game of the year at an ACC opponent. Three more nonconference games follow that, the last of which might get overlooked as the Panthers prepare for the remainder of their conference tussles.
Akron nearly won at Michigan last season, and the short trip into Pennsylvania might bring a decent amount of Zips fans. Pitt plays in an NFL stadium, losing some of the intimacy of a college venue. If Akron can get the crowd on its side in a game the Panthers might not be giving their full effort in, an upset is possible.
Sept. 6 vs. Central Michigan
Purdue is 24-7 all time against teams currently in the Mid-American Conference, including 10-0 against the so-called "directional" schools from Michigan. With that in mind, it's no surprise the Boilermakers loaded up on MAC schools in nonconference play this year by opening against Western and Central Michigan.
Western Michigan might not be too tough for the Boilermakers to handle, but the following week a visit from a sneaky Central Michigan team could send Purdue back into the doldrums that it spent most of the 2013 season in.
Nov. 29 at Louisiana Tech
It's not likely that this game will decide the Conference USA West Division, but if Rice is going to defend its title it cannot afford to drop the regular-season finale in Ruston, Louisiana.
Louisiana Tech could be in position to become bowl eligible and therefore might need this game as much as the Owls do. And if Rice has already locked up a division title, it could end up discounting the Bulldogs and looking ahead to the following week's conference championship.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Sept. 20 at Navy
Rutgers' first season as a member of the Big Ten isn't expected to be an easy one, as the Scarlet Knights have one ridiculous stretch where they face powers Ohio State, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Michigan State in a five-week span. But even more troubling could be the placement of a long-ago-scheduled trip to Navy.
Navy knocked off a pair of power-conference teams a year ago, and with Rutgers becoming part of that group this season the Midshipmen will ramp up their intensity for this clash. Being able to say it beat another Big Ten team, no matter how new that team is to the conference, will be a source of pride for Navy.
San Diego State Aztecs
Oct. 10 at New Mexico
A big piece of the Mountain West's West Division puzzle might have been decided the week before San Diego State travels to Albuquerque, New Mexico, as the Aztecs will have visited Fresno State in a battle between the top two teams from that division from a year ago.
Regardless of the outcome of that game, it will be hard for SDSU to get as pumped for the follow-up against the Lobos, who were 3-9 a year ago. Nothing screams trap game like a lack of intensity directed toward an opponent.
San Jose State Spartans
Oct. 25 at Navy
San Jose State was bowl-eligible last season, but going 6-6 wasn't good enough to get an invite. It could be this year, but the Spartans have a very tough schedule that features a rather ill-timed trip back east for an early kickoff.
A year ago the Spartans lost a triple-overtime thriller at home to Navy, so they should be pumped to play in Annapolis, Maryland. It's more a matter of when the game is—both on the schedule and during that particular day—as it's slated in between a trip to Wyoming and a visit from Colorado State and played at the equivalent of 10 a.m. local time.
Sept. 6 at North Texas
SMU will have as good a chance as any team to lay claim to Texas state football supremacy this season, as five of the Mustangs' opponents (including the first four) are in-state foes.
But with early clashes at Baylor and home tilts with Texas A&M and TCU, lost in the shuffle is a trip across the Dallas Metroplex to North Texas. The Mean Green are worthy of as much attention as those other teams but won't get it and could capitalize on that.
South Alabama Jaguars
Nov. 15 vs. Texas State
South Alabama finished 6-6 in its second season of FBS play in 2013, an amazing accomplishment for the program. Now that bowl eligibility is a viable goal, the Jaguars will be fighting hard to get an invite this season.
With that being said, the team cannot afford to give away any winnable games, and after having to travel to Sun Belt powers Louisiana-Lafayette and Arkansas State in back-to-back weeks, the wear and tear from those contests could lead to a letdown performance at home.
The Jaguars lost 33-31 at Texas State last year, so losing at home is possible.
South Carolina Gamecocks
Nov. 22 vs. South Alabama
The SEC tradition of scheduling a pushover opponent the week before those final rivalry games blew up in one team's face last year, with Florida falling to Georgia Southern in an epic upset. South Carolina might not face the same fate this November, but it's also not apt to record the kind of blowouts it usually gets in this game slot.
South Alabama is a fast-rising FBS newcomer, having gone 6-6 a year ago. The Jaguars have lost to an SEC team each of the past two years but in 2013 fell only by seven points at Tennessee.
At the very least, the result will be far closer than the 70-10 result the Gamecocks notched against Coastal Carolina last season.
South Florida Bulls
Oct. 18 at Tulsa
South Florida's first year under Willie Taggart was a forgettable one, with the Bulls going 2-10 and posting one of the worst offensive performances in FBS in 2013. If things are going to improve this fall, USF will need to find a way to knock off all of the losing teams on its schedule.
That includes being able to muster enough power to win at Tulsa in between games with American powers East Carolina and Cincinnati. Winning on the road will be tough enough, but at that point in the schedule it seems almost impossible.
Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles
Sept. 20 vs. Appalachian State
Southern Mississippi was so bad for most of last season it became almost every opponent's trap game, but the Golden Eagles weren't capable of maximizing that opportunity until the season finale against UAB. With USM looking to improve this season, though, it could be on the other end of the trap.
Appalachian State has moved into FBS this season and can use the momentum that comes from wins over any team at the upper level, no matter their record from the year before. USM has to recognize that or it will become a victim to the newcomers.
Oct. 10 vs. Washington State
Stanford has won its last six meetings with Washington State, one of the many teams it has dominated within the Pac-12 of late. But the Cougars won't be getting much of the Cardinal's focus because of what Stanford has to deal with before and after that matchup.
The Cardinal will be coming off their biannual trip to Notre Dame, a game with national implications when it comes to playoff spots and reputation. Then, after Wazzu is a visit to Arizona State and the site of where Stanford won the Pac-12 championship over the Sun Devils last December. It would be easy for the rising Cougars to get overlooked, but not for long as their pass-happy attack tries to light up the scoreboard on a Friday night.
Sept. 13 at Central Michigan
In securing a pair of future home games to fill the nonconference schedule, Syracuse made the uncommon choice to play a game at a Mid-American team as part of the series. Even more surprising, the Orange agreed to head to Mountain Pleasant before Central Michigan would play in the Carrier Dome.
CMU doesn't get many chances to host power programs—though it does have future games at home against Oklahoma State and Kansas—and it will no doubt draw a strong crowd for this game. The Chippewas were 6-6 a year ago but were left out of the bowl picture. However, grabbing a win against an ACC team would help build their resume for this season's bowl invites.
TCU Horned Frogs
Sept. 27 at SMU
TCU and SMU continue to play most years, even though they haven't been in the same league in more than two decades. It's a great series, one that provides Dallas-area bragging rights, but for TCU this year the trip across town could prove to be a nuisance in trying to get back into bowl eligibility.
The Horned Frogs visit SMU right before a hellacious stretch that sees them host Oklahoma, visit Baylor, then host Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. TCU will want to head into that run with momentum and confidence, but if SMU manages to get its third win in the series since 1999 it could mean the start of a long season.
Sept. 20 vs. Delaware State
Teams from the MEAC don't normally provide much worry, as the conference hasn't beat an FBS opponent since the mid-1980s. But Temple isn't immune to the plague of dropping a game to the FCS ranks, losing at home to Fordham last season.
The Owls will have had two weeks to prepare for Delaware State, but odds are more of the practice time in that span will be focused on the conference opener Sept. 27 at Connecticut than on the Hornets.
Aug. 31 vs. Utah State
Tennessee moved this game to a Sunday for TV purposes, capitalizing on an open day before the NFL kicks into gear. It gives the Volunteers a national stage to show what kind of progress head coach Butch Jones made with the program during the offseason. But it could also help the country find out about one of the best mid-major teams in FBS.
Utah State reached the Mountain West title game last season then beat Northern Illinois in a bowl game. The Aggies played USC close on the road in 2013 and have knocked off BYU and Utah in recent years. This is a program on the rise, and a chance to show that before 100,000-plus orange-clad fans and millions of eyes at home is an opportunity that might be too good to pass up.
Nov. 15 at Oklahoma State
Texas wasn't expected to contend for the Big 12 title last year, but a great run in the middle of the season had that as a possibility. That is, until the Longhorns got run out of their own stadium by Oklahoma State in mid-October.
The same scenario could happen again this year, though this time it would be on the road. If Texas has a shot at the league crown down the stretch, knocking off the Cowboys on the road would go a long way toward accomplishing that; it could also throw a major wrench in those hopes if the game is a loss for the second straight season.
Texas A&M Aggies
Sept. 20 at SMU
SMU and Texas A&M used to play every season as members of the Southwest Conference, but since that league disbanded there's only been a handful of meetings. The series renewed in 2011, but A&M has dominated in those three games, including a 48-3 shellacking in Dallas in 2012.
This time around, though, the Aggies don't have Johnny Manziel, but they do have a defense that has been known to give up a lot of points. SMU will try to run-and-gun like June Jones' old Hawaii teams, and this provides one of the best chances for that program to score a signature victory in some time.
Texas State Bobcats
Nov. 29 at Georgia State
Texas State was one of three Sun Belt teams that were 6-6 last year but were left out of the bowl party because of a lack of bids. There are a few new games this year, so the Bobcats have a chance to get their first invite...as long as they get the necessary six wins.
The schedule is set up to where TSU can get those six victories even before ending the season in Atlanta, but it would probably prefer not to have it come down to a road game. If the Bobcats are 5-6 entering that game, the pressure would be something this program hasn't faced before at the FBS level.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
Nov. 22 at Iowa State
Texas Tech fell apart late last season until it put together a great performance to win the Holiday Bowl over Arizona State. Now the Red Raiders head into 2014 looking like a legitimate contender for the Big 12 title, but they will need to be able to avoid another lengthy skid.
Tech's late-season schedule is rough again, with Texas, Oklahoma and Baylor all on the board in the final month. There's also a November trip to Iowa State, where the Red Raiders could assert themselves as a good team that beats bad ones or be exposed as one that can't handle playing on the road.
Nov. 4 at Kent State
Toledo should vie for the Mid-American West Division title this year, but that likely won't get decided until the end of the season the way the schedule shakes out. The Rockets face Northern Illinois and Bowling Green in back-to-back weeks in November, but they first have to travel to Kent State.
The Golden Flashes got hot toward the end of last season, and depending how their year is going, they could be in line for bowl eligibility. The team could use a signature home win over a tough opponent to boost those chances. Toledo lost a similar late-season game at Akron in 2013, which contributed to getting left out of the bowl party.
Nov. 8 vs. Georgia State
Troy is likely facing a rebuilding year after losing four-year starter Corey Robinson at quarterback and other veteran contributors. The wins may be few and far between, with several lopsided losses in store for the Trojans.
With that kind of situation facing them, the last thing they'd want to do is count a lesser opponent as an automatic win. And that's how you'd potentially describe four of Troy's six home opponents, but this one is the last of those and could easily be overlooked—especially if Georgia State is winless again like in 2013.
Tulane Green Wave
Nov. 15 vs. Memphis
Tulane moves into its own on-campus stadium this season, but unfortunately most of its top opponents come on the road. That includes trips to Houston and East Carolina over a three-week stretch in November, with a visit from Memphis wedged in there as well.
If the Green Wave are going to contend for a title in their first year in the American, they will need to win one of those big road games. The extra attention to the Cougars and Pirates will take away from the focus on Memphis, which could mean a bad home loss.
Tulsa Golden Hurricane
Sept. 13 at Florida Atlantic
Tulsa made out like a bandit in its latest scheduling deal with Oklahoma, getting to sell out its stadium this year for a visit from the Sooners. The Golden Hurricane aren't likely to win that game, but they'll certainly be pumped for the chance to try.
Not as much excitement is expected for the next week's game, a trip to South Florida to visit Florida Atlantic. The game would have meant more if the Hurricane were still in Conference USA, but that's not the case anymore and therefore a lackluster effort is possible.
Nov. 1 at Florida Atlantic
UAB saw its coach leave to become an assistant elsewhere, adding insult to a 2-10 season in which the Blazers were lucky to win any games. Now comes a schedule that features trips to Mississippi State and Arkansas along with the glut of tough Conference USA opponents.
UAB gets stuck with a three-game road trip right in the middle, and after having gone to Middle Tennessee and Arkansas it has to head down to Boca Raton, Florida, to face a Florida Atlantic team that's already got an advantage even before throwing in the travel impact.
Nov. 8 at Washington
UCLA saw its season goals take a major hit last year during a road trip to the north, falling to Stanford and Oregon in back-to-back weeks to go from unbeaten to the middle of the pack in the Pac-12. This season looks to be won or lost on the road as well, but the most concerning journey will be a single visit to Seattle late in the year.
When the Bruins play at Washington it will be their last road game of the season, a week after hosting Arizona and just before a home two-step of rival USC and defending conference champion Stanford. Washington won nine games last season but is a mystery this year with a coaching staff overhaul and could throw a huge wrench into UCLA's playoff aspirations.
UNLV Runnin' Rebels
Nov. 22 at Hawaii
A year after making its first bowl game in 13 seasons, UNLV got a late reprieve from the NCAA when what was originally going to be an academics-related bowl ban for 2014 was overturned. But to get back to another bowl, the Runnin' Rebels will need to win seven games, thanks to a 13-game schedule.
The reason for having a 13th game could also be why UNLV doesn't become eligible. The late-season trip to Hawaii affords the Rebels a chance to add an extra home game to offset travel costs, but the timing of this visit (after facing BYU the week before and then hosting rival Nevada seven days later) isn't ideal.
Oct. 11 at Arizona
The last few times USC has visited the desert hasn't gone so well. Two years ago the Trojans were ranked in the top 10 and fell at Arizona, and last September they got blown out by Arizona State and Lane Kiffin was fired as head coach on the way home.
USC's schedule is tough from the outset with an early visit to Stanford, and it will be coming off a home game against ASU (where revenge may certainly be on the mind, if not on the menu) when it heads to Tucson, Arizona.
Depending on when the kickoff time is set for, it could be a hot afternoon where the Trojans may wilt in the sun as Arizona looks for another big home upset like two years ago and the 2013 triumph over Oregon.
Sept. 6 vs. Fresno State
Utah won't exactly be getting the greatest of tests in its 2014 season opener, hosting an Idaho State team that was 3-9 a year ago and hasn't beat an FBS team since 2000. The Utes will get a nice confidence boost but then will be facing a significant upgrade in opponent when Fresno visits.
Fresno isn't going to be nearly as prolific offensively as in 2013, thanks to Derek Carr's graduation, but the Bulldogs also aren't a pushover. They might be limping a bit after playing at USC, but knowing that Utah is a much more beatable opponent they'll give the Utes everything they can handle.
Utah State Aggies
Nov. 7 at Wyoming
Utah State is challenging itself heavily this season with a loaded schedule, one that includes road games at Tennessee, Arkansas State and BYU along with the Mountain West Conference slate. And it's one of those league trips that could prove most problematic.
Six days after playing in Hawaii on a Saturday night, the Aggies are back on the road at Wyoming for an early (6 p.m. local time) kickoff to accommodate national television. While the opportunity to get TV exposure is great, doing it at the expense of preparation time could backfire.
Oct. 11 vs. Old Dominion
UTEP fans who bought season tickets this year get a nice little schedule to make it worth their money, as aside from the opener against Texas Tech they're all potentially winnable games. But they could also all be losses if the Miners don't prepare properly, such as for a new opponent joining Conference USA.
Old Dominion won its first game against an FBS opponent last year when it traveled out west, winning at Idaho, so the Monarchs know the drill. UTEP doesn't defend its home field very well, and this could be a harrowing loss.
Sept. 27 at Florida Atlantic
UTSA has traveled all over during its short existence as a football program, but the Roadrunners have never visited Florida before.
This will serve as the Conference USA opener for UTSA and will come two weeks after the school completes a hellacious stretch against Houston, Arizona and Oklahoma State. The Roadrunners will have been amped for all of those challenges and could find the energy level a bit lower for this opponent even with time off to recuperate.
Sept. 27 at Kentucky
Vanderbilt is facing arguably the easiest nonconference schedule of any power-league program, playing all four games at home against Massachusetts, Old Dominion, Temple and FCS Charleston Southern. So to find a trap game we had to look on the SEC slate, and we quickly noticed how the biannual trip to Kentucky fell at a very inopportune time.
The Commodores will visit the Wildcats in between two of their toughest division games—at home against South Carolina and at Georgia. Both of those games will require far more preparation to try to win, which could mean a reduction in focus for Kentucky. Considering head coach Mark Stoops will be looking for his first SEC league win with Kentucky, we're seeing a strong upset possibility here.
Sept. 27 vs. Kent State
Virginia not only went winless in the ACC last season it also lost at home to a Mid-American team, though it was a good one in Ball State. Yet the Cavaliers also beat BYU, so it was difficult to figure them out.
Another MAC squad comes calling for the final nonconference game, and while Kent won't be as good as Ball State was, that doesn't make the contest any less concerning. Virginia can't afford to drop a game like that when it also faces UCLA and BYU in nonleague play, yet the positioning of the Golden Flashes' visit between games against BYU and Pittsburgh makes it a ripe spot for a letdown result.
Virginia Tech Hokies
Aug. 30 vs. William & Mary
Virginia Tech has been one of the most consistently successful teams of the past two decades, finishing above .500 every year since 1993. But even the Hokies have been victims of the increasing plague of FBS programs losing to FCS teams, as they fell most recently in 2010 to James Madison.
In comes William & Mary for the season opener. The Tribe were a respectable 7-5 last season, with one of those losses a 24-17 setback at West Virginia in which they led 17-7 and were tied with less than four minutes remaining in the game.
Virginia Tech has outscored its FCS opponents 151-23 since losing to James Madison, but the odds are in favor of a few of these upsets in the opening week when big-name teams don't put in their full efforts.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Sept. 13 at Utah State
Wake Forest actually has a few games on the 2014 slate that could be considered traps, including the opener at Louisiana-Monroe, a team it lost to at home last season. But more likely it will be the trip out west to face Utah State, a rising mid-major program that's getting to host a power-conference team (other than Utah) for the first time since the 1990s.
Wake went 4-8 last year but is under the guidance of a new coach, Dave Clawson, who cut his teeth at the mid-major level. He'll have the Demon Deacons prepared for what to expect in Logan, Utah, but that doesn't make the trip any easier.
Sept. 6 vs. Eastern Washington
Washington gets to go from the islands into a major trap to start its 2014 season, where jet lag could lead to a very harrowing loss.
After opening in Hawaii, the Huskies return home to face one of the best FCS programs in the country. Eastern Washington won at Oregon State last year and features one of the best passing tandems around in quarterback Vernon Adams and receiver Cooper Kupp.
New coach Chris Petersen doesn't get to settle into his job, and he certainly can't expect an easy victory against a team that won 12 games and reached the FCS semifinals a year ago.
Washington State Cougars
Sept. 5 at Nevada
Washington State had a breakout season in 2013, getting back into a bowl game before squandering a late lead to lose to Colorado State in Albuquerque. Still, the Cougars appear to be trending upward and should be considered dangerous in nearly every game this year.
The same should be said for WSU's first road opponent, a Nevada team that had a rare down year in 2013 but looks to be much better this fall. The Wolf Pack have a solid senior quarterback in Cody Fajardo and would love to be able to knock off a Pac-12 opponent as a momentum-builder for a run at a Mountain West division title.
West Virginia Mountaineers
Sept. 6 vs. Towson
West Virginia is going to be a huge underdog for its opener against Alabama at the Georgia Dome, and while the physical nature of that game should help the Mountaineers prepare for the Big 12 season ,it might lead to some slow going through the rest of the nonconference schedule.
That doesn't bode well when West Virginia has to turn right around and host a Towson team that won 13 games, beat Connecticut and reached the FCS championship game. The Mountaineers are 11-0 all time against teams from the lower division, but they've likely never faced one as talented as the Tigers.
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Nov. 1 at Louisiana Tech
Western Kentucky moves into Conference USA from the Sun Belt and right away should contend for a division title. But for that to happen the Hilltoppers will not only need to play well at the end of the season when they face UTSA and Marshall, but also on trips to places like Ruston.
Louisiana Tech won't play the role of pushover, not when it has the chance to rebound from last year's poor showing and make a bowl game. WKU comes into this one in between what should be home wins over Old Dominion and UTEP, and if the focus isn't there it will fall to the Bulldogs.
Western Michigan Broncos
Sept. 13 at Idaho
Western Michigan usually doesn't have to travel far to play its nonconference road games, as Big Ten schools are usually more than welcome to play host. But the Broncos somehow added a trip to Idaho for 2014, and it could prove to be the most troublesome of those away games.
The game is Idaho's only one at home that's not part of its conference slate. And with the Vandals having a distinct advantage because of their familiarity with the Kibbie Dome, Western Michigan could be walking into a trap.
Sept. 20 vs. Bowling Green
Wisconsin has a rough opener on the books, facing LSU in Houston. After that the Badgers get to cruise for a bit with a home game against FCS Western Illinois and then a bye week before the coasting comes to a screeching halt thanks to Bowling Green.
The Falcons won the Mid-American Conference last year, using a great defense and an underrated offense to blow past Northern Illinois. Bowling Green nearly won at Mississippi State a year ago and will be a far tougher test for Wisconsin than the Badgers would get from most MAC squads.
Aug. 30 vs. Montana
Wyoming is now under the guidance of coach Craig Bohl, who made a name for himself at North Dakota State by winning three straight FCS championships and knocking off an FBS program seemingly every season. Now Bohl might see what it's like from the other side.
His debut with the Cowboys will be an auspicious one, as it involves a visit from one of the best FCS programs around in Montana. The Grizzlies went 10-3 last year and are good enough to win this game.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.