Pac-12 Football: Every Team's Biggest Trap Game for 2014 Season
Nearly every team in the Pac-12 can break its schedule up into three parts: games that should be won, games that will likely result in a loss and, of course, toss-ups.
Unless you're Cal, which has zero automatic wins on the 2014 docket, or you're Oregon, which doesn't have any contests that look like definite losses (the same can be said for UCLA and Stanford, for that matter), every week of the season likely fits into one of those categories.
But which games in the first category (should be won) don't belong there at all? Which seemingly easy victories could end up being challenging and maybe even a loss altogether?
We're taking a look at the trap games, which don't normally stand out as dangerous or tricky on the schedule. Trap games typically come just before or right after a major showdown, and they usually happen against teams with talent and potential that haven't been able to put it together.
Oregon and UCLA are not trap games, because no one is overlooking either squad this season.
So where lie the losses we can't see coming? Which teams will be overlooked? Here's the biggest trap game for every team in the Pac-12 in 2014.
Biggest trap game in 2014: Saturday, Nov. 8 vs. Colorado
The talent level for Colorado is, on average, much higher than it's been in recent years, but it's difficult to predict how the Buffaloes will fare in 2014. Their potential to be overlooked based on recent years, however, makes them a perfect candidate for a trap game, especially when it comes to Arizona's schedule.
The Wildcats make a Nov. 1 trip to the Rose Bowl to take on UCLA in what could be a benchmark game in the south. On Nov. 15, they'll play host to what should be a rounding-into-form Washington team. Both contests will be extremely difficult to win, and sandwiched in between will be a visit from Colorado.
Though head-to-head you would expect Arizona to beat the Buffaloes eight or nine times out of 10, this could be a tricky game with brutal matchups the week before and the week after.
Arizona State Sun Devils
Biggest trap game in 2014: Saturday, Nov. 1 vs. Utah
The main reason a trap game is labeled as such is because there's a sense that the favored team won't put as much effort into preparation for one reason or another. Sometimes it's an arrogant feeling of "We're so much better that effort doesn't matter as much," and in other cases, it's because tougher tests are looming and create distraction.
Coaches and players will rarely if ever admit to having a lax attitude during game week, but if it does happen at Arizona State, it's likely to be in advance of the Sun Devils' home contest against Utah.
The Utes were downright awful at times last year, and then they went out and beat Stanford. If quarterback Travis Wilson is healthy and displays improved decision-making ability, they could be the perfect trap team for Arizona State as coach Todd Graham's team looks ahead to a visit from Notre Dame the following week.
California Golden Bears
Biggest trap game in 2014: Saturday, Sept. 6 vs. Sacramento State
Don't laugh. You know you want to—yes, even you, Bears fans—but it's that exact response that makes Cal's Sept. 6 game against Sacramento State one to be wary of. The Hornets have beaten both Colorado and Oregon State in recent years, so they know what it takes to win against a Pac-12 team.
And Cal just happens to be the worst team in the league after winning just one game in 2013. So there's no excuse for the Bears overlooking anyone this fall, especially after scraping by Portland State last year, but if there's one team the Bears might be penciling in a win against, it's Sacramento State.
This will ring even more true should Sonny Dykes' squad upset Northwestern, as emotional highs can sometimes lead to letdowns against below-average opponents. Cal should beat the Hornets by three or four touchdowns, but unless they prepare like it's a game against Oregon, it could end up being a lot closer than that.
Biggest trap game in 2014: Saturday, Sept. 20 vs. Hawaii
Much like Cal, Colorado has no excuse for overlooking an opponent in 2014. Though the Buffaloes went from one win in 2012 to four last fall, they still have a ways ago to even be considered "routinely competitive."
If Mike MacIntyre's team is able to get by Colorado State and UMass to start the season, then a home game against Hawaii might seem like no big deal. But after the trip to Massachusetts comes a visit from Arizona State in a game that Colorado will be looking forward to.
Then it's Hawaii followed by a trip to Berkeley to take on Cal. In order of threat level, the Warriors are about a three on a scale of one to 10. But as we said with the Bears and Sacramento State, if Colorado doesn't treat this contest with enough respect, the threat Hawaii poses could be much greater.
Biggest trap game in 2014: Saturday, Sept. 20 at Washington State
Oregon's nonconference slate features two cupcakes and one enormous entree, and none can be considered a trap game. Neither South Dakota nor Wyoming will challenge Oregon even on an off day, and defending Rose Bowl champion Michigan State is going to get respect all season.
Following the trio of games, however, comes a tricky trip out to Pullman to take on Washington State. Over the past few years, this particular matchup hasn't been all that close, but Mike Leach's air-raid attack should be hitting full throttle by mid-September behind the arm of quarterback Connor Halliday and his bevy of talented receivers.
The Cougars have a notoriously passionate crowd despite a low capacity, and Washington State is one of those teams that has to be downright sick of losing to the Ducks, having failed to beat Oregon every year since 2003. This smells like a trap game from a mile away, and though some might consider a November trip to Utah more fitting here, the Ducks aren't as likely to overlook a team when traveling to a place they haven't played at in years.
Oregon State Beavers
Biggest trap game in 2014: Saturday Nov. 1 vs. California
The biggest reason we have a home date with California tabbed as Oregon State's biggest trap game in 2014 is because it comes on the heels of a trip to Stanford.
You're always going to to come out of a contest with the Cardinal physically worn out and emotionally drained; that's what happens against offenses that shove eight or nine guys on the line of scrimmage and run the rock straight at you.
But California is still the team that won a lone game in 2013, and unless the Bears win six or seven games prior to their matchup with Oregon State—which isn't likely—they'll be somewhat overlooked by everyone.
Biggest trap game in 2014: Saturday, Oct. 25 vs. Oregon State
Washington State, after getting hammered by Stanford in Seattle last fall, could be an excellent candidate as a trap game, with revenge being a major factor. But that game is on a Friday night and the national lights will be on, so we're picking a home game against Oregon State in late October instead.
The first reason is because Stanford only just escaped from Corvallis with a win in 2013. Had Sean Mannion completed a touchdown pass on the last play and then punched in a two-point conversion, the game would have gone into overtime.
Then there's the matter of the game against Oregon State coming just before a trip to Eugene and right after a matchup at Arizona State. You can see why the Beavers might be overlooked here. If that happens, the Cardinal could be in for a fight 'til the end.
Biggest trap game in 2014: Saturday, Oct. 25 at Colorado
With the toughest schedule in college football in 2014 according to ESPN's Football Power Index, UCLA will be facing a grind from the get-go. Because of so many difficult games on the docket, however, it leaves more room for some matchups to get overlooked.
The Oct. 25 game at Colorado comes to mind here for several reasons, but chief among them is that the Buffaloes fit perfectly into the definition of a trap team because of poor play in recent years mixed with intriguing potential moving forward.
That's in contrast to Cal, who the Bruins face a week earlier, which shouldn't provide much of a test for Jim Mora's club. After the trip to Boulder, UCLA will come back home to face Arizona. Out of all of the games on the grueling schedule, Colorado might be one that the Bruins lose a little motivation for, and for that they could suffer the consequences.
Biggest trap game in 2014: Saturday, Oct. 11 at Arizona
Expectations at USC are suddenly higher than they've been in the past few years with a promising young quarterback in Cody Kessler, a dynamic collection of skill position talent led by running back Javorius Allen and wide receiver Nelson Agholor, a potentially dominant defense headlined by defensive end Leonard Williams and of course, new head coach Steve Sarkisian.
The Trojans will be out to prove the doubters wrong, and it's tough to see this team taking any weeks off. That includes an Oct. 11 trip to Arizona, although this could end up being a case of the players saying the right things but not preparing the right way.
The contest comes on the heels of a showdown with Arizona State and is followed by a home game against Colorado, which looks too much like an easy win to be considered a trap game. If USC isn't careful when heading to Tucson, it'll fall victim to the Wildcats' desert tricks, just like it did in 2012.
Biggest trap game in 2014: Saturday, Sept. 6 vs. Fresno State
The Utah Utes open up the 2014 slate against Idaho State, and if they struggle with the Bengals, they'll have bigger problems than fretting over potential trap games.
But assuming they win with relative ease, they'll enter a Week 2 matchup with Fresno State at 1-0. Historically, it hasn't been wise for anyone to take the Bulldogs lightly, and Utah would be smart to take a similar stance and prepare like for them like it's the Rose Bowl.
The intriguing aspect of this selection comes with Utah's trip to Michigan two weeks later in a game that could bring the Utes back to national relevance rather quickly. Will they be caught looking ahead to a game at The Big House or will they drop a big game to the Bulldogs of Fresno State?
Biggest trap game in 2014: Saturday, Nov. 22 vs. Oregon State
Last year the Washington Huskies jumped all over Oregon State en route to a 69-point outing in Corvallis, and those who took part in the demolition derby might not take the Beavers all that seriously this time around.
With Chris Petersen at the helm, taking each week seriously will likely be a point of emphasis, as he somehow got his Boise State Broncos to bring their A-game even against lousy teams in the WAC. But the Beavers didn't struggle nearly as much against anybody else, leading us to believe the performance was an anomaly.
Part of this prediction depends on how the season plays out, because if the Beavers arrive in Seattle as a ranked team, there's no chance Washington will overlook them. But assuming there's a few lingering thoughts about last year's contest, we could see the Huskies fall prey to a trap game against Mike Riley's squad.
Washington State Cougars
Biggest trap game in 2014: Saturday, Oct. 4 vs. Cal
An early October date with Cal sets up as the perfect trap game for Washington State in 2014. It wasn't long ago that the Cougars were in the same boat and unlikely to take anyone lightly, but they'll be playing for a second straight bowl appearance this fall.
The game is sandwiched in between visits to Utah and Stanford, both of whom should provide much stiffer tests to Mike Leach's club. Because the game against Cal is at home, you could understand if there's a sense going in that the Cougars will cruise.
The problem occurs when the players begin to think that way, and Jared Goff does not seem like a quarterback you want to get into a shootout with. Then again, neither does Connor Halliday, but if Washington State falls behind due to a slow start, it may not matter what Halliday does.
All stats and schedule info via ESPN.com.