Coaches preach to the high heavens that a team never, ever looks ahead to a big game, but instead focuses on the current opponent.
Right, and Brutus the Buckeye has a tiny head.
For every hyped-up “game of the year” such as Trojans vs. Buckeyes or Ohio State and Penn State, there’s a trap game lying in the weeds, ready to up and pounce on the college football world, sending shock waves far and wide.
Take the following six-pack of examples, which could serve as trap games in the Big Ten for 2009.
Trap Game: Western Michigan (Sept. 5)
Stop eyeing the Irish the following week, Michigan—the Broncos (9-4 in 2008) are no slouch. Western Michigan returns seven starters on offense in 2009, including QB Tim Hiller, who threw for 36 TDs and over 3,700 yards last season.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Trap Game: Air Force Falcons (Sept. 12)
Minnesota will have trouble not getting fired up for a battle with Cal on the 19th of September, but before getting ready for the Golden Bears, the Gophers need to not overlook Air Force.
The Falcons, 8-5 last season, return six starters on both offense and defense. This was a team that gave Utah all it could handle last year, and they feature nothing but juniors and seniors across the entire linebacker group and defensive line.
Michigan State Spartans
Trap Game: Central Michigan Chippewas (Sept. 12)
The Spartans usually start the season out strong, but with a road trip to South Bend looming on Sept. 19, it’s possible this team could overlook the Chippewas. But that would be silly, considering that Central Michigan has made it to the Motor City Bowl three straight years and returns 16 starters, including 10 on defense.
Plus, one shouldn’t overlook the offense, led by talented QB Dan LeFevour, who had 21 TDs and only six INTs in 2008.
Trap Game: Arizona Wildcats (Sept. 19)
The Hawkeyes have Arizona at home in late September, but this game is sandwiched in between a road trip to in-state rival Iowa State, plus a trip to Happy Valley to take on the Nittany Lions afterward. Kirk Ferentz will need to have his team focused in order to avoid a letdown.
Wildcats head coach Mike Stoops took the team to its first bowl game in a decade last season, a 31-21 victory over BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl. This season, Arizona loses only 13 lettermen from last year’s squad that finished 8-5.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Trap Game: Toledo Rockets (Sept. 19)
Before you think this one is off the deep end, look at the situation.
First off, this is following one of the most hyped-up games of the year, where Ohio State will have faced USC the previous week. In comes Toledo, a team sparked by a brand-new head coach in Tim Beckman, and which also returns 1,700-plus yards rushing (between Morgan Williams and DaJuane Collins in '08).
On top of that, the game is being played at a neutral site in Cleveland Browns Stadium. Most important of all, Toledo returns 18 starters from last year’s team, including only seven lettermen lost—an astonishing number.
This Toledo team could easily be a headache for Ohio State, much like Ohio was the previous season.
Penn State Nittany Lions
Trap Game: at Northwestern Wildcats (Oct. 31)
Finally, there’s Penn State, a team that has lost some significant starters on both sides of the ball. Yes, the non-conference schedule is soft in 2009, but there are a few Big Ten trap games later in the season, none more noticeable than Northwestern, a game that is nestled in between a trip to Ann Arbor (Oct. 24) and the big game against the Buckeyes on Nov. 7 at Beaver Stadium.
This is the first time the Nittany Lions have had to face Northwestern since 2006, and the teams have split the last four meetings. Also, the last four matchups in Evanston have been close (by an average of five points per game). Pat Fitzgerald always has the Wildcats ready to play and will no doubt be giving Penn State headaches all game long.
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