Trap games. They happen when a good team finds itself in way more of a competitive game than should be expected against a lesser opponent. They come before, after, or between big games when a superior team thinks it could rest easy. During them the most common refrain for these teams' fans is, "This can't be happening..."
Everyone hates them because you usually can't see them coming until you're in them. After going through the schedules of the six BCS conferences, I now give you a potential trap game for each league. If you see your team here, beware.
The Game: Virginia Tech at UNC, September 20
Before and After: Georgia Tech before, at Nebraska after
Why It Will Be a Trap Game: While no one expects Georgia Tech to compete for an ACC title this year, Virginia Tech will need all the time it can get to prepare for Paul Johnson's unconventional offense. The Hokies also will probably be looking forward to making a statement against Nebraska, since when they went on the road to a BCS school last year, they were sent home from Baton Rouge with a 48-7 loss. They will want to show they can win big road games out of conference, even if these Huskers aren't as good as last year's champs were.
In the middle of those contests sits UNC, in year two of the Butch Davis era. The Tar Heels were a mostly harmless 4-8 in 2007, and their recruiting and player development have not progressed far enough in to turn them into a conference title contender just yet. Still, UNC lost by just seven in Blacksburg last year, and could very well pull the upset if the Hokies are distracted.
Why It May Not Matter: Virginia Tech has Furman the week before playing Georgia Tech, so the Jackets may not be much of a factor. Plus, UNC has received a lot of preseason love already, so it might be difficult for the Heels to truly sneak up on the Hokies.
The Game: Texas vs. Oklahoma State, October 25
Before and After: Missouri before, at Texas Tech after
Why It Will Be a Trap Game: Did you know that Texas' pass defense was ranked 109th in 2007? Did you also know that Texas will be starting two redshirt freshmen at safety in 2008? Both are true, and they could spell trouble when the Cowboys come to town.
Oklahoma State QB Zac Robinson finished 12th in the nation in passing efficiency in his sophomore year, and he could be even better as a junior in 2008 without any Bobby Reid-related distractions hanging over the team. OSU only lost to UT by three in Stillwater last year, so we know they can hang with Texas.
With the Longhorns having to deal with a presumed national title contender in Missouri the week before and an absolutely loaded Texas Tech team the week after, they very well could overlook this game and give Oklahoma State a chance to steal one in Austin.
Why It May Not Matter: Oklahoma State's pass defense in 2007 was even worse—112th in the nation. Texas also has a rising junior quarterback in Colt McCoy who managed to finish 24th in passer efficiency last season despite a more than shaky offensive line.
UT is a young team that figures to get better as the year goes on, so this game might be happening after everything clicks for the Longhorns. Plus, Texas hasn't lost to Oklahoma State since its 4-7 campaign in 1997, and it hasn't lost at home to the Cowboys since 1944.
The Game: West Virginia at UConn, November 1
Why it Will be a Trap Game: The Mountaineers' trip to Storrs comes a week after what could be a titanic matchup with Auburn in Morgantown. West Virginia will doubtless be amped from the game against the Tigers, wanting to prove the school made the right choice by sticking with Bill Stewart as head coach.
The national feeling is that the bowl win over Oklahoma was a nice story, but Stewart may not be the right guy for the job. Defeating Auburn is probably the one chance the team has to stand up and make a statement on the national stage in favor of its beloved head coach.
The contest the week after has "classic letdown game" written all over it. After what will be an emotionally draining contest with Auburn win or lose, West Virginia must travel up north to face the well-disciplined Huskies.
UConn doesn't play highly entertaining football, but last season it found a way to win ugly with ruthless efficiency. The bottom fell out of their season late last year with the Huskies losing three of their last four. In 2008, UConn will want to prove that it was not a one year wonder. Beating West Virginia would be the best way to do that.
Why it May Not Matter: For starters, West Virginia smoked UConn 66-21 last year. It was a tour de force for the Mountaineers' QB Pat White, and he's back in 2008. He won't be running exactly the same offense, but there's something about him that UConn couldn't handle. If the Huskies don't figure White out, it's over because they won't have the firepower to win a shootout.
In addition, UConn might end up contending for a conference title again, in which case any trap potential goes out the window.
The Game: Ohio State vs. Troy, September 20
Before: at USC
Why it Will be a Trap Game: Principally, this could be a trap game because it comes the week after Ohio State plays the USC Trojans in Los Angeles. That game is critical on many levels for the Buckeyes, mainly for restoring credibility to itself and to its conference. The ESPN College GameDay crew will be there, it will receive endless hype, and it may end up being the best regular season game.
The week after that circus, the feisty Trojans from Troy, Alabama come to town. They are well known throughout the South for near misses against good ACC and SEC teams, and they captured a big win over Oklahoma State in 2007. Troy runs the spread offense that gives Ohio State fits, and though former offensive coordinator and spread guru Tony Franklin has left for Auburn, his protégé Neal Brown is taking over and keeping complete continuity.
In a similar trap game scenario, Troy played Georgia to within 10 points the week after the Bulldogs played Florida. If Ohio State comes home fat and happy after a win in L.A., this game could be a lot closer of a contest than anyone thinks.
Why it May Not Matter: If Ohio State loses to USC, they will probably take it out on Troy in ugly fashion. While it's true that the Trojans played Georgia to within 10 points, it took a touchdown with five seconds left to keep that from being 17. Troy also lost senior QB Omar Haugabrook to graduation and star CB Leodis McKelvin to the NFL draft this offseason.
Ohio State is absolutely loaded on both sides of the ball, so it's a bit much to expect a Sun Belt Conference team to win in the Horseshoe no matter the circumstances.
The Game: USC at Washington State, October 18
Before: Arizona State
Why it Will be a Trap Game: Arizona State appears to be main contender in 2008 to end USC's hegemony in the Pac-10. QB Rudy Carpenter will be in his senior year, it's the second season under turnaround specialist Dennis Erickson, and the Sun Devils have seven returning starters on both sides of the ball. Given what Oregon has lost, ASU is the clear No. 2 in the conference this fall.
The week after that crucial game for USC comes a road match in Pullman, Washington. Washington State's team is a bit thin in the first year of the Paul Wulff regime, and he is installing a new offense and defense there. His no-huddle spread offense could be dangerous against USC if the Trojans are napping the week after a big game.
USC won by only six the last time it played at Washington State, and if the Trojans can lose to Stanford last year they can lose to anyone. If things click for the Cougars by mid-October, they could be dangerous in this game.
Why it May Not Matter: Did I mention Washington State's team is thin? It is, and it lost scholarships to Academic Progress Report-related penalties. Plus, there has been a rash of disciplinary and academic problems there. If injuries strike at all, they could torpedo the Cougars' season entirely. Besides, the new schemes may not have gelled by this point, severely limiting Washington State's chances in this game.
The Game: Florida at Arkansas, October 4
Why it Will be a Trap Game: Sandwiched for Florida between a road match at Tennessee and a home game with LSU sit two SEC West teams, each breaking in new coaches—Ole Miss with Houston Nutt and Arkansas with Bobby Petrino. It will be very tempting for the Gators to lump the two together as future threats, but nothing to speak of this season.
While that's true for Ole Miss, Arkansas is an intriguing team. Petrino immediately brings credibility as a coach who has won a BCS bowl game, and senior QB Casey Dick will finally get a chance to play in an offense that treats the pass as more than a novelty. Dick had a nice spring for the Hogs too, and they get a week off before hosting the Gators.
Florida's secondary was a disaster last year. Though Urban Meyer said it's the most improved part of the team, even if it's twice as good as 2007 it still won't be elite. Petrino's scheme gives Arkansas's passing game immediate credibility, and Dick won't have to play like an all-SEC quarterback to cause trouble if Florida is looking ahead to LSU.
Why it May Not Matter: It's not clear that Dick will have anyone to throw to, as every receiver on the Hogs' roster is a question mark. The player with the most receptions in 2007 coming back is TE Andrew Davie with 14.
There's also no guarantee that Dick can repeat his spring success against real defenses in game situations this fall. Florida's defense will be better, and its offense should better too. If UF takes this one seriously, the disparity of talent and skill on offense should allow the Gators to win, even if the defense doesn't show up.