Biggest Trap Game for Every Top 25 College Football Team in 2017

Kerry MillerCollege Basketball National AnalystAugust 23, 2017

Biggest Trap Game for Every Top 25 College Football Team in 2017

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    Urban Meyer and Ohio State
    Urban Meyer and Ohio StateJay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Urban Meyer and Ohio State better watch their step in their season opener August 31 against Indiana. That road game might be the biggest trap of the season for the Buckeyes.

    Every team in the AP Top 25 poll has at least one major trap game on its schedule. These are games that the ranked team will be favored to win, but they could prove to be a major problem due to where the game is played, when it falls on the calendar, how the teams match up or a combination of all three.

    Our guess is that only about 25 percent of these games actually result in losses for the ranked teams, but they'll be the type of upsets that completely change college football's national landscape.

25. Tennessee Volunteers

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    Will Kendal Vickers and Tennessee's D show up against Missouri this year?
    Will Kendal Vickers and Tennessee's D show up against Missouri this year?Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

    The Trap Game: Nov. 11 at Missouri

    What Could Go Wrong?

    Tennessee has a schedule that oscillates between all or nothing. Games against Georgia Tech, Florida, Georgia, Alabama and LSU are obvious major hurdles. Home games against Indiana State, Massachusetts and Southern Miss are considerably less challenging. As a result, it was tough to find a spot where the Volunteers might get caught napping.

    The one exception is a road game against Missouri one week prior to the showdown with LSU. The Tigers can score. They hung 37 points on Tennessee last season and eclipsed 60 twice. They have 10 returning starters on offense and could be one of the highest-scoring teams in the nation. So if for any reason Tennessee's offense isn't firing on all cylinders at Faurot Field, things could get messy.

           

    Blueprint To Avoid Disaster

    First and foremost, Tennessee needs to shut down the run this time around. Missouri gashed the Vols front seven for 420 rushing yards and four scores last year. But after losing defensive ends Derek Barnett and Corey Vereen and featuring a bunch of question marks at linebacker, there are major concerns about a run defense that gave up five yards per carry in 2016.

    If the defense is unable to hold its own, Plan B is to dominate the turnover battle again while taking advantage of an even worse defense. Missouri committed four turnovers in last year's game, losing by 26 despite tallying 41 first downs. It should be a high-scoring affair, but it's one Tennessee should win if it doesn't shoot itself in the foot.

24. Washington State Cougars

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    Can Luke Falk light up Nevada's stingy pass D?
    Can Luke Falk light up Nevada's stingy pass D?Denis Poroy/Associated Press

    The Trap Game: Sept. 23 vs. Nevada

    What Could Go Wrong?

    It's a bit ludicrous to suggest that a competent Power Five conference team should be concerned about a home game against a Mountain West Conference team not named Boise State. Those 11 MWC schools are a combined 2-58 in those situations over the last five seasons, with the wins coming against California (Nevada in 2012) and Boston College (Colorado State in 2014)neither of which was anywhere near as good as Washington State should be this year.

    Consider the circumstances, though. This game comes six days before the first leg of a USC-Oregon back-to-back for Washington State, which makes it extremely tempting to start looking ahead. It also comes against a team that ranked fourth in the nation in passing yards allowed per game last season, which could be a problem for Mike Leach's vaunted aerial assault. And with Alabama transfer David Cornwell eligible at quarterback, the Wolf Pack should be more formidable on offense than they have been in recent years.

           

    Blueprint To Avoid Disaster

    The main reason Nevada's pass defense didn't give up many yards is that its run defense was so awful that most opponents didn't bother throwing the ball much. When they did, the Wolf Pack allowed nearly eight yards per attempt with a QB efficiency rating below the national average.

    In other words, Washington State just needs to maintain focus and do what it does best by throwing the ball until Luke Falk's arm falls off. The Cougars aren't elite on defense, but they should be able to put enough points on the board to win the fourth of their five consecutive home games to open the season.

23. Texas Longhorns

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    Shane Buechele's third quarter against Iowa State in 2016 was a thing of beauty.
    Shane Buechele's third quarter against Iowa State in 2016 was a thing of beauty.Associated Press

    The Trap Game: Sept. 28 at Iowa State

    What Could Go Wrong?

    To put it lightly, Texas had a problem with quality receivers last season. Oklahoma's Dede Westbrook went for 232 yards and three scores against the Longhorns. California's Chad Hansen had 12 catches for 196 yards and a pair of touchdowns. And Oklahoma State's tandem of James Washington and Jalen McCleskey torched the Texas secondary for 200 yards and three TDs.

    Enter Allen Lazard. Rated as a top-10 WR by both Sports on Earth and College Football News, Iowa State's senior wideout could terrorize this secondary. And this game comes at a brutal point in Texas' schedule. The Longhorns play at USC before this one and play three straight against Kansas State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State after it. Also, the last time Texas went to Ames, it lost 24-0.

              

    Blueprint To Avoid Disaster

    Iowa State's 2016 secondary was every bit as disappointing as Texas', so the Longhorns could fight fire with fire by letting their QB/WR duo of Shane Buechele and Devin Duvernay go to work. They could also limit Lazard's effectiveness by putting relentless pressure on ISU QB Jacob Park. Texas had eight sacks and 14 total tackles for loss in last year's matchup, and the Cyclones O-line hasn't noticeably improved.

    Mostly, the Longhorns just need to take this game seriously. After losing to Iowa State in 2015, they trailed 6-3 at halftime last October before emerging from intermission with three straight TD drives of at least 75 yards. Iowa State hasn't won four games in a season since 2012 and shouldn't be a problem for a properly motivated Big 12 contender.


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22. West Virginia Mountaineers

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    Can Dana Holgorsen keep the Mountaineers focused for their only "easy" win of the second half of 2017?
    Can Dana Holgorsen keep the Mountaineers focused for their only "easy" win of the second half of 2017?Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    The Trap Game: Nov. 4 vs. Iowa State

    What Could Go Wrong?

    Once again, the Cyclones show up as the one potential breath of fresh air in what is otherwise a murderer's row for a Big 12 team. Over the final six weeks of the season, West Virginia's schedule reads at Baylor, versus No. 10 Oklahoma State, versus Iowa State, at No. 20 Kansas State, versus No. 23 Texas and at No. 7 Oklahoma. Who could blame the Mountaineers if they were to let their guard down a bit against the Cyclones in order to conserve energy and focus for the rest of that gauntlet?

    Everyone is excited to see what 2014 Florida signee Will Grier can do at QB for West Virginia, but what if it's 2014 Georgia signee Jacob Park who steals the show for Iowa State? He threw for a career-high 371 yards in this game at the end of last season, and cornerback play is arguably the biggest question mark for WVU heading into this year.

            

    Blueprint To Avoid Disaster

    As mentioned on the previous slide, Iowa State's secondary was far from stellar in 2016. WVU's Skyler Howard only needed 12 completions to throw for 330 yards and five scores against the Cyclones last season, so Grier could put on a clinic if he picks up where he left off in October 2015.

    How well the Mountaineers defensive line develops in the first eight games will also play a huge factor in this one. They lost all three starters from a unit that already wasn't great at getting into the opposing backfield. In addition to determining the team's ceiling for 2017, defensive ends Adam Shuler II and Reese Donahue may be the X-factors.

21. Virginia Tech Hokies

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    VT may need a big game from Cam Phillips to avoid yet another nail-biter at East Carolina.
    VT may need a big game from Cam Phillips to avoid yet another nail-biter at East Carolina.Steve Helber/Associated Press

    The Trap Game: Sept. 16 at East Carolina

    What Could Go Wrong?

    It's astounding that power-conference teams still agree to play at East Carolina. The Pirates have won home games against North Carolina, Virginia Tech and North Carolina State in the past three years and have a record of 6-5 in home games against major-conference opponents in the past decade. Though Virginia Tech is 3-1 at ECU during that time, the Hokies failed to score more than 17 points in any of those wins.

    The good news for Virginia Tech is there aren't any immediate distractions. This road game is surrounded by home games against Delaware and Old Dominion. Also, Zay Jones (1,746 receiving yards in 2016) graduating should mean ECU's offense takes a step back. But there's just something about Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium that causes problems for the ACC.

           

    Blueprint To Avoid Disaster

    When these teams met in Blacksburg last year, it was over by halftime. Virginia Tech jumped out to a 38-0 lead en route to a 54-17 cruise. The Hokies had six sacks and 16 tackles for loss in what was an absolute rout, despite giving up two 70-plus-yard TD receptions by Jimmy Williams. Keep Williams in check this year and a shutout is a possibility.

    But this is nothing close to the same offense the Hokies had last season. Jerod Evans and Isaiah Ford were the big players against the Pirates in 2016, but they're both gone, leaving behind an offense full of unknowns. They shouldn't need to score much, but we'll see if quarterback Josh Jackson and wide receiver Cam Phillips will be enough offense in a venue where they have averaged just 19 points in their last four trips.

20. Kansas State Wildcats

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    What will the rush/pass ratio look like for Jesse Ertz against Texas Tech?
    What will the rush/pass ratio look like for Jesse Ertz against Texas Tech?Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    The Trap Game: Nov. 4 at Texas Tech

    What Could Go Wrong?

    Though Kansas State generally has one of the best defenses in the Big 12, it's a points bonanza when the Wildcats and Red Raiders face off. Kansas State won 44-38 last year, but Texas Tech was the victor by a 59-44 margin in 2015. If Nic Shimonek can come anywhere close to pacing the TTU offense as well as quarterback Patrick Mahomes did, there could be another shootout.

    And that's when Kansas State gets into some trouble, as its offense struggled to score when Jesse Ertz was throwing the ball the most. That isn't to say Ertz is a bad quarterback, but this run-first offense is at its best when he's leading the way with his feet rather than his arm.

            

    Blueprint To Avoid Disaster

    In addition to not getting roped into trying to match pass for pass with Texas Tech, the Wildcats need to get more out of their secondary in this year's showdown. Outside of a first-quarter pick-six, they were destroyed through the air for 529 yards. They were also torched by Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and, to lesser extents, Iowa State and Texas A&M, so it was far from a one-time occurrence.

    It's also crucial that Kansas State remain focused on the task at hand. After winnable games at Kansas and Texas Tech, the Wildcats host West Virginia and then travel to Oklahoma Statetheir most difficult two-week stretch of the season. And if they start looking ahead to those tests, the Red Raiders could put up a lot of points in a hurry.

19. South Florida Bulls

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    Will South Florida's streak of high-scoring games continue against Tulane?
    Will South Florida's streak of high-scoring games continue against Tulane?Brandon Wade/Associated Press

    The Trap Game: Oct. 21 at Tulane

    What Could Go Wrong?

    If all goes according to plan, South Florida, under new head coach Charlie Strong, will win its first seven games of the season and enter the second half of October with rapidly increasing designs of piecing together an undefeated season. The Bulls should be ranked well inside the Top 15, frequently mentioned as a candidate for a New Year's Six bowl game andif Tulane is luckybe buying into their own hype.

    The Green Wave went just 4-8 last season and hardly profile as a strong candidate to win the AAC, but they had one of the most dedicated rushing attacks in the country, averaging 2.3 carries per pass attempt. And if we learned anything about a South Florida team that scored at least 30 points in every game last season, it's that sometimes the only hope of slowing it down is limiting its time on the field. If Tulane can establish the run early against a distracted Bulls team, it could be upset city.

            

    Blueprint To Avoid Disaster

    In addition to avoiding ego-stroking national radio talk at all costs, South Florida's biggest focus in this game needs to be avoiding careless mistakes. Normally, that wasn't a problem for the Bulls, as they committed two or fewer turnovers in 12 of 13 games. But Tulane forced 14 in its four wins in 2016 and had one of the best turnover-forcing defenses in the country.

    A couple of early giveaways, combined with Tulane's ability to bleed the clock by running the ball, would spell disaster. But if QB Quinton Flowers and company can score on at least two of their first three drives, the Bulls could put this one out of reach in a hurry.

18. Miami Hurricanes

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    Mark Walton could be the key to getting Miami into the ACC title game.
    Mark Walton could be the key to getting Miami into the ACC title game.Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    The Trap Game: Nov. 24 at Pittsburgh

    What Could Go Wrong?

    It seems like the entire final two-thirds of Miami's schedule is a trap game, minus the part where it's directly before or after a marquee opponent. The Hurricanes do have home games against Virginia Tech and Notre Dame and a couple of road challenges against Duke and North Carolina, but outside of the road game against Florida State in Week 3, they should be favored in every game of the regular season.

    So, could the regular-season finale at Pittsburgh be a trap prior to the ACC Championship Game? The Panthers upset both Clemson and Penn State last season and may have another high-powered offense led by USC transfer Max Browne, Qadree Ollison, Jester Weah and Quadree Henderson. And if the 'Canes are 10-1 heading into that game, Pitt may thrive in yet another opportunity to spoil a great season.

           

    Blueprint To Avoid Disaster

    Though Pitt averaged better than 40 points per game last season, it also gave up more than 35including a 51-28 loss to Miami. It's hard to imagine the Panthers could get any worse on defense, however; anything's possible after losing seven starters.

    Six of those losses came in the front seven, which is a major problem for a team that held opponents below 120 rushing yards per game last year. Miami's Mark Walton is arguably the best running back in the ACC and might need a big game here to lock up some season-ending accolades. He rushed for 125 yards on 14 carries against the Panthers last year and may well gash them for over 200 yards.

17. Florida Gators

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    Is Cece Jefferson the next defensive star for Florida?
    Is Cece Jefferson the next defensive star for Florida?Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    The Trap Game: Oct. 14 vs. Texas A&M

    What Could Go Wrong?

    While most conference foes are intimately familiar with each other as a result of annual sparring, Florida and Texas A&M have only faced each other once in the past four decadesand even that game came back in 2012. Neither team has the luxury of an open date to prepare for the other, as Florida hosts LSU on Oct. 7 while A&M hosts Alabama on the same day.

    And without proper time to study up on A&M's WR/PR star Christian Kirk, the Gators could be in trouble. They had one of the best defenses in the nation last season, but losing eight starters has left them thin and relatively unproven at cornerback. If Trayveon Williams (1,057 rushing yards) has a sophomore year even better than his freshman campaign, that's one more major problem for Florida to combat.

    Both of these teams enter the season with serious question marks at QB. The Gators will be choosing from Malik Zaire, Luke Del Rio and Feleipe Franks, while the Aggies try to figure out whether Jake Hubenak, Kellen Mond or Nick Starkel gives them the best shot at winning 10 games. Though this will be the seventh game of the season for each team, who's to say either squad will have its answer?

          

    Blueprint To Avoid Disaster

    Long story short, Florida needs to establish that it's still as good on defense as usual. The Gators offense has averaged less than 24 points per game in each of the last two seasons, and this group doesn't figure to suddenly explode for 35 per contest. But if cornerback Duke Dawson can help shut down Kirk while guys like defensive lineman Cece Jefferson create some ruckus in the backfield, Florida will win in its preferred low-scoring affair.

16. Louisville Cardinals

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    Lamar Jackson is back, but what other Cardinals will be key in Week 2?
    Lamar Jackson is back, but what other Cardinals will be key in Week 2?Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    The Trap Game: Sept. 9 at North Carolina

    What Could Go Wrong?

    Per Athlon Sports, North Carolina lost 99.0 percent of its rushing yards, 98.3 percent of its passing yards and 70.5 percent of its receiving yards from last year. When facing that kind of rebuilding situation in Week 2seven days before a gigantic home game against Clemsonit's more than a little tempting to disregard that matchup in preparation for the more important one.

    However, the Tar Heels get back a lot of their key contributors from a defense that allowed just 19.3 points over the final seven games of last season, and Louisville had turnover on its offense, too. Sure, Lamar Jackson is back, but his starting RB and top three receiving targets are all gone. That could make for an intriguing game between two teams trying to find their way on offense early in the year.

           

    Blueprint To Avoid Disaster

    If September/October Lamar Jackson shows up, North Carolina's better-than-usual defense won't be able to do anything. Maybe he rushes less this year and becomes more of a pro-style pocket passer, but he can still dominate the game by throwing for 400 yards along with the occasional scramble.

    If November Lamar Jackson shows up, though, Louisville will need to rely on its defense to get the job done. With Jaire Alexander anchoring a veteran secondary, that's at least possible, if not probable. Barring touchdowns on defense or special teams, this game is probably a race to 24. And you have to like this defense's chances of keeping an inexperienced Tar Heels team from scoring four times.

15. Georgia Bulldogs

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    Nick Chubb has rushed for 280 yards and 4 TDs in his last two games against South Carolina.
    Nick Chubb has rushed for 280 yards and 4 TDs in his last two games against South Carolina.Brett Davis/Associated Press

    The Trap Game: Nov. 4 vs. South Carolina

    What Could Go Wrong?

    Though it was tempting to go with the season opener against Appalachian State seven days before a road game against Notre Dame, it's unlikely Georgia will overlook a team that almost beat Tennessee last year and that had a historic win over Michigan in 2007. Rather, it's more likely the Bulldogs get caught napping in the week between their huge games against Florida and Auburn.

    It's tough to know what to make of South Carolina, but certainly no one expects this team to be a pushover. And in the two weeks before this border war, the Gamecocks get their bye week and a home game against Vanderbiltwhich is as close as it gets to a second bye week in SEC play. They should be well-rested and ready to upset a rival.

           

    Blueprint To Avoid Disaster

    Run, run and run some more. Senior running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are two of the biggest reasons Georgia debuts this high in the AP poll, and they should have a field day against South Carolina's front seven. The Gamecocks do get back stud linebacker Skai Moorewho missed all of last season with a neck injurybut they lost several key linemen from a unit already allowing more than 200 rushing yards per game.

    Defense will also be crucial for Georgia. In fact, with 10 returning starters from a defense that allowed 19.8 points over the final eight games of last season, this could be one of the best defenses in the country. South Carolina has some offensive potential in Jake Bentley, Deebo Samuel and Hayden Hurst, but the Dawgs should be able to keep them in check.

14. Stanford Cardinal

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    Bryce Love will lead Stanford's rush assault against Oregon State.
    Bryce Love will lead Stanford's rush assault against Oregon State.Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    The Trap Game: Oct. 26 at Oregon State

    What Could Go Wrong?

    Oregon State has been one of the worst teams in the Pac-12 over the last three years, compiling a conference record of 5-22. However, the Beavers have made noticeable strides in this rebuilding process and could be the team that pulls off an upset or two to shake up the conference hierarchy. Also, they have been tough to beat at home. Oregon State knocked off California, Arizona and Oregon last year, and it came within one possession of wins over Utah and Washington State.

    For Stanford, this contest comes at a brutal point in the season. It's a Thursday night road game smack dab in the middle of a five-game stretch of at Utah, vs. Oregon, at Oregon State, at Washington State and vs. Washington. Getting properly amped up for what should be the Cardinal's easiest game for a month-and-a-half could be a struggle.

           

    Blueprint To Avoid Disaster

    Shut down Oregon State RB Ryan Nall and there's a good chance the rest of the offense will go down with him. In the four games against FBS opponents in which the Beavers scored more than 24 points, Nall averaged 158 rushing yards and scored 12 touchdowns. But in his other five games against FBS opponents, he averaged 56.2 yards and scored twice.

    At the same time, Stanford needs to get its own running game going early and often. Led by the since-departed Christian McCaffrey, the Cardinal rushed for 365 yards against Oregon State last season. That D-line returns almost entirely intact, one year older and wiser, but it will likely still be the biggest weakness for the Beavers.

13. LSU Tigers

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    Can Derrius Guice outplay the entire Arkansas defense for a second straight year?
    Can Derrius Guice outplay the entire Arkansas defense for a second straight year?Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    The Trap Game: Nov. 11 vs. Arkansas

    What Could Go Wrong?

    Last year's 38-10 running back-fueled blowout notwithstanding, Arkansas has been a thorn in LSU's side since Bret Bielema took over as head coach. The Razorbacks beat the Tigers by 17 points in both 2014 and 2015, and LSU needed a fourth-quarter comeback to avoid a home loss to Arkansas in 2013.

    So before you look at the daunting second half of LSU's schedule (at Florida, versus Auburn, at Ole Miss, at Alabama, versus Arkansas, at Tennessee, versus Texas A&M) and circle this game as easiest one on the schedule, keep in mind the recent history between these teams. Also, be sure to note that while LSU is worried about the road games against Alabama and Tennessee surrounding this game, it will be the No. 1 focus for Arkansas during a three-week stretch that otherwise contains home games against Coastal Carolina and Mississippi State.

             

    Blueprint To Avoid Disaster

    As was our advice for Stanford against Oregon State, LSU ought to run the ball close to 50 times against Arkansas. Led by 252 yards and two scores from Derrius Guice, the Tigers shredded the Razorbacks for 390 rushing yards and five touchdowns last seasonone of three times that they gave up at least 360 rushing yards.

    Arkansas changed defensive coordinators and shifted from a 4-3 base defense to a 3-4, but that hardly means this front seven will suddenly be impenetrable. Guice will be the key to LSU's offense for the entire season, but this could be the game where he makes a splash into (or expands his lead in) the Heisman conversation.

12. Auburn Tigers

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    Ole Miss ate a lot of Kamryn Pettway's dust last season.
    Ole Miss ate a lot of Kamryn Pettway's dust last season.Thomas Graning/Associated Press

    The Trap Game: Oct. 7 vs. Ole Miss

    What Could Go Wrong?

    Outside of the road game against Clemson, Auburn's nonconference schedule (home games against Georgia Southern, Mercer and Louisiana-Monroe) is a joke. Even the first few weeks of SEC play are beyond forgiving, as the Tigers open with Missouri, Mississippi State and Ole Miss.

    Might that soft start lull Auburn into a false sense of security for the home game against the Rebels? That contest comes seven days before the Tigers' marquee road game against LSU. And with postseason play already not an option for Ole Miss after a self-imposed ban, its goal for 2017 is to wreak as much havoc as possible on the rest of the SEC. Suffice it to say, scoring an upset over Auburn would be a national landscape-shifting development.

             

    Blueprint To Avoid Disaster

    Ole Miss was on the short list of teams that could actually move the ball against Auburn's defense last season. In fact, at 570 total yards465 through the airthe Rebels were the biggest problem for the Tigers D. Granted, a lot has changed about this program in the last eight months, but it's a near certainty that Ole Miss will be throwing the ball a ton in Shea Patterson's sophomore season.

    Better secondary play will be Auburn's primary focus in this game, followed closely by a repeat of last year's rushing attack. Kamryn Pettway went off for 236 yards, pacing Auburn to more than 300 rushing yards as a team. And this defense doesn't appear to have gotten any better.

11. Michigan Wolverines

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    Iowa derailed Michigan in 2016. Will it be Indiana in 2017?
    Iowa derailed Michigan in 2016. Will it be Indiana in 2017?Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    The Trap Game: Oct. 14 at Indiana

    What Could Go Wrong?

    From a purely schedule-based perspective, the bigger trap game is the Nov. 11 road tilt against Maryland, which falls directly before season-ending battles with Wisconsin and Ohio State. However, Michigan stomped Maryland 59-3 last year, and the Terrapins appear to still be a year away from legitimately vying for a spot in the top three of the Big Ten East.

    Indiana, on the other hand, has some breakout potential and has the benefit of entering this home game fresh off its bye week. Led by Tegray Scales and Rashard Fant, the Hoosiers are getting back nine starters from a defense that was much improved and held Michigan to just 20 points a season ago. Whether they'll be able to do anything on offense following an offseason coaching shake-up remains to be seen, but this could be the type of low-scoring game where one turnover makes all the difference.

    Blueprint To Avoid Disaster

    When Indiana gave up a lot of points last season, it was either bad run defense, a lot of turnovers on offense or a combination of both. The Hoosiers coughed up the ball 29 times last season17 of which came on interceptions by QB Richard Lagow. Though Michigan had to replace almost its entire defense this offseason, it still has more than enough talent to capitalize if Lagow is equally careless with the ball in 2017.

    And with the four-headed rushing attack of Chris Evans, Ty Isaac, Karan Higdon and Kareem Walker, Michigan is equally well-positioned to take advantage of any lapses in Indiana's defense. As long as the Wolverines are focused on this game and not peeking ahead to the following week's road game against Penn State, this should be a W.

10. Oklahoma State Cowboys

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    Will Iowa State have any answer for Mason Rudolph in 2017?
    Will Iowa State have any answer for Mason Rudolph in 2017?Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    The Trap Game: Nov. 11 at Iowa State

    What Could Go Wrong?

    Well, what do you know? Iowa State makes a third appearance as the one probable respite in the middle of ranked-opponent gauntlet for a Big 12 team. For five straight weeks late in the season, Oklahoma State plays at Texas, at West Virginia, versus Oklahoma, at Iowa State and versus Kansas State. If the Cowboys are going to relax for any of those contests, it's this game against the Cyclones.

    Iowa State was a major problem last year for OK State, too. The Cyclones led 31-14 late in the third quarter before QB Mason Rudolph finally got going and led the Cowboys to 24 unanswered points in the final 18 minutes. Even though it was Jacob Park's worst game of the season, Iowa State's offense did just about anything it wanted for the first 40 minutes of the game.

            

    Blueprint To Avoid Disaster

    It's the same blueprint Oklahoma State will have for virtually the entire season: Get James Washington and Jalen McCleskey the ball as often as possible. That duo finished last year's game with 13 catches for 226 yards and three scores, but most of the damage didn't come until they were getting desperate in the second half.

    And as mentioned several times on the slides for Texas and West Virginia, Iowa State's secondary isn't great. Rudolph should have another field day in this matchup after going for 351 yards and four scores last year.

9. Wisconsin Badgers

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    Could Troy Fumagalli be the difference against Iowa for a second straight year?
    Could Troy Fumagalli be the difference against Iowa for a second straight year?Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    The Trap Game: Nov. 11 vs. Iowa

    What Could Go Wrong?

    Wisconsin has one of the most forgiving schedules in the country. Per ESPN's FPI, the Badgers have a 4.5 percent chance of going undefeated against a schedule in which they have at least a 68 percent chance of winning each game. The nonconference schedule doesn't get any tougher than BYU, and their only game against the trifecta of Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State is a home game against the Wolverines on Nov. 18.

    With that game clearly as the biggest concern of the season, it's the previous game against Iowa that stands out as a potential landmine. The Hawkeyes have four wins against ranked opponents over the last two seasons and they always seem to be a problem for Wisconsin. Each of their last three meetings was decided by a one-possession margin, and Iowa holds a 7-6 advantage in the series dating back to 2002.

            

    Blueprint To Avoid Disaster

    In what can only be described as typical fashion for both Iowa and Wisconsin, this will be a war in the trenches.

    Iowa returns five starters on the offensive line, gets back 1,000-yard rusher Akrum Wadley and added 1,300-yard rusher James Butler as a graduate transfer from Nevada. Wisconsin also has a ton of returning talent in its run game, and both teams are loaded in the defensive front sevenalbeit with considerably more question marks surrounding Wisconsin's linebackers than Iowa's.

    If they more or less play to a stalemate in rushing, Wisconsin should have the edge in passing. The Badgers still have wide receiver Jazz Peavy and tight end Troy Fumagalli, and Iowa's secondary could be a bit of a mess after losing three starters. Expect a ton of running, but as was the case last year, don't be surprised if a Fumagalli TD proves to be the difference in a low-scoring grind.

8. Washington Huskies

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    Dante Pettis will be a huge factor against Utah once again.
    Dante Pettis will be a huge factor against Utah once again.Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    The Trap Game: Nov. 18 vs. Utah

    What Could Go Wrong?

    The first seven weeks of Washington's schedule are a joke, but the final five (UCLA, Oregon, at Stanford, Utah and Washington State) should shake up the College Football Playoff picture. A Dante Pettis late fourth-quarter punt return for a touchdown proved to be the difference when Utah and Washington squared off in 2016, and that wasn't nearly the trap game that it will be on this year's calendar. 

    Granted, the Utes likely won't be nearly as good as they were last season, either. They lost their top rusher and top receiver, need to replace a kicker who scored 427 points over the last four years and are essentially starting over from scratch in the secondary. But Kyle Whittingham always seems to have this team in great shape by the end of the season, so Utah should at least be a tough out by mid-November.

           

    Blueprint To Avoid Disaster

    Washington needs to do a better job of breaking up plays in the backfield, particularly given its own rebuilding situation in the secondary. The Huskies had just three tackles for loss in last year's matchup, allowing more than 200 rushing yards.

    And on offense, just let it fly. Jake Browning struggled to get going against Utah's pass defense in each of the past two seasons, but that ought to be Utah's biggest weakness this year. Pettis, Chico McClatcher and Brayden Lenius should all be major factors as receivers in this one.

7. Oklahoma Sooners

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    Baker Mayfield shredded Kansas State (among many teams) in 2016.
    Baker Mayfield shredded Kansas State (among many teams) in 2016.Associated Press

    The Trap Game: Oct. 21 at Kansas State

    What Could Go Wrong?

    A road game against a team in the preseason AP Top 25, this is (on paper) the toughest trap game on the list by a wide margin. And it would really be more of a letdown than a trap, based on where it falls on the Sooners' calendar. But it's one that Oklahoma should be able to win if it's properly motivated one week after the Red River rivalry and two weeks before Bedlam.

    If not, the Sooners are going to have some issues with what should be a strong, experienced offense. Oklahoma gave up at least 180 rushing yards six times last season and lost a ton of pieces in the front seven, which plays right into Kansas State's wheelhouse with dual-threat QB Jesse Ertz running the show. Moreover, Dede Westbrook and Joe Mixon did almost all of the damage for the Sooners in this matchup last year, so we'll have to see what they can do without that pair.

    Blueprint To Avoid Disaster

    Force Ertz to throw as much as possible.

    Put nine men in the box and leave star cornerbacks Jordan Thomas and Jordan Parker alone on islands if you must, but teams facing Kansas State cannot afford to just sit back and let the Wildcats run all day. They do have some playmaking threats at receiver in Byron Pringle and Dominique Heath, but sacrificing the occasional big play in order to end more drives with punts is a good trade-off here.

6. Penn State Nittany Lions

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    Penn State will need a big game from Saquon Barkley (26) against Northwestern.
    Penn State will need a big game from Saquon Barkley (26) against Northwestern.Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    The Trap Game: Oct. 7 at Northwestern

    What Could Go Wrong?

    There needs to be a made-up word to properly convey the situation here, but this might be the "trappiest" game that any team has faced in the past decade.

    For starters, it's a road game, which is never fun. Second, it's against Northwestern, and though the Wildcats aren't currently a Top 25 team, this might be their most talented squad in program history. Third, this game falls right before Penn State's bye week. And, fourth, that bye week comes directly before back-to-back marquee games against Michigan and Ohio State, making it tempting to look forward to both the bye week and the opponents on the other side of it.

    Blueprint To Avoid Disaster

    In addition to all the potential pitfalls listed above, this is arguably the best secondary that Penn State will face in the first half of the season. QB Trace McSorley may be a Heisman candidate, but establishing the run early and often with Saquon Barkley will be key against a team that is probably weakest at linebacker.

    Containing Justin Jacksonthe only Big Ten player who rushed for more yards than Barkley last seasonis of equal importance if the Nittany Lions want to get to their game against Michigan with an undefeated record. Northwestern was 5-0 last season when he rushed for at least 125 yards but 2-6 in all other games.

5. Clemson Tigers

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    Can Dave Doeren get the better of Dabo Swinney this year?
    Can Dave Doeren get the better of Dabo Swinney this year?Richard Shiro/Associated Press

    The Trap Game: Nov. 4 at NC State

    What Could Go Wrong?

    In terms of schedule, the obvious trap is the home game against Boston College in between the road games at Louisville and Virginia Tech. However, that game is in Death Valley, BC hasn't beaten Clemson since 2010, most of the games in that six-game winning streak have been lopsided, and BC's biggest strength (edge-rusher Harold Landry) will be mitigated by Clemson's star offensive tackle Mitch Hyatt.

    The far more likely misstep is the road game against North Carolina State one week prior to the showdown with Florida State. The Wolfpack should have been Clemson's undoing in 2016, but a late missed field goal allowed the Tigers to eke out an overtime win they did not deserve. And there's no question that NC State should be better than last season while Clemson should be worse than last season.

            

    Blueprint To Avoid Disaster

    While NC State's defensive line may be among the best in the country, its linebackers leave something to be desired and its secondary is almost entirely unproven after losing several starters from last season. Though there are still preseason concerns about what Clemson will do at quarterback, one has to assume those will be sorted out well enough by November for the Tigers to put their great receivers to work against this defense.

    Beyond that, Clemson just needs to avoid careless mistakes. The Tigers fumbled five times in last year's game, losing three. Add in the Deshaun Watson interception that was returned for a TD and they committed four turnovers while nearly slopping their way to disaster.

4. USC Trojans

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    Sam Darnold threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns against Arizona State last year.
    Sam Darnold threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns against Arizona State last year.Associated Press

    The Trap Game: Oct. 28 at Arizona State

    What Could Go Wrong?

    As with Clemson on the previous slide, the obvious spot for USC's trap game would be Week 4, right after facing two ranked opponents and right before facing a third. However, even in that scenarioa road game for USCCalifornia cannot be in good faith considered a trap game, considering the Trojans have won 12 straight in this series and this might be the worst team the Golden Bears have had in at least that long.

    Rather, the trap USC needs to avoid is the week after the game against Notre Dame. That's because if the Trojans beat the Fighting Irish to improve to either 7-1 or 8-0, that's when the College Football Playoff talk is going to get out of control. During a five-week, season-ending stretch in which every other title contender will face at least one massive challenge, USC finishes out the season with games against Arizona State, Arizona, Colorado and UCLA and a Week 13 bye.

    But if the Trojans take their foot off the gas pedal at all, Arizona State has the talent to take advantage. Whether incumbent Manny Wilkins or Alabama transfer Blake Barnett is at QB at this point in the season, he'll have some great weapons to help move the ball down the field. And this defensive front seven is good enough to cause some problems.

             

    Blueprint To Avoid Disaster

    Ride Sam Darnold to victory. In the gold and cardinal corner, you have the preseason front-runner for the Heisman and a QB who threw for at least 200 yards and two TDs in each of the final nine games of last season. And in the gold and burgundy corner, you have a passing defense that ranked dead last in the nation in yards allowed per game before losing several starters. It should not be a fair fight.

3. Florida State Seminoles

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    If Deondre Francois stays on his feet, Florida State will beat Boston College handily.
    If Deondre Francois stays on his feet, Florida State will beat Boston College handily.John Raoux/Associated Press

    The Trap Game: Oct. 27 at Boston College

    What Could Go Wrong?

    Six days after a big home game against Louisville, Florida State has to travel up the Atlantic coast for what could be a major confrontation in Massachusetts under the Friday night lights.

    Harold Landry led the nation in sacks last season with 16.5, and the elite pass-rusher is back for another year with the Eagles. Against the porous offensive line of the Seminoles, Landry had four tackles for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble in 2016. The year before that, he had 11 tackles, 4.5 for loss and 1.5 sacks against FSU in a home game that Boston College nearly won.

            

    Blueprint To Avoid Disaster

    BC's defense could pose a problem, but it's been a while since the 'Noles had any problem with that offense. The Eagles have scored just seven points in their last nine quarters against Florida State, and that one touchdown came with three minutes left in a 45-0 game last November.

    Their hope is that redshirt freshman and dual-threat QB Anthony Brown will be able to spice up what has been anemic offense for the past two seasons, but will it be enough to do anything against what might be the best overall defense in the country? As long as Deondre Francois can avoid Landry often enough to put at least 10 points on the board, FSU should get the win.

2. Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Tyquan Lewis should help Ohio State avert early disaster.
    Tyquan Lewis should help Ohio State avert early disaster.Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    The Trap Game: Aug. 31 at Indiana

    What Could Go Wrong?

    Dating back to 2009, Urban Meyer-coached teams are 28-1 in August and September, with the lone exception being a Week 2 loss to Virginia Tech in 2014 that preceded a 13-game winning streak to a national championship. Good luck trying to find a coach who does a better job of getting his guys ready for the start of the season.

    But with all eyes on Ohio State's Week 2 showdown with Oklahoma, it's at least possible that the season-opening road game at Indiana could be slightly overlooked. At any rate, there aren't any better trap games to choose from. Outside of the battles with Oklahoma, Penn State and Michigan, Ohio State will probably be favored by at least 17 points in every regular-season game.

    If anyone is liable to shock the Buckeyes, though, why not the Hoosiers on a Thursday night at the beginning of the season before Ohio State has had the time to break in its new secondary and receiving targets?

             

    Blueprint To Avoid Disaster

    Penetrating defenses were a major issue for Indiana last season, allowing more than seven tackles for loss per game. This constant backfield disruption led to a lot of fumbles and many forced/rushed pass attempts by Richard Lagow. Ohio State might have the best defensive line in the country, and it could prove that in the first game of the season by ripping through Indiana's O-line like a hot knife through butter.

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Jalen Hurts didn't fall into any traps as a true freshman.
    Jalen Hurts didn't fall into any traps as a true freshman.David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    The Trap Game: Nov. 11 at Mississippi State

    What Could Go Wrong?

    Losing focus for any length of time is not an option when you play for Nick Saban, but if it's going to happen, this would seem to be the most likely spot.

    Alabama only plays two road games in the first 10 weeks of the season—Vanderbilt in Week 4 and Texas A&M in Week 6. Heading into this game at Mississippi State, it will have been over a month since the Crimson Tide last played in a hostile environment. What's more, this game comes seven days after a big game against LSU and two weeks before the Iron Bowl. (Though, playing in that exact same spot last year, Mississippi State lost 51-3.)

    Even disregarding the surrounding circumstances, Mississippi State is no easy out this year. Nick Fitzgerald is just as much of a dual-threat QB as Jalen Hurts is, and this Bulldogs defense should be much improved after a rebuilding year.

            

    Blueprint To Avoid Disaster

    Treat this game like every other year. Not only has Alabama won nine straight games against Mississippi State, but you would have to take Alabama's lowest scoring game and match it up with Mississippi State's highest scoring game just to produce a tie. On average, the Crimson Tide have won each game in this series by 23.6 points since 2008.

             

    Unless otherwise noted, stats are courtesy of Sports Reference and cfbstats.com, and recruiting data is courtesy of Scout.

    Kerry Miller covers college football and college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.