25 Biggest Trap Games for 2015 College Football Season
Although winter has much of America in its icy grip, it’s never too early to start thinking about football. Before spring practice begins, we have plenty of time to go over 2015 schedules, week by week, and examine what they mean for teams across the nation.
We all have our eyes on the biggest matchups of the season: key nonconference games and rivalries that will determine which teams make their way into the 2015 College Football Playoff. But what about games that might slip under the radar and cause teams to fall off their track to a national title?
They’re trap games, and they happen every season. Here’s a look at the top 25 trap games that will take place this college football season.
25. Tennessee at Kentucky
Tennessee had a season to remember in 2014. Following three seasons outside of the postseason, the Volunteers found their way into a bowl under Butch Jones and raised expectations for 2015 with a TaxSlayer Bowl rout of Iowa.
With an impressive recruiting class grafted onto a roster that played 23 freshmen last fall, the onus will be on Tennessee to take another step forward under Jones’ watch this season. The SEC schedule, of course, isn’t forgiving. October brings home games against Arkansas and Georgia, followed by a road trip to rival Alabama. The month ends with a trip to Kentucky.
That looks like a very winnable game, and UT pounded the Wildcats 50-16 last season. But Mark Stoops’ bunch will be improved, and Tennessee could be worn down after a tough October. It’s a major cause for concern if you’re a UT fan.
24. Oklahoma State at West Virginia
Oklahoma State had an up-and-down 2014. A young Cowboys team followed a five-game win streak with a five-game losing streak, but it ended the season on a high with an upset of rival Oklahoma and a Cactus Bowl win over Washington.
And there are reasons for optimism entering this fall, since OSU returns 16 starters, including emerging quarterback Mason Rudolph, who looked impressive at season’s end. But the Big 12 schedule is unforgiving, and this season is no different. Oklahoma State starts the league slate with a trip to Texas and a home game against Kansas State, following that with a trip to West Virginia.
West Virginia might be a bit down this season after losing quarterback Clint Trickett and All-America wideout Kevin White, but Morgantown is one of the nation’s toughest outposts for visitors. Oklahoma State will need to build momentum, and this can be a tough place to do so.
23. Wisconsin at Illinois
Wisconsin had a season to remember in 2014, even if Gary Andersen apparently wanted to forget about it. The Badgers won the Big Ten West title, but following a Big Ten title game rout at Ohio State’s hands, Andersen bolted to Oregon State following two seasons at the Badgers’ helm, to be replaced by Paul Chryst.
Wisconsin will again be one of the Big Ten West’s best teams, even after subbing tailback Corey Clement in for Heisman Trophy runner-up Melvin Gordon. But an Oct. 24 trip to Illinois looms as a possible trap. The Fighting Illini did make a bowl game last season and finished 6-2 at home, including a 28-24 upset of Minnesota. Bucky will need to be on watch in Champaign.
22. Utah at Fresno State
Following a pair of 5-7 seasons, Utah had a bounce-back year in 2014, winning nine games and bashing Colorado State in the Las Vegas Bowl. More will be expected of the Utes in 2015, but it won’t be an easy beginning.
Utah begins the season on a Thursday night against Michigan and new coach Jim Harbaugh, and then faces off with in-state rival Utah State and dangerous quarterback Chuckie Keeton. They open the Pac-12 slate at national runner-up Oregon, but before that, the Utes must travel to Fresno State.
The Bulldogs are coming off of a 6-8 season, but they’re dangerous at home, and Utah could be worn down from its rigorous early schedule. Utah will need all the wins it can get entering the Pac-12, and a trip to Fresno is no easy mark.
21. Southern California at Cal
Big things are expected in Steve Sarkisian’s second season on the Southern California sidelines. Despite major NFL draft losses, the Trojans return 15 starters from a 9-4 team and should take another step toward becoming the nationally elite team they were under Pete Carroll’s watch.
The schedule isn’t easy, though. In mid-October, USC travels to Notre Dame, then hosts Utah. A Halloween trip to Cal looks a bit easier, but don’t sleep on the Bears. They boast an impressive offense and just missed out on a bowl game at 5-7.
A year ago, the Trojans held off Cal 38-30, although that score was a bit misleading, as USC built an early 31-2 lead that held through a Bear rally. If the Bears can avoid such a large early hole, this game has upset potential.
20. Arkansas vs. Texas Tech
2014 was a breakthrough season for Bret Bielema at Arkansas. Following an ugly start to his tenure, Bielema and the Razorbacks made the Texas Bowl and ripped Texas for a 7-6 season.
Expectations will be high with 17 returning starters, including 10 on a powerful, run-based offense, and the SEC schedule will be unforgiving. So making hay against the nonconference schedule will be key.
Arkansas starts with winnable games against UTEP and Toledo, and a Sept. 26 game against Texas Tech at home also looks promising considering the Red Raiders’ 4-8 record in 2014. A loss would be damaging, given an SEC slate that includes road games at Tennessee, Alabama, LSU and Ole Miss.
19. Washington State at Oregon
Before the College Football Playoff National Championship, Oregon wasn’t pushed by many teams in 2014, save a surprising upset by Arizona on its home turf. But one of them was Washington State. Mike Leach and the Cougars gave the Ducks everything they could handle before falling 38-31 in Pullman.
This time around, the Cougars will be right before a potentially tough trip to Washington for Oregon. By Oct. 10, Marcus Mariota’s replacement should be in place, but Oregon will have no reason to take Washington State lightly.
18. Boise State at Virginia
It would have been reasonable to expect a dropoff from Boise State in 2014 following Chris Petersen’s departure to Washington, but it didn’t happen. Instead, Bryan Harsin led the Broncos to a Fiesta Bowl win over Arizona, returning them to their place as one of the nation’s best mid-major programs.
With 17 starters returning in 2015, expectations will again be high, and the Broncs will get no breaks in September. They’ll open with a visit from Petersen and Washington, follow that with a trip to BYU, and after a visit from FCS foe Idaho State, they’ll travel cross-country to face off with Virginia.
Mike London will be coaching for his job in 2015, and the Cavaliers are improved after just missing out on a bowl in 2014. Boise must find a starting quarterback, and the Cavs’ defense could cause problems if one isn’t in place by late September.
17. Cal at UCLA
Last fall, Cal was perhaps the most improved team that didn’t go to a bowl. The Bears went from 1-10 to 5-7 in Sonny Dykes’ second season, and they hope to take the next step toward postseason play this fall with a high-flying offense and quarterback Jared Goff at the controls.
And it was a narrow miss, indeed. Turn around a 36-34 loss to UCLA, and the Bears would have gone bowling. This fall, Cal gets the Bruins at a good time. They’ll be coming off of a trip to Stanford, which dealt UCLA a 31-10 defeat in 2014 and plays a bruising style. It’s an excellent opportunity to spring an upset.
16. South Carolina at Texas A&M
The 2014 season got off to a shocking start when Texas A&M went into Columbia and dealt South Carolina a 52-28 defeat. Kenny Hill looked like a Heisman candidate (which didn’t last), while the Gamecocks defense looked awful (a continuing theme).
A&M wound up in the Liberty Bowl and hopes for significant improvement in 2015, particularly with John Chavis on board as defensive coordinator. The Aggies have a tough schedule, but there’s room for improvement.
But after games against Mississippi State, Alabama and Ole Miss, they could be looking for a breather when South Carolina comes to town. But if you know Steve Spurrier, you know he never forgets a slight. And he won’t forget what the Aggies did to him in 2014. You can bet he’ll have the trip to College Station marked on his schedule in big maroon letters.
15. Arizona State at Washington State
Todd Graham is building an impressive power in the desert. The much-traveled coach appears to have found a home in Tempe, guiding Arizona State to back-to-back 10-win seasons. However, the Sun Devils still have defensive issues. They allowed 27.9 points per game last fall, which ranked No. 76 nationally. That’s a problem when you’re facing off against the air raid offense.
Last fall, Arizona State beat Mike Leach and Washington State’s air raid offense 52-31. This fall, the Cougars pop up at a potentially difficult time on ASU’s schedule. The Nov. 7 date falls between home games against Oregon and Washington, which could both be tough matchups for the Sun Devils.
If Washington State quarterback Luke Falk can find holes in ASU’s secondary, this could be a very interesting game.
14. Baylor at Kansas State
Manhattan, Kansas is an underrated college football environment. Manhattan is isolated. Hard to get to. And a very tough place for opponents to win. Especially when the national spotlight is involved. Just ask Auburn, which took everything Kansas State had in a 14-6 Thursday night victory a year ago.
This year, ESPN’s Thursday night spotlight will fall on Bill Snyder Family Stadium for Baylor’s Nov. 5 visit. The Bears should be one of the Big 12’s favorites along with TCU, while Kansas State is looking for answers on offense following the graduation of Jake Waters and Tyler Lockett. But if you think Manhattan won’t be rocking for the Bears’ visit, you’re quite wrong.
13. Arizona at Washington
Arizona was one of the bigger surprises of the 2014 season. The Wildcats took a major leap in Rich Rodriguez’s third season, winning the Pac-12 South and making a Fiesta Bowl appearance.
This fall, Arizona should be among the league’s best teams again with quarterback Anu Solomon and tailback Nick Wilson keying the offense and star linebacker Scooby Wright quarterbacking the defense, although there are questions on the offensive line and in the secondary.
Last fall, one of Arizona’s narrowest escapes was a 27-26 home win over Washington. The Huskies again come at a difficult point on the 2015 slate as part of four road games in the season’s final six matchups. A Halloween trip to Seattle comes right before a much-anticipated trip to Southern California. It’s entirely possible that Rodriguez might not have his team’s full attention, which could be dangerous.
12. Notre Dame at Pitt
Despite an up-and-down 2014 season, Notre Dame should be much improved in 2015. The Fighting Irish have uncertainty at quarterback with Everett Golson and Malik Zaire, but they have 19 starters returning, including 10 on defense.
They have a typically tough schedule that includes games with Texas, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Southern California, but there are also plenty of opportunities to slip up. That includes a Nov. 7 game at Pitt. The teams have become regular foes, with 17 meetings in the last 25 years. The ACC’s scheduling alliance with Notre Dame brings them together again.
Pitt actually won the teams’ last meeting in 2013, and a year earlier, Notre Dame was pushed to overtime before pulling out a 29-26 victory. ACC Offensive Player of the Year James Conner will be a major test for Notre Dame’s defense, and he could derail the Irish’s College Football Playoff hopes (if they’re still alive in early November).
11. North Carolina at Georgia Tech
North Carolina had a difficult 2014 season. The Tar Heels finished 6-7 following a Quick Lane Bowl loss to Rutgers, and coach Larry Fedora will enter 2015 with pressure to produce, or at least improve. But for one night in 2014, everything came together for Fedora’s bunch.
T.J. Logan’s two-yard touchdown run with 11 seconds left lifted the Tar Heels to a wild 48-43 win over Georgia Tech, their first win in the series since 2008. This fall, North Carolina will once again be in position to spring a surprise on the Yellow Jackets, the defending ACC Coastal champions.
UNC’s visit to Atlanta on Sept. 26 comes after a tough two-game road trip to Notre Dame and Duke and just before a key road trip to Clemson. Paul Johnson’s group might be weary, but it should definitely be on guard when the Heels come calling.
10. Missouri at Georgia
Underestimate Missouri at your own peril. Following an ugly debut, the Tigers have won the SEC East the past two seasons. That said, they’ll probably be underrated again this fall. Perhaps even by Georgia, which dealt them a 34-0 whipping in 2014.
Missouri’s trip to Athens comes at a potentially good time for Gary Pinkel’s group. Georgia will be coming off of a game against Alabama, a trip to rival Tennessee and looking at an off weekend before its annual neutral-site tilt against Florida. It might be just the right time for Missouri to show the SEC why it must be taken seriously.
9. LSU at Syracuse
LSU has a strange opening to the 2015 season. The Tigers open up with FCS foe McNeese State, then dive right into the SEC West slate with a road trip to Mississippi State and a home date against Auburn (both of whom beat LSU a year ago).
Then, that game is followed by a rare nonconference road trip above the Mason-Dixon line to face off with Syracuse. The Orange are coming off of an ugly 3-9 2014 season, but the Carrier Dome should be rocking for a visit from an SEC power. Will LSU take Syracuse seriously? Will it have a clear quarterback in place between Brandon Harris and Anthony Jennings? There are plenty of good reasons to give this game a critical eye.
8. Auburn at Kentucky
Last fall, Kentucky was one of the SEC’s most improved teams. The Wildcats finished 5-7 and barely missed a bowl, with only a triple-overtime loss at Florida and a 44-40 loss to Louisville separating them from the postseason.
Mark Stoops’ young program should take another step forward this fall and cause problems for a lot of teams on its 2015 slate. That includes Auburn, which it will host for a Thursday night game on Oct. 15. The Tigers should be SEC West contenders, but the UK trip comes at a dangerous time on its schedule, just before a trip to Arkansas, a home game against Ole Miss and a road trip to Texas A&M. If Patrick Towles and the Wildcats offense takes the next step forward, UK could spring an upset on a big stage.
7. Minnesota at Ohio State
In Ohio State’s surprising run to the 2014 College Football Playoff title, one of its biggest hurdles came on a snowy day in the Twin Cities. Ohio State outlasted Minnesota 31-24, with freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett accounting for all four of the Buckeyes’ touchdowns. Steven Lassan of Athlon Sports says OSU is in its own league when it comes to Big Ten play this fall.
Minnesota won eight games in 2014, but ir could be underrated again this fall despite returning 14 starters. The Gophers’ Nov. 7 visit to Ohio State is potentially problematic. For Ohio State, it comes sandwiched between road trips to Rutgers and Illinois and two weeks before a potentially season-defining showdown with Michigan State. Urban Meyer had best be mindful of Minnesota this fall.
6. Texas at TCU
In 2014, TCU was one of the nation’s biggest surprises. The Horned Frogs went from 4-8 to 12-1 behind quarterback Trevone Boykin and the air raid offense, but they were left out of the College Football Playoff. TCU coach Gary Patterson wants that to change, proposing a six-team playoff with no conference title games, he told ESPN.com's Chris Low.
To me, it makes no sense to have four playoff spots and then have five conferences. This way gives everybody a chance to have their champion or their best team be a part of the playoff, and a sixth team that could be from any conference, and then you get down to that final four pretty quickly and still not change the way we do things.
TCU should have a realistic shot at making a four-team playoff in 2015. The Horned Frogs should be just as good or better this fall after returning 16 starters, including 10 on offense.
But the Big 12 remains one of the nation’s toughest leagues—the only Power Five conference where every team plays a true round-robin schedule. There are plenty of opportunities for upsets. The Frogs open their league schedule with three of four games on the road. The only home game? An Oct. 3 matchup against Texas.
Charlie Strong’s team should be improved from a 6-7 record in his second season in Austin. They’ll give TCU a serious challenge in Fort Worth.
5. Boston College at Clemson
One of the most surprising results of college football realignment has been the development of new rivalries. One of the best has been Clemson-Boston College. The ACC Atlantic Division programs seemingly have little in common, but they have played multiple hard-fought games since the Eagles joined the ACC in 2005. Clemson has won four consecutive games in the series, but it holds only a 6-4 lead in the teams’ shared ACC games.
Two years ago, BC gave Clemson everything it could handle in a 24-14 loss at Clemson, and the same held true in the Tigers’ 17-13 win at Chestnut Hill last fall. This season, the Eagles come at a tough spot on Clemson’s schedule, just after home games against Notre Dame and Georgia Tech and right before a trip to Miami. Could BC catch the Tigers at the right time? You bet.
4. Ole Miss at Memphis
2014 was a special season for Ole Miss. The Rebels won nine games, including attention-grabbing victories over Alabama and archrival Mississippi State. And despite an ugly Peach Bowl loss to TCU, expectations are high for 2015. The Rebels bring back 17 starters, 10 on offense, and will get star receiver Laquon Treadwell back from a broken ankle that ended his 2014 season prematurely.
One of the most interesting games on the schedule is an Oct. 17 trip to Memphis. Although Ole Miss is 10-2 all time against its local rival, including a 24-3 win in 2014, this won’t be an easy trip.
The Tigers are an up-and-coming group coming off of a 10-win season under Justin Fuente. This game comes just before a stretch that includes a home game against Texas A&M, a trip to Auburn and home games against Arkansas and LSU. Hugh Freeze will need to have his team’s attention for its shortest road trip of 2015.
3. NC State at Florida State
Despite significant NFL draft losses, Florida State still should be one of the best programs in the ACC and a Top 10 candidate. That’s how well Jimbo Fisher and his staff have recruited. It’ll keep the Seminoles at or near the top of the ACC Atlantic Division, at the very least.
But behind Clemson and Florida State, the Atlantic is improving, as evidenced by FSU’s narrow escapes against Boston College, Louisville and N.C. State. A year ago, the Wolfpack built a 24-7 first-quarter lead over the Seminoles before Jameis Winston rallied FSU for a 56-41 win in Raleigh.
This year, the Wolfpack will come to Tallahassee a week after the ACC’s game of the year—FSU-Clemson. Will Fisher’s guys overlook Dave Doeren’s improving group, led by standout quarterback Jacoby Brissett? It’s entirely possible.
2. Arkansas at Alabama
Before Arkansas’ impressive run to end the 2014 season, it was fair to wonder when Bret Bielema’s team would break through against SEC foes. Bielema began his Arkansas career 0-13 against SEC teams. Included in that run? A narrow 14-13 loss to Alabama.
Expectations will be higher for Arkansas in 2015, but few will expect the Razorbacks to compete for an SEC West title. Still, the Hogs’ Oct. 10 trip to Tuscaloosa could be interesting. It is sandwiched on Alabama’s schedule between road trips to Georgia and Texas A&M, both red-letter games on the Crimson Tide’s schedule. If Alabama lets down against the Hogs, it could prove dangerous.
1. Air Force at Michigan State
A year ago, Air Force was one of the nation’s most improved teams. Following a 2-10 2013 season, Troy Calhoun’s Falcons bounced back in a huge way, going 10-3 and challenging for the Mountain West title. Air Force will be breaking in a new starting quarterback, but the triple-option offense is one that can plug in new pieces without much dropoff, and the Falcons do return 1,000-yard rusher Jacobi Owens.
Air Force has a very tough game at Michigan State on Sept. 19, but it comes with an advantage: It is a week after the Spartans host Oregon in one of the nation’s biggest nonconference games. If the Falcons can control the ball and grind out possessions, this could be a serious trap game for Michigan State.