One Trap Game for Every Power 5 College Football Team in 2015
Every college football schedule features both easy and tough games, but often the most troublesome ones fall somewhere in between.
These are known as trap games, matchups that gain their difficulty not so much from the opponent or locale but because of when they fall on the schedule. For instance, if a school is set to play two big home games against ranked teams in a three-week span, the road clash in between could spell doom if the opponent gets overlooked.
As much as schools work to prevent such games on their schedule, TV contracts and conference scheduling matrices sometimes lead to traps getting set. This year, we could see even more than normal, as the 2015 season is one week shorter than normal, and teams only have one bye week during the year.
Looking at the 2015 schedule for every power-conference team (and Notre Dame), here is a rundown of every team's most likely trap game. The one place we didn't look, though, is at the opening games. Despite a higher-than-normal occurrence of power-conference teams starting out on the road—15, to be exact—we're not considering the first game of the season to be a trap since it's a contest they'll have had all winter, spring and summer to prepare for.
Nov. 14 at Mississippi State
There aren't many easy games in the SEC, and in most cases, it's a matter of determining degrees of difficulty. Alabama has two particularly tough stretches during the season: a four-game run in October and then a pair of games in November after its bye.
The first half of that duo is the annual clash with LSU, a game that saps the energy out of both teams even though it often has a bye right before it, as is the case with this season. The 2014 version went to overtime, and the following week, the Crimson Tide faced an unbeaten Mississippi State team at home.
MSU isn't likely to sport a perfect record this time around, but it will be playing in Starkville amid the cowbells. Alabama has won seven in a row over the Bulldogs, holding them under 10 points in the past three road games, though it's games like this that prompted MSU quarterback Dak Prescott to come back for another season.
"When I decided to come to Mississippi State, it wasn't about competing for a championship for one year or making a run for one year," Prescott told Michael Bonner of the Clarion-Ledger. "It was about competing for championships and making this a program that's not a one-hit-wonder."
Sept. 12 at Nevada
Arizona is set to embark on a nonconference schedule that is devoid of a power opponent for the third straight season, and the Wildcats don't have one on the slate until they host Texas Tech in 2019. But they do have road games among those non-league games, including this year's trap-level trip to Nevada.
The Wolf Pack could be in for a rebuilding year after quarterback Cody Fajardo graduated, but any chance to knock off a power opponent will bring out the best in this Mountain West team. Nevada beat Washington State at home last season, and Arizona struggled to win at Conference USA's UTSA last season.
Nov. 7 at Washington State
The phenomenon that was #Pac12AfterDark made for some great late-night football games last season, and that often involved one of the league's top teams getting a tough test on the road. Arizona State had one of those in November, getting blindsided by an underachieving Oregon State team.
ASU could be headed for another one of those battles if its game at Washington State gets selected for a late kickoff. And the Sun Devils will be coming off a big home game against Oregon, one that could propel them into the national title conversation with a victory.
Last year, ASU was 8-1 and sixth in the playoff rankings before losing 35-27 at Oregon State.
Sept. 12 vs. Toledo (in Little Rock, Arkansas)
Arkansas faced a potential trap game at home last season against Mid-American power Northern Illinois, but the Razorbacks overwhelmed their opponents and won by 38 points. If they can do the same against Toledo, this team might be for real.
More likely, Arkansas is going to be in for a game, as Toledo is a solid mid-major program that nearly won at Iowa State last year despite missing its best player. Running back Kareem Hunt averaged more than 163 rushing yards per game in 2014, and he'll be a great test for the Hogs' defensive front, one who could throw their push toward the next level for a major detour.
Oct. 15 at Kentucky
Even with 12 days to prepare for it, there's no denying that the Thursday night game Auburn has to play at Kentucky midway through the season is a troublesome one.
"A weeknight prime-time game on the road only adds motivation for the opponent," wrote Braden Gall of Athlon Sports, noting that Kentucky hasn't beaten Auburn in Lexington since 1966.
Kentucky's 5-1 start last season featured a landmark win over South Carolina, but it needed one more big victory to get into a bowl. Auburn could be just such a triumph, especially if the Tigers aren't giving full weight to this matchup when they go to Arkansas the following week.
Nov. 21 at Oklahoma State
The only game that seems to matter on Baylor's 2015 schedule is the second-to-last one, when the Bears visit TCU the day after Thanksgiving in what is expected to be the Big 12's de facto conference championship game.
But any talk of that game being a potential springboard for Baylor into the playoffs would be moot if it were to lose the week before at Oklahoma State, a very dangerous game just six days before the big TCU matchup.
The entirety of Baylor's November schedule is brutal, with a trip to Kansas State and a visit from Oklahoma just before the OK State-TCU two-step. Assuming the Bears make it through the first half of the month unscathed, all eyes will be focused on the Nov. 27 game in Fort Worth, and the trip to Stillwater could get brushed aside.
That's not smart, since Baylor last won at OK State in 1939, and in 2013, it went there with a 9-0 record only to get crushed, 49-17.
Sept. 26 vs. Northern Illinois
Boston College planned for the possibility of needing as many nonconference wins as possible this year by scheduling two FCS opponents to start the season. With a young quarterback and an all-new offensive line, those early wins against Maine and Howard should help the Eagles gain confidence before opening ACC play at Florida State.
But a week later comes the game that doesn't fit perfectly into BC's plans of loading up on guaranteed wins. Northern Illinois has knocked off a power opponent in each of the past three seasons, last year winning at Northwestern, and the Huskies are pretty strong on the road overall.
BC plays three of its next four on the road after NIU, and those games are all part of the ACC slate. It won't be much to look past the Huskies, despite their past accomplishments.
Sept. 26 at Washington
It's hard to imagine a team overlooking its conference opener, but California's prior game is one that could go a long way toward helping the program get back to its old level of prominence.
Just before visiting Washington in late September, the Golden Bears play at Texas. They're likely to be a heavy underdog, but with quarterback Jared Goff running the Air Raid offense, they won't be out of any game. A win in Austin would be huge for Sonny Dykes' turnaround, but it could also lead to overconfidence that could impact preparations for the Pac-12 opener.
The same applies if Cal loses at Texas, because that result could still linger in the days leading up to the trip to Seattle.
Oct. 31 at North Carolina State
The dreaded back-to-back road games is something every power-conference team tries to avoid, but it really has little say in how its league tilts are placed on the schedule. Clemson has one of these at the end of October, and while NC State is likely to be the easier of the opponents (with a visit to Miami on Oct. 24 starting the trip), it's still where the Tigers could run into the most trouble.
Clemson will have already faced Notre Dame and Georgia Tech at home earlier that month, and the first week of November brings the big game against Florida State, also in Death Valley. NC State is considered a dark horse in the ACC this year, at best, but opportunities like this one are where strong programs make their mark.
There's also the revenge factor to take into account, as last year, the Tigers blew out the Wolfpack, 41-0, a week after NC State nearly knocked off defending national champion Florida State.
With so much of Clemson's 2015 season being focused on those big home games, its chance at an ACC title and a major bowl bid could hinge on a 300-mile trip to Raleigh.
Sept. 12 vs. Massachusetts
Colorado went winless in the Pac-12 last season, and another rough year looks to be on the horizon as the league continues to get better while the Buffaloes lag behind. That puts extra emphasis on the nonconference games, and thanks to an opener at Hawaii, the Buffs get to play four of them.
There's always the tendency to have a hangover after playing in the islands, win or lose. It happened with Washington last season, as after winning at Hawaii, it almost fell at home to FCS Eastern Washington.
Massachusetts has won only five games over the past three seasons, but it's a program that's getting better and will come in with nothing to lose. Colorado is vulnerable and could be even more so after the long road trip beforehand.
Nov. 28 at Wake Forest
Depending on how the season plays out, Duke could go into the final game of the regular season either with a chance to lock up a second trip to the ACC title game in three years, be in need of a victory to secure a fourth straight bowl appearance or be playing a meaningless game against a team likely finishing at the bottom of the conference standings.
Whatever the scenario, it's ripe for an upset if Duke doesn't give rebuilding Wake Forest the proper consideration.
Though the Demon Deacons should be better than last year's 3-9 team, they probably won't be contending for a bowl and thus will take solace in being able to impact others' postseason hopes. Last season, Wake picked off Virginia Tech in November and gave scares to Boston College, Clemson and Louisville.
Sept. 19 at Kentucky
Jim McElwain's first SEC game will be on the road, against a team that hasn't finished above .500 since 2009. Piece of cake, right?
Considering last year's Florida team needed triple overtime to beat Kentucky at home, it won't be a walk in the park. And while it won't be the Wildcats' first game in their renovated stadium, it could be the first memorable victory there.
Florida's roster is very thin heading into 2015, making it seem like the Gators will be scratching and clawing to get to the requisite six victories for a bowl appearance. Kentucky has always been a guaranteed win, the streak sitting at 28, but assuming the 29th will automatically happen wouldn't be a smart move.
Sept. 18 at Boston College
At this point, it's anybody's guess who will end up being the successor to Jameis Winston at quarterback for Florida State. Whether it's Notre Dame transfer Everett Golson or one of the Seminoles' inexperienced passers, the first true test for that player will come the first time FSU ventures out of its home state in 2015.
After opening against Texas State and South Florida, a Friday night game in Chestnut Hill against a rebuilding Boston College team might not seem too ominous. But tell that to USC, which faced a similar scenario last season and ran into a buzz saw in the form of the Eagles' swarming defense and a strong run game.
BC has one of the fewest returning starters of any power team in 2015, but FSU isn't in that much better shape. Sure, there's a distinct talent gap that favors the Seminoles, but the road can be a great talent equalizer, and after a year of FSU pulling off so many narrow escapes with a veteran team, it could be in line for many road stumbles this time around.
Oct. 10 at Tennessee
Georgia has a three-game stretch in October that won't define its season, but it will be integral to the Bulldogs getting back into the SEC Championship Game and potentially the playoffs. The home games against Alabama and Missouri speak for themselves, but in between, the Bulldogs' trip to Rocky Top screams "trap!"
Assuming Georgia is able to knock off the Crimson Tide the week before, thus potentially taking control of the entire conference, it will control its own destiny. But all of that can come spiraling down a week later against Tennessee, which is on the rise under Butch Jones and has taken the Bulldogs to the limit in each of his first two seasons.
Both games were three-point outcomes and easily could have gone in Tennessee's favor. If Georgia lets Alabama linger too long afterward, the Vols will pounce on that vulnerability.
Oct. 17 vs. Pittsburgh
As poorly as Pittsburgh played against Georgia Tech last season, it's understandable if the Yellow Jackets might overlook that opponent this season. And considering this year's clash with the Panthers comes in between two of their biggest matchups of the season, it's even more possible.
Tech might be among the favorites to win the ACC's Coastal Division again, but it landed the toughest possible cross-divisional games in Clemson and Florida State. It faces those opponents on either side of the Pitt game, visiting Clemson on Oct. 10 and then host FSU on Oct. 24, and those games are as important as any against a Coastal foe in the Yellow Jackets' quest for another division title.
Tech won 56-28 at Pittsburgh last season, capitalizing on six Panthers fumbles.
Nov. 7 at Purdue
Illinois' five road games this season include four against teams that played in bowl games a year ago. It's the non-bowl participant and its spot on the schedule that figures to be a place of much concern for the Fighting Illini.
A week after visiting Penn State, and right before getting to host Ohio State, Illinois travels to Purdue. The Boilermakers were far more competitive last season than in 2013, and one of their highlights was a 38-27 win at Illinois in which they rushed for 349 yards.
That loss for the Illini came in the middle of big games against Nebraska and Wisconsin, so it falls in a similar spot this year.
Sept. 26 at Wake Forest
A three-game homestand to start the season could give Indiana a huge boost toward potential bowl eligibility. So could a very winnable road opener at Wake Forest, but only if the Hoosiers don't underestimate their opponent.
Coach Kevin Wilson has managed to somehow make this game bigger than it needed to be, though, by declaring that he doesn't like the Deacons even though he was raised a Southern Baptist, per Alex Bozich of InsideTheHall.com. That's pretty much guaranteed bulletin-board material for Wake and could make it a lot harder for Indiana to start 4-0 for the first time since 1990.
Oct. 17 at Northwestern
The Northwestern game was one of Iowa's few stress-free outings last season, as the Hawkeyes rolled to a 48-7 home win. On either side of it were losses to Maryland and Minnesota that began a second-half slide in 2014.
This year's matchup with Northwestern also comes at a critical point in the season, as it's right before the Hawkeyes' only bye. Iowa could be 6-1 with a win going into that bye, but if there's too much overconfidence, the result will go the other way.
Northwestern knocked off a few good teams last year, including Notre Dame and Wisconsin, and would love to add Iowa to that list.
Sept. 19 at Toledo
There aren't many likely wins on Iowa State's 2015 schedule, and Toledo shouldn't be counted among them unless the Cyclones are going to base things off last year's result and ignore what was missing from that game. Or, rather, who was missing from their 37-30 home win.
Toledo running back Kareem Hunt missed that game with an ankle injury, one of three he sat out in 2014. In the other 10, he averaged 163 yards and gained nearly eight yards per carry with 16 touchdowns.
For a program that's struggled as much as ISU has the last few years, it's hard to really consider a game it might be an underdog in as a real trap. But it could be coming off a big win over Iowa, since it was able to beat the Hawkeyes on the road last year. After the Toledo trip comes a bye and then another winnable game against Kansas, so there is potential for not giving this one the full effort.
Oct. 17 vs. Texas Tech
With a new coaching staff and only a handful of returning starters, a number that dropped during the spring with quarterback Michael Cummings going down with a knee injury and running back Corey Avery getting dismissed, it's looking like 2015 is going to be a rough season for Kansas.
There's a strong possibility the Jayhawks could go 0-12, with their most "winnable" game being the opener against FCS South Dakota State. We can't count that as a trap since it's been the coaching staff's focus for months, so the only other place where Kansas could be running into an unexpected trap would be when Texas Tech comes to Lawrence in mid-October.
Kansas could be the Big 12 whipping boy this year, regardless of where the games are played, and right before Tech it hosts Baylor. Right after it goes to Oklahoma State, then it hosts Oklahoma.
In between is a chance at a win, but with all the bumps and bruises the Jayhawks will collect this fall, even that isn't very promising.
Sept. 19 vs. Louisiana Tech
The Big 12 Conference's hopes of having a team in the college football playoffs might hinge on how Kansas State plays this year. The Wildcats host Baylor, Oklahoma and TCU, forcing the league's best playoff contenders to win in Manhattan where victories don't come easy.
But K-State could also serve as a springboard for a non-power team to get that coveted Group of Five bowl bid, as Louisiana Tech brings a talented and experienced team in with hopes of pulling the upset. That unit includes former Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel, who transferred to the Bulldogs for 2015.
K-State actually has two "trappy" games in mid-September, starting with a trip to UTSA before coming home for Louisiana Tech. The Wildcats should be more prepared for the road game than for the home contest, and that could be a problem.
Oct. 3 vs. Eastern Kentucky
There's bad blood between Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky, despite the teams having not faced each other on the field since 2009. But a Jan. 25 fight between players from both sides has put added interest on this midseason clash that's meant to serve as a glorified bye week for Kentucky but could prove to be a major trap.
Eastern Kentucky went 9-4 last season and beat an FBS team, Miami (Ohio), along the way. The Colonels show up on Kentucky's schedule right after the Wildcats will have faced three straight SEC opponents, including Florida and Missouri at home, and before a bye leading into a major clash with Auburn.
If not for the attention that the player brawl has brought to this game, Kentucky might end up completely overlooking its opponent at the absolute wrong time.
Sept. 12 vs. Houston
Like most teams in the second week of the season, Louisville will only have one set of game film to review as it prepares for its home opener against Houston. There won't be the luxury of looking back at tape from games in 2014 to help with the planning, since the Cougars have a new coach and figure to look much different than the year before.
The Cardinals might also be more concerned with their own issues than what Houston brings to the table, as they'll be coming off a season-opening game against Auburn in Atlanta that, based on early lines—such as those on Odds Shark—doesn't figure to go their way.
Houston's debut under former Ohio State coach Tom Herman will come against FCS Tennessee Tech, and it might not require using the whole playbook to win. That will add even more secrecy to the Cougars and make their visit even more dangerous for Louisville.
Oct. 24 vs. Western Kentucky
The SEC tradition of scattering nonconference games throughout the season has its benefits, especially if the opponents aren't of the highest quality. When they prove to be better than the normal schedule fodder, they can become headaches.
LSU added Western Kentucky several years ago, then shifted the game up a season in 2013. At that time, Bobby Petrino was about to enter his first (and only) season with the Hilltoppers, but they weren't expected to be too strong. Now they'll head into Baton Rouge in late October with the top returning quarterback in the country in terms of yardage.
Brandon Doughty threw for 4,830 yards and 49 touchdowns last season. LSU's pass defense was No. 3 in the nation in 2014, but it didn't face someone as prolific as Doughty.
Sept. 12 vs. Bowling Green
Now that Maryland is fully a member of the Big Ten, and no longer a first-year newcomer, does that mean it becomes susceptible to the Mid-American jinx like other teams in the conference?
Last year, Indiana lost at home to Bowling Green, while Northwestern fell to Northern Illinois. In 2013, it was Iowa and Purdue losing to NIU while 2012 saw Ball State knock off Indiana and Ohio shock Penn State.
Maryland plays four of five at home to start the season, including three straight. This is the last of those three and comes right before traveling to West Virginia.
Sept. 12 at Florida Atlantic
Al Golden will begin this season with one of the hottest seats of any power-conference coach, and he can ill afford any results in the "bad loss" column. Losing at nearby Florida Atlantic would qualify as one of those.
Though it will be played only 50 miles away from their Coral Gables campus, and the Hurricanes figure to have plenty of fans in FAU's 30,000-seat stadium, all the pressure will be on them not to lay an egg against an Owls team that was 3-9 last year and has only three winning seasons in 10 years of FBS play.
When Miami set up this three-game series in 2012, Golden was heading into just his second season and had a bright future. But after a 7-0 start to 2013, his teams have gone 8-11 and lost a pair of bowl games.
Sept. 26 vs. BYU
Jim Harbaugh didn't get a traditional Michigan-type nonconference schedule for his first season in charge of the program, as there are no Mid-American opponents but instead four from the West. Other than the opener at Utah, the toughest of that group will be BYU, and it's also the most likely place early on where Harbaugh's rebuilding effort could stub its toe.
The Cougars, assuming star offensive players Taysom Hill and Jamaal Williams are both healthy, have the firepower to do to Michigan what they did to Texas on the road last year. BYU rolled into Austin and rolled over the Longhorns, and with the Wolverines likely trotting out a similarly inexperienced team this year, they have a great chance to claim a Big Ten scalp.
Oct. 10 at Rutgers
Rutgers has been pulling out all the stops for its home games against notable Big Ten teams since joining that conference in 2014. This continues in 2015, as the Michigan State game will be the Scarlet Knights' "blackout" game and will be played at night and shown on the Big Ten Network.
Michigan State is getting used to this kind of treatment when it hits the road in league play, but pardon the Spartans if they don't share the same excitement for this contest as the Rutgers side. Not just because MSU should be a decided favorite, but because the following Saturday it is visiting Michigan.
Sept. 12 at Colorado State
Minnesota gets a chance to throw a huge wrench into the national title picture by opening the season at home against TCU. A week later, the Golden Gophers could end up giving new Colorado State coach Mike Bobo his first big victory.
It's not the normal slow progression that Minnesota's schedules have taken under Jerry Kill, whose only nonconference loss the past three years was last season's defeat at TCU. The Colorado State game is the start of a home-and-home that could prove valuable for recruiting purposes, but the opening half is occurring at the wrong time for Minnesota.
Oct. 17 vs. Louisiana Tech
Jeff Driskel never played against Mississippi State while with Florida, but even though his SEC career is over, he gets a chance to mess with the Bulldogs in the middle of this season as Louisiana Tech's new quarterback.
MSU's overall schedule is riddled with oddities, such as an opener at Conference USA's Southern Mississippi and consecutive October non-league games. Louisiana Tech is the second half of that pairing, with Troy being the first, and then the Bulldogs host Kentucky.
It's not the most motivating portion of the schedule, and it could lend itself to resting players or tinkering with the game plan. Louisiana Tech won C-USA's West Division last year and should contend for that title again this year, so it's not the normal walkover you'd find an SEC team playing out of conference at this point.
Nov. 14 vs. BYU (in Kansas City)
Two-time defending SEC East champion Missouri will head into this season once again as an underdog, since most predictions don't have the Tigers anywhere close to the top of the standings. Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee has the Tigers pegged to finish third.
Somehow, though, Mizzou will find itself in contention for a third straight division title when the calendar turns to November, and if it can win in the clutch, it will be going to Atlanta yet again. All attention will be paid on those final conference games, against Mississippi State, Tennessee and at Arkansas, which makes plopping tough mid-major foe BYU in there very unwise.
The Cougars play a loaded schedule brimming with power opponents, each one another chance to prove they deserve to be in a big conference. The game means little to Mizzou, and that makes it a major upset special.
Sept. 26 vs. Southern Mississippi
Nebraska was able to win all four of its non-league games in 2014, but it wasn't easy. The Cornhuskers needed a miracle play by Ameer Abdullah to beat FCS McNeese State in September, a victory that seemed a guarantee because of the opponent.
The same could be said for Southern Mississippi, which has won just four games in the past three years and has lost by an average of 36.4 points against teams from the Big Ten or SEC during that span. Two of those losses were at Nebraska, and some of those players are still around in Lincoln, so they might not expect too much of the 2015 version of the Golden Eagles.
New coach Mike Riley had some bad losses in his career at Oregon State and should have Nebraska prepared for this one, but it also comes right after a road trip to Miami and before opening Big Ten play, so there's still potential for Southern Miss to be overlooked.
Oct. 29 at Pittsburgh
The ACC is a regular fixture on the Thursday night schedule, and this year there are three conference clashes set for that evening. Normally these games would come after each team has a bye, but with the 2015 season condensed by one week because of how the calendar sits, it means several of these teams will be coming in off a short week.
That's the case for both North Carolina and Pittsburgh in this pre-Halloween tilt, as Pitt will have been at Syracuse the Saturday before and UNC will be five days removed from a home game against Virginia.
This is the only road game for the Tar Heels in a six-week stretch, a part of their schedule that they can get fat and happy off of since only one opponent had a winning record in 2014. But if there's a game in that run that's apt to get a less-than-optimal effort, it's the road game on short rest.
North Carolina State
Sept. 19 at Old Dominion
North Carolina State won't be facing a power opponent in nonconference play for the fourth straight season, but it somewhat balances that out with two road games against mid-major programs. These come in back-to-back weeks just before ACC play begins, with the first game serving as a milestone for the Wolfpack's opponent.
Old Dominion, in its third season of FBS play, will be hosting a power foe for the first time in program history. Monarchs coach Bobby Wilder understands why such teams would want to play in Norfolk, telling Harry Minium of the Virginian-Pilot, "People on a national stage realize how good the high school football is here in Hampton Roads. They want to come into this market."
While this will be a great opportunity for NC State to spread its brand to a fertile recruiting area, that plan would backfire with a loss. And with the significance of the game for Old Dominion, the Wolfpack should expect as hostile a crowd as they'll see anywhere in the ACC.
Sept. 19 at Duke
Northwestern finished below .500 last year, but it was surprisingly tough on the road with three victories that included wins at Notre Dame and Penn State. Its first road game this year has the potential for success, too, and with winnable games on either side of that the Wildcats could start this season off strongly.
But the results of the Sept. 12 game against Eastern Illinois can't be automatically carried over to the game at Duke, not with the Blue Devils on their best run of success in program history. A week later, Northwestern hosts Ball State, and if it's putting too much stock in the certain wins and writing off this one (as well as the opener against Stanford), there's little momentum that can be gained from the nonconference schedule.
Sept. 12 at Virginia
Notre Dame's scheduling agreement with the ACC has it facing six of those teams this year, with four of those away from home. The Virginia trip is the one that stands out the least, though, since it's not against a team that played in a bowl game last year (like Clemson and Pittsburgh) or is being held in a baseball stadium (like the clash with Boston College at Fenway Park).
Instead, the Charlottesville journey comes right in between two huge early-season home games, the opener against Texas and the Sept. 19 game against Georgia Tech. Those two matchups will garner much more of Notre Dame's focus, but in between might be the hungriest of the Fighting Irish's early opponents.
Virginia gave itself a whale of a nonconference schedule this year, as it also visits UCLA and hosts Boise State. Last year the Cavaliers were 5-7 overall but 5-3 at home, beating bowl teams Louisville, Miami and Pittsburgh and nearly knocking off UCLA.
Nov. 14 at Illinois
After Ohio State knocks off Virginia Tech on Labor Day, it's nothing but smooth sailing until those final two games against the Michigan schools. That's how many are projecting the Buckeyes' 2015 schedule to go as they defend their national championship.
But the nine teams in between that opener and the games against Michigan State and at Michigan aren't just going to roll over, and most will treat that matchup with OSU as their biggest contest of the season. Illinois is last on that list, chronologically, hosting the Buckeyes just before those big finales.
The Fighting Illini will be up for that one, but OSU could very well be looking ahead and not put in its best effort.
Oct. 17 at Kansas State
If you underestimate Bill Snyder, bad things can happen.
Try as it might, Oklahoma might not be able to help overlooking Kansas State on the schedule this season. Even though the Wildcats have won two of the last three meetings, including last year's one-point home loss, the matchup doesn't compare to the one that will be played right beforehand.
The Sooners will be coming off the high (or low, depending on the outcome) of the annual Red River Shootout against Texas. Most years, Oklahoma has been handed an easy opponent for its post-Texas game, playing Kansas or Iowa State from 2008-13 and winning by an average of 29.7 points.
Last year it got K-State, at home, and didn't rise to the tougher challenge. Now it's a road game against the Wildcats, an even more difficult scenario.
Nov. 14 at Iowa State
Oklahoma State has the potential for a November to remember, as the Cowboys play host to TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma in its final four games. This will make them as much of a player in what happens to the Big 12 standings (and its shot at a playoff participant) as anyone else.
OK State actually plays four games that month, but there's really no need to discuss the trip to Iowa State, is there? Sure, it comes right after TCU and right before Baylor, but that's not going to be an issue for the Cowboys.
To assume that the Cyclones will be an automatic win is unwise, as it's games like that that tend to cause as much havoc to conference standings as the ones pitting top teams against each other.
Oct. 17 at Memphis
The perfect way for Ole Miss to prep for its most critical three-game stretch of the season would be with a bye week, or maybe a lightweight opponent that will be like a glorified scrimmage. Instead, just before the Rebels face Texas A&M, Auburn and Arkansas they play...Memphis? On the road?
The game was scheduled, date and all, back in 2012, with both teams coming off 2-10 records and breaking in new coaches. There was no way to know the Tigers would be defending American Athletic Conference champs and a 10-game winner this past season, but that's become Ole Miss' reality.
What was meant only to be a chance to keep itself relevant in the Memphis community, where the Rebels do well on the recruiting front, instead has turned into a major trap game.
Oct. 17 at Washington
Oregon's schedule has it play seven consecutive games to start the 2015 season, and by the end of that run, the Ducks could be worn out. The final game in that stretch is one that Oregon normally gets up for, since it's against a Washington team it enjoys beating on an annual basis, but fatigue has the chance to factor in more than rivalry.
With a bye week on the horizon, Oregon might be inclined to rest some players who are nursing injuries so as to have them rested for the stretch run. It could also be where some of the more worn-out players take off plays, which makes it possible for Washington to capitalize on this since it will not have played in nine days.
Sept. 19 vs. San Jose State
Oregon State's first road game will send it into a very difficult environment, facing Michigan in The Big House in the first home game of the Jim Harbaugh era. Barring a major upset, the Beavers will be heading home with a loss and trying to regroup before Pac-12 play begins in a few weeks.
But before the league schedule arrives is a visit from unassuming San Jose State, a program that last notched a win over a power program in 2006. The Spartans are the epitome of a mid-major that is in it for the paychecks that come with these games, and OSU is apt to treat them as such.
That's just the kind of environment that helps foster letdowns for the home teams and upsets for the visitors. Oregon State has been on the losing end of some of those the last few years, most recently to FCS teams in 2011 and 2013.
Oct. 24 vs. Maryland (in Baltimore)
Maryland has already made itself persona non grata with Penn State fans after its captains refused to shake hands prior to last year's game in Happy Valley. Beating the Nittany Lions on their home turf just made things worse.
But that still doesn't mean Penn State will be looking at the return trip—which will actually be at the home of the Baltimore Ravens rather than in College Park—as anything more than another road game. And with PSU having just played at Ohio State the week before, and likely still licking its wounds from that contest, it could very well struggle to play with a full level of intensity.
Sept. 12 at Akron
Can the same matchup be a trap game two years in a row? With Pittsburgh's history of coaching turnover, it's at least possible the new staff will have somehow forgotten what happened the last time the Panthers played Akron.
Pitt had gotten off to a 3-0 start last year before losing at home to Iowa, a game it squandered down the stretch, then a week later it laid an absolute egg at home against the Zips. The Panthers lost 21-10, registering season lows in points and rushing yards, as they clearly looked disinterested after the disappointing loss to Iowa.
This time around, the Akron game comes before the Iowa clash, but both are on the road. The Iowa game will again be the one with more riding on it, and once again the Panthers could be susceptible to not giving Akron their best effort.
Sept. 12 vs. Indiana State
Purdue has one of the toughest openers of any power-conference program, having to play at Conference USA champion Marshall on a Sunday. Six days later comes the chance to get healthy and regain confidence, but Indiana State is a lot better than most FCS teams.
The Sycamores reached the second round of the FCS playoffs last year and also had a win at Ball State. According to Bleacher Report's Justin Ferguson, they return 10 starters from one of the best defenses in the country, and several of those players were part of the 2013 team that lost by six at Purdue.
"The Sycamores will be focused on finishing the job they started two seasons ago, and the Boilermakers should be in for another tough in-state matchup," Ferguson wrote.
Nov. 21 at Army
When Rutgers originally scheduled its 2015 game against Army, it was supposed to be played at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. In January, the teams agreed to move it to Army's Michie Stadium, turning what should have been a neutral-site affair in a major market to a true road game far from home.
To make matters worse, the Scarlet Knights make this trip late in the Big Ten schedule, right after hosting Nebraska and before their finale against Maryland.
Rutgers has been able to post a 15-3 mark in nonconference games the past four seasons to help assure bowl bids each year, and this game is as important as all the others in getting it into a fifth straight bowl.
Sept. 26 vs. UCF
South Carolina's games against Georgia and Missouri both come early this season, meaning the Gamecocks will know soon enough whether they'll be in the hunt for the SEC East title. They're also both on the road, with only one game between them, and it's not the kind of contest that will enable them to take a break.
UCF has emerged as one of the toughest mid-major outs in the country the last few years, as George O'Leary has built that program into a perennial contender. He took South Carolina to the wire in Orlando two years ago, and the matchup between he and Steve Spurrier will bring forth hundreds of wins and more than a half-century of coaching experience.
This would have been a perfect spot for South Carolina to play someone like The Citadel, the team it faces right before in-state rival Clemson. Instead, there's no rest for the weary or for Spurrier.
Sept. 12 vs. UCF
Stanford is one of six power-conference teams that open on the road against another power team, starting the 2015 season at Northwestern. It's also the only power school that has three road games in September, not the kind of slate you'd expect from a program that's won 54 games the past five seasons.
And the Cardinal don't even have the luxury of a cupcake home game to lighten the early load, as UCF comes to Palo Alto having been a giant killer the past two years. In 2013 the Knights beat Baylor and Louisville, while last year they took out BYU and East Carolina.
With Stanford playing Pac-12 foes USC and Oregon State on the road after this one, games that matter more for division and conference championship goals, don't be surprised if the Cardinal isn't playing at 100 percent against UCF.
Oct. 10 at South Florida
Syracuse will spend the first five weeks of the season in upstate New York, playing four home games and then getting a bye before playing its first road game. Then the Orange play five away from home in a seven-week span, and none of those road trips are short ones.
The first is the longest and potentially the one that could cause the biggest headache for a Syracuse team trying to rebound from last year's disastrous 3-9 season. South Florida was 4-8 a year ago, so it constitutes the easiest of Syracuse's road games, but it will come in the wake of what could be a lingering hangover from the Orange's Sept. 26 game against LSU.
Whether Syracuse wins or loses that game, it's a big one on the schedule, then comes the bye. By the time the Orange return to action, South Florida might not get a full level of focus.
Nov. 21 at Oklahoma
It might seem like an indictment of Oklahoma's program, and the direction it's going, that the Sooners would be considered a trap game. In reality, it's more because of what TCU has coming up right after this game that leads to this designation.
The Horned Frogs have the unenviable task of playing in Norman just six days before arguably their biggest game of the year, the Nov. 27 clash at home against Baylor. It's expected to determine who will win the Big 12, and possibly represent the league in the playoffs, but as last season showed us it probably will take a perfect conference record to earn a bid.
In 2014, TCU's loss to Baylor kept it out of the semifinals, while Baylor lost the following week at West Virginia—in what ended up being a major trap game—and didn't get picked either.
Oct. 31 at Kentucky
Considering that the series has leaned so heavily in one team's favor—that being Tennessee, which has won 29 of the last 30 meetings against Kentucky—it's strange to think the Volunteers' visit to Lexington this year could have any real trap characteristics other than those that normally come with a border rivalry.
But as Wes Rucker of 247Sports noted, there's something different about this year's game that could make a major difference: timing.
"A game that's traditionally played at or near the tail end of the season has suddenly shifted to late October," Rucker wrote, adding that it also comes a week after the Vols play at Alabama. They'll be worn out from that battle and have to head back out on the road to play a team just itching to pull off an upset.
Sept. 19 vs. California
Texas fans have the opportunity to purchase beer and wine at home games in 2015, a move that was made to increase revenue but could have the added benefit of numbing crowds to the fact the Longhorns have a very uninspiring home schedule this year.
The Longhorns' six home opponents went a combined 36-39 last season, including California and its 5-7 mark. The Golden Bears are a lot more dangerous that that record would indicate, as they have one of the most prolific passing games in the country.
Nov. 21 at Vanderbilt
After a stellar SEC debut in 2012, the win total has gone down each year for Texas A&M. The Aggies would love to reverse that trend, but being in the West Division, that's easier said than done.
Being able to pick up wins in the crossover games is essential for A&M, but it's only been able to split those games the past two years. The Aggies have a great shot to sweep in 2015, with South Carolina coming to College Station and the crossover road game being doormat Vanderbilt.
If Vandy is any better than what we saw last season, that will most likely begin to show toward the end of the year, which is when A&M plays the Commodores. Sitting right before the final at LSU, the game is in a spot where the Aggies shouldn't overlook it, but they still may not put full focus on it.
Oct. 10 vs. Iowa State
Iowa State is going to be penciled in as a win for most Big 12 teams this season, and that includes Texas Tech. That by no means ensures the Red Raiders will come out victorious, though, especially if they're still staggering from having faced TCU and Baylor the previous two weeks.
Along with a mid-September trip to Arkansas, the Red Raiders could be riding a three-game blowout losing streak into this one. The negative momentum might be too hard to slow down, even against an opponent that's nowhere near as tough as the previous three.
Tech was able to bounce back from long losing streaks to beat Iowa State and fellow Big 12 doormat Kansas last season, but it might not be able to replicate that recovery again.
Nov. 7 at Oregon State
There were four teams in the Pac-12 Conference who had losing records last season, and UCLA has the good fortune of playing all of them this year—one right after the other during what could be a breeze of a stretch in late October and early November.
Three of those games are at home, the only road game being the one that could derail any momentum the Bruins might gain late in the season.
Oregon State pulled off a major upset last November, knocking off an 8-1 Arizona State team at home, and could get a chance to duplicate that feat.
Oct. 31 at California
USC has won 11 straight games against California, its longest active win streak against any Pac-12 opponent. Even during the late part of the ill-fated Lane Kiffin era, when the Trojans were losing more often than normal, the Golden Bears were regularly a victim.
A 12th consecutive win over Cal would come in the middle of a very important stretch for USC this season, as prior to that game, it will have played Notre Dame and Utah and right after it hosts Arizona.
Last year's game was an eight-point win for USC, though the margin was much larger before the Trojans let up in the fourth quarter and nearly blew it. It was as if the Trojans were already looking ahead to the following week's showdown with rival UCLA, and if they do the same thing this year against a much-improved Bears team (and on the road), it could be disastrous.
Sept. 19 at Fresno State
Utah has an opportunity to make a huge splash on the national scene with its opener against Michigan, then a week later, it can knock off a longtime rival in Utah State. Two weeks later comes the start of Pac-12 play with a monster of a debut at Oregon.
But let's not forget the first road game, an ill-timed trip to Fresno State that comes right before facing the Ducks.
Ideally, Utah would have preferred to have as much time to prepare for Oregon as possible, preferably with a bye week, but that comes after going to Eugene. That means either cramming the entire preparation for the Ducks into one week or using some of the time they should be devoting to Fresno.
That latter option is very likely and could prove quite costly if Utah doesn't give enough attention to the Bulldogs.
Oct. 31 at Houston
Vanderbilt doesn't have a lot of winnable games on the schedule coming from the SEC portion, so every nonconference win it can get will be huge if the Commodores have any hope of making a bowl. With that in mind, playing three mid-majors that had winning records in 2014 (including two on the road) isn't ideal.
The most ill-placed of the lot is the Halloween journey to Houston, which in head coach Tom Herman's first season should be in contention for the American Athletic Conference's West Division title. Vandy will have just faced two-time defending SEC East champ Missouri and will go to Florida a week after traveling to Houston, a stretch that wouldn't have been as ominous if it had a lesser non-league foe wedged in there in place of the Cougars.
Sept. 19 vs. William & Mary
Part of the reason why head coach Mike London landed the Virginia job in 2010 was because his predecessor, Al Groh, lost to an FCS team at the start of the 2009 season. That same lower-division program could help spell the end of London's less-than-successful tenure with the Cavaliers.
On paper, William & Mary looks like the only sure victory for Virginia during its otherwise hellacious nonconference schedule that includes games at UCLA and against Notre Dame and Boise State. Those last two bookend the visit from the Tribe, which was 7-5 last season.
London is 23-38 in five years with Virginia, though last November, it gave him another year to get things going in the right direction. As great as a win over one of those powers the Cavs play in September would be, a loss to William & Mary would be difficult to come back from.
Sept. 19 at Purdue
Virginia Tech showed last year how it could look really good one week—such as when it shocked eventual national champion Ohio State on the road—and really bad the next, as the Hokies lost at home to East Carolina just seven days later. They also won at Duke then fell in double overtime to Wake Forest a week later.
Translation: Tech has a tendency to play up or down to the level of its opponent. That could make the 2015 opener on Labor Day against visiting Ohio State a fun one, but it also means when the Hokies hit the road for the first time, they may be in jeopardy of struggling against a Purdue team that's won four games the past two years.
Sept. 19 at Army
Amid the very rough 2014 season for Wake Forest, there were a few times when the Demon Deacons' woeful offense managed to move the ball a little bit. One of those times was against Army, when they reached 100 rushing yards for the only time all year in a 24-21 win.
Army had the nation's No. 95 rushing defense, so that output wasn't particularly impressive unless you compare it to the rest of the Deacons' run outputs that year. That 100 yards represented nearly 21 percent of the season ground production.
The return game at West Point should again be one of Wake's best chances to pull out a win this season, but the road hasn't been kind under coach Dave Clawson. Last year, the Demon Deacons were 0-6 and scored only 81 points in those contests.
Sept. 19 vs. Utah State
The start of Washington's 2015 schedule has a lot of similarities to how last year's began. First is a road trip against a Mountain West opponent, though instead of playing Hawaii, it's powerhouse Boise State. Then comes an FCS team (Sacramento State this year after Eastern Washington visited in 2014) and later another home game against a mid-major team.
Like with Boise, it's a significant upgrade from whom the Huskies faced last season, as they have to play a tough Utah State team in a similar spot on the schedule to where they struggled to defeat lowly Georgia State.
Utah State has a schedule that could get it into the Group of Five major bowl bid with some quality nonconference wins, which Washington will serve as.
Sept. 12 at Rutgers
West Coast teams are at a major disadvantage when having to travel across the country for games, and their opponents often try to schedule those games as early as possible to maximize the time change. Washington State did the opposite to Rutgers last year, kicking off after 10 p.m. ET, so it's not surprising that the Cougars have to face the Scarlet Knights at 12:30 p.m. PT.
This was an odd home-and-home that the teams set up with each other, and with Washington State coming off a 3-9 season, it would have been more beneficial to have a third winnable nonconference home game to go with Portland State and Wyoming.
WSU nearly won at Auburn to open the 2013 season, so anything is possible. But it's not the best scenario for the Cougars.
Nov. 21 at Kansas
The Big 12 road trips are all long ones for West Virginia, so having to travel 900 miles to play Kansas in late November shouldn't be that big of a deal. But it's the Mountaineers' only road trip that month and comes in the middle of a stretch where they could string together a bunch of wins after a tough start to the league schedule.
Potential home wins over Texas Tech and Texas just before going to Lawrence should have West Virginia brimming with confidence, possibly too much. It lost at Kansas two years ago at the same point in the season right after falling to Texas at home in overtime.
Oct. 24 at Illinois
Wisconsin's run to the Big Ten title game last year happened despite one out-of-place hiccup along the way, that being when the Badgers went to Northwestern and stunk up the joint in a 20-14 loss. It was a bit of a trap came, a conference road opener right after three straight walkover home wins.
This year, Wisconsin's trip to that state is a little further to the south at Illinois and comes in the middle of the Big Ten slate. But it's still in a troublesome spot, since Illinois will be coming off a bye and the Badgers will have just had arguably their easiest conference game of the year against Purdue.
Complacency and a road trip can combine to create chaos.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.