SEC Football: Biggest Trap Game for Every Team in 2016
They're lurking, waiting in the shadows, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting prey.
It's impossible for college head coaches to get their young charges as excited to play Alabama State as they are to play Alabama, and the work that coaches do during weeks that don't necessitate as much focus from the players are some of the most challenging of each season.
Just over the last two seasons, Toledo has upset Arkansas, Georgia Southern stunned Florida, and The Citadel went into Williams-Brice Stadium and shocked South Carolina. Just last year, Georgia Southern scared the daylights out of Georgia in an overtime loss, Florida Atlantic gave Florida all that it wanted, and Jacksonville State had Auburn on the ropes in Week 2.
What are the most dangerous trap games for each SEC team in 2016? Our picks based on schedule, talent level and scheme are in this slideshow.
Alabama: vs. Western Kentucky, Sept. 10
The month of September is brutal for an Alabama team that's loaded with questions thanks to the neutral-site opener in Arlington, Texas, against USC at home and the Week 3 trip to Oxford to take on an Ole Miss team that has topped the Tide in consecutive seasons.
Sandwiched between the two is a tricky contest against a Western Kentucky squad that's far from a pushover.
The Hilltoppers, coached by Jeff Brohm, boast a unique offense that slings the ball all over the field, can jump on opponents early and have become accustomed to winning after enjoying a 12-2 season a year ago. They have to replace the production of former quarterback Brandon Doughty, but the team has a veteran group around the eventual winner of the quarterback battle.
Alabama is entering this season with questions on offense. It won't lose to WKU, but it might have to grow up a bit in order to pull away late in a game that is far from a gimme.
Arkansas: vs. Alcorn State (in Little Rock), Oct. 1
Weird things typically happen during Arkansas' annual game at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. The Hogs lost to Toledo there last year, fell to an injury-riddled Georgia team in 2014, needed a fourth-quarter comeback to beat Samford in 2013 and lost to Louisiana-Monroe in overtime in 2012.
Their 2016 game in Little Rock will be against Alcorn State, which shouldn't be too worrisome. But due to its placement after the trip to Arlington, Texas, to play Texas A&M and prior to meeting Alabama, we'll choose it as one to watch out for. Why? Arkansas is loaded with questions marks in the offense and secondary and—quite frankly—there is a lack of other trap-game options on the schedule.
Alcorn State went 9-4 last year, won the Southwestern Athletic Conference and played in the inaugural Celebration Bowl in Atlanta.
No, the Braves shouldn't top the Razorbacks. But would it totally shock you if the game was closer than the experts predict? It wouldn't shock me.
Auburn: vs. Vanderbilt, Nov. 5
Auburn's stretch run every year is dubbed "Amen corner" by Tigers fans, and this year, there's a terrifying twist.
The Tigers play at Ole Miss, at Georgia and at Alabama over the final five games of the year, but sandwiched between the games versus the Rebels and Bulldogs is a home game versus Vanderbilt that is as much of a trap game as any contest in the SEC.
This isn't your normal Commodores cakewalk. Head coach Derek Mason's crew finished last season with the nation's sixth-best third-down defense (28.16 percent) and fourth-best red-zone touchdown defense (32.65 percent) according to CFBStats.com. Coming back are several talented 'Dores in that defense, including stud linebacker Zach Cunningham and defensive back Oren Burks.
Vanderbilt put a late-season scare into Florida in Gainesville last year, kept it close with Georgia for the majority of the game in September and can spring an upset if more talented teams look past it.
Auburn better not take Vanderbilt lightly.
Florida: at Vanderbilt, Oct. 1
Florida knows all too well how dangerous Vanderbilt can be, after the Gators needed a last-second field goal to top the Commodores 9-7 to claim the SEC East title.
History can repeat itself and perhaps be rewritten in early October when the 'Dores look to finish Florida off in Nashville, Tennessee, in a tricky spot for the Gators.
Head coach Jim McElwain's crew will be coming off a road trip to Tennessee and perhaps looking ahead to the following week's home game versus LSU, while Vanderbilt will be off of its road trip to Western Kentucky.
Vandy has a stout defense, a stellar running game behind Ralph Webb and an established quarterback heading into the season in Kyle Shurmur.
If Florida's offense isn't clicking by this point—particularly running backs Mark Thompson, Jordan Scarlett and Jordan Cronkrite—watch out for the Commodores. The Gators might have to score a few more points on the 'Dores this year to get the job done.
Georgia: at Kentucky, Nov. 5
If Georgia is going to win the SEC East in Year 1 for Kirby Smart, it's going to have to avoid the dreaded letdown.
The Kentucky game is set up to be that hurdle.
Sandwiched between rivalry games versus Florida and Auburn, Georgia's road trip to Kentucky in its next-to-last SEC game of the year could have enormous ramifications depending on what happens during the first two months of the season.
The Bulldogs have handled the Wildcats with relative ease over the last three years, but if that trend is going to continue, they will have to shut down the dreaded one-two punch of "Boom" Williams and Jojo Kemp with a rather unproven defensive front.
By that point, Georgia should have added a stable downfield passing attack—led by sophomore wide receiver Terry Godwin—to the stout rushing attack. But that might depend on how much freshman quarterback Jacob Eason has progressed.
Georgia should take care of Kentucky, but strangers things have happened.
Kentucky: at Missouri, Oct. 29
Kentucky has suffered two straight late-season slides that prevented head coach Mark Stoops' crew from making a bowl game.
If the Wildcats are going to avoid a three-peat, it probably has to beat Missouri on Halloween weekend in Columbia.
The game comes after the cross-division rivalry game with Mississippi State and prior to the Wildcats' home tilt versus Georgia. It could be the make-or-break game for not only Stoops' bowl chances but his job status.
Missouri will boast a stellar defense behind defensive linemen Charles Harris, Terry Beckner and Harold Brantley. The Tigers could force Kentucky quarterback Drew Barker—who will be in his first full season as the starter—to win a relatively big game with his arm.
LSU: vs. Missouri, Oct. 1
LSU's offensive strength is apparent with Heisman Trophy front-runner Leonard Fournette leading the way at running back and Derrius Guice and Nick Brossette backing him up.
What if that running game gets slowed down, though?
Missouri finished second in the SEC in defensive rushing yards per carry allowed last year at 3.29, according to CFBStats.com. Not only do the Tigers get the foundation of that defensive front back in Charles Harris and Terry Beckner, but they should get Harold Brantley back after he missed the 2015 season while recovering from injuries suffered in a car accident.
"Harold Brantley, that's my partner in crime," Harris said at SEC media days. "I was hoping to really dominate with him last year before he went down, but this year, we're looking to put up some great numbers."
The Tigers play Missouri between road trips to Auburn and Florida. Don't be surprised if "D-Line Zou" limits the success of the LSU running game and forces quarterback Brandon Harris to win the game with his arm.
Mississippi State: at BYU, Oct. 14
Following its home game versus Auburn, Mississippi State will turn around and head west to Provo, Utah, for a tricky Friday night game versus BYU.
The quick turnaround after a critical SEC West game, the unfamiliar travel schedule and the high altitude could impact head coach Dan Mullen's Bulldogs and should put them on upset alert against a Cougars team that is no pushover.
BYU boasts two elite quarterbacks in Taysom Hill and Tanner Mangum and a veteran offensive line. Plus, it's not like there's a lot of stability in Mississippi State's defensive front at the moment.
Mullen should have worked out his offensive questions—particularly at quarterback and running back—by this point, but that offense might have to click on all cylinders in this Friday night special.
Missouri: Vs. Vanderbilt, Nov. 12
If Missouri is going to be bowl-eligible this year, it might want to take care of Vanderbilt at home in mid-November between two key road trips.
The home tilt with the Commodores comes after the Tigers' trip to South Carolina and prior to another road trip to Tennessee. In that game versus Vanderbilt, it will be like Missouri is playing its twin.
Both squads boast stellar defenses, have major questions on offense, threw two young quarterbacks into the fire last year and aren't settled at wide receiver.
How many of those questions will be answered during the first two-and-a-half months of the season? The team that answers more of them will likely have the edge in this matchup, which could make or break the bowl hopes of both squads.
Ole Miss: vs. Georgia Southern, Nov. 5
Georgia Southern took Georgia to overtime last November and shocked Florida two Novembers ago.
Could Ole Miss be next in line?
The Eagles visit Oxford after Ole Miss hosts Auburn and prior to its road trip to Texas A&M, and they have the talent and scheme to at least scare the Rebels.
Will Ole Miss have the depth to play at an elite level in November? Will it have its offensive line questions figured out? Will the NCAA issue be put to bed at that point, or will it come to a head?
If even one of those issues is still unresolved at the time of this matchup, Ole Miss should be on big-time upset alert.
South Carolina: vs. East Carolina, Sept. 17
After The Citadel shocked South Carolina a year ago, every game should be on the radar for the Gamecocks in Will Muschamp's first season as head coach.
The biggest trap game on the schedule is its early-season tilt versus East Carolina, which is sandwiched between road trips to Mississippi State and Kentucky.
East Carolina hung around in the last meeting between these two—a 33-23 South Carolina win in 2014—and the talent drain in South Carolina since that game is a big reason why former head coach Steve Spurrier hung up the visor midway through the 2015 season.
Will South Carolina have all of its questions—which include quarterback, running back, wide receiver, defensive line and linebacker—figured out by Week 3? That's unlikely, which means this game might be sloppy for the Gamecocks.
Tennessee: vs. Missouri, Nov. 19
Tennessee has a three-headed monster on the ground in dual-threat quarterback Joshua Dobbs, bruiser Jalen Hurd and all-purpose weapon Alvin Kamara. That crew combined for 2,657 rushing yards and 30 touchdowns a year ago in an offense that didn't exactly pose a consistent downfield passing threat.
Missouri can handle that, though.
The Tigers gave up just 3.29 yards per carry on the ground a year ago. They also get star Charles Harris, former hot-shot recruit Terry Beckner and former star Harold Brantley back after the latter missed the 2015 season while recovering from injuries suffered in an offseason car accident.
If the passing game isn't clicking for Vols head coach Butch Jones and/or the Vols are looking past the Tigers and toward bigger and better things, this game could get sketchy thanks to the stout Missouri defense.
Texas A&M: at South Carolina, Oct. 1
Texas A&M has to get off to a hot start to lessen the pressure on head coach Kevin Sumlin. Avoiding a letdown at South Carolina in early October might go a long way toward keeping that pressure away.
The game falls between the Aggies' neutral site game versus Arkansas in Arlington, Texas, and before its home game against Tennessee.
At that point of the season, South Carolina might have found its quarterback, developed true freshman wide receiver Bryan Edwards, found some answers on defense and could—at the very least—be dangerous.
The last thing that Sumlin needs a couple of weeks prior to Texas A&M's bye week is an upset loss on his resume, because that wouldn't sit well with the decision-makers who expect more from this year's Aggies.
Vanderbilt: at Western Kentucky, Sept. 24
Sandwiched between a road trip to Georgia Tech and a home tilt versus Florida, Vanderbilt has a tricky road game at Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers topped Vanderbilt a year ago and have a unique air offense that will be a challenge for Commodores head coach and defensive coordinator Derek Mason to prepare for.
What's the cure for Vanderbilt?
Ralph Webb, of course.
The 1,000-yard rusher from a year ago will be key to the 'Dores avoiding a letdown against the Hilltoppers. If Webb can control the ball and keep his team in control of the tempo, it will keep Western Kentucky's biggest weapon—its offense—on the sideline.
If he can't, or if Vandy is looking ahead, the Hilltoppers could make it two in a row.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.