Biggest Trap Game for Every Top 25 College Football Team in 2018

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystAugust 30, 2018

Biggest Trap Game for Every Top 25 College Football Team in 2018

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    Syracuse trapped Clemson last season.
    Syracuse trapped Clemson last season.Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

    The best college football teams always get up for their toughest opponents, but no one is immune to the formidable trap game.

    Several months before winning the 2014 College Football Playoff, Ohio State lost a home game to unranked Virginia Tech. The following season, Alabama won five games against AP Top 10 teams en route to the national championship, but an early home game against No. 15 Ole Miss turned into an unexpected loss.

    Similarly, Deshaun Watson and Clemson went 5-0 against ranked teams before winning the title two years ago, but they lost a home game against unranked Pittsburgh.

    Obviously, that one misstep didn't ruin the season for those teams, nor would these projected trap games necessarily be a death knell for any of the preseason AP Top 25 teams. But they are the type of losses that prove week after week that anything can happen in this game.

    The only rule for trying to predict trap games is that they can't be obvious spots for losses. For example, Auburn plays road games against both Alabama and Georgia, and the Tigers will almost certainly be the underdogs. Those don't count as traps. Just about everything else is fair game for them, though.

    Picks are based on a combination of matchup difficulty and where the game falls on the calendar, with the latter generally playing the bigger factor.

No. 25 LSU—No. 21 UCF

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    Justin Herbert
    Justin HerbertChris Pietsch/Associated Press

    25. LSU Tigers

    Trap Game: vs. Mississippi State (Oct. 20)

    Let's get this thing started with what might be the most brutal trap game for any team in the preseason poll. In addition to four games against teams in the AP Top Nine (Alabama, Georgia, Miami and Auburn), LSU has this battle with No. 18 Mississippi Stateone week after the huge matchup with No. 3 Georgia and two weeks prior to the big matchup with No. 1 Alabama. If the Tigers drop this game, the quest for bowl eligibility could be a photo finish. 


    24. Oregon Ducks

    Trap Game: at California (Sept. 29)

    Following the easiest nonconference schedule imaginable (Bowling Green, Portland State and San Jose State), Oregon will have this road game against California sandwiched in between marquee Pac-12 showdowns with No. 13 Stanford and No. 6 Washington. If the Ducks beat the Cardinal, this one will have "trap" written all over it.


    23. Texas Longhorns

    Trap Game: at Kansas State (Sept. 29)

    This is Texas' only true road game prior to the final Saturday in October, and it comes in the middle of a grueling stretch. The Longhorns draw No. 15 USC, No. 16 TCU and No. 7 Oklahoma in Weeks 3, 4 and 6, respectively, and it might be tempting to overlook this Week 5 game against Kansas Stateespecially if the Wildcats are sitting at 2-2 with uninspiring losses to Mississippi State and No. 17 West Virginia.


    22. Boise State Broncos

    Trap Game: at Wyoming (Sept. 29)

    Boise State has a bye week right before this game, which usually eliminates any possibility of a trap game. But if the Broncos punctuate a 3-0 start with a road win over Oklahoma State, they're going to spend that bye week hearing about the possibility of a 12-0 season. And while Wyoming no longer has its big-armed quarterback (Josh Allen), it's always tough for road teams to play at that altitude.


    21. UCF Knights

    Trap Game: vs. Florida Atlantic (Sept. 21)

    UCF plays two games against power-conference teams, and this Friday night battle with head coach Lane Kiffin's Owls falls directly in between those conflicts with North Carolina and Pittsburgh. Florida Atlantic is arguably the best team in that three-week stretch, so the Knights better not treat this like an opportunity to regroup.  

No. 20 Virginia Tech—No. 16 TCU

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    Cam Akers
    Cam AkersMichael Dwyer/Associated Press

    20. Virginia Tech Hokies

    Trap Game: at Pittsburgh (Nov. 10)

    One week before Virginia Tech hosts the No. 8 Miami Hurricanes in a game that should determine the winner of the ACC's Coastal Division, the Hokies have this road game against Pittsburgh, which could knock them out of the running for a division crown. Recently, this has been a nail-biting series. Each team has scored 88 points over the course of the last four games, none of which had a final margin wider than six points.


    19. Florida State Seminoles

    Trap Game: at North Carolina State (Nov. 3)

    There are three potential trap games on Florida State's schedule, as the 'Noles will play Miami, Clemson, Notre Dame and Florida in their sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th games of the season, respectively. Game Nos. 7 and 11 at home against Wake Forest and Boston College could be problematic if their focus is elsewhere, but this road game against NC State is a major cause for concernespecially if the Wolfpack offense is as deadly as it should be.


    18. Mississippi State Bulldogs

    Trap Game: vs. Arkansas (Nov. 17)

    Arkansas will probably be one of the three worst teams in the SEC this season. All other things being equal, a home game against the Razorbacks shouldn't be a problem for a ranked team. But this one comes a week after MSU's road game against Alabama and five days before it travels to Ole Miss for the Egg Bowl.


    17. West Virginia Mountaineers

    Trap Game: at Oklahoma State (Nov. 17)

    This isn't so much a trap game as it is a point where exhaustion kicks in because November is going to be a gauntlet for West Virginia. The Mountaineers open the month at Texas before bookending this Oklahoma State game with home games against TCU and Oklahoma. They may go 0-4 for the month and fall short of bowl eligibility.


    16. TCU Horned Frogs

    Trap Game: at SMU (Sept. 7)

    TCU has won the last five games in this century-old rivalry by an average margin of 31.2 points, and not a whole lot is expected from SMU after losing star receivers Courtland Sutton and Trey Quinn to the NFL. And yet, it's a Friday night road game right before back-to-back affairs against Ohio State and Texas. If the Horned Frogs overlook the Mustangs, they may regret it.            

No. 15 USC—No. 11 Michigan State

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    LJ Scott
    LJ ScottDenis Poroy/Associated Press

    15. USC Trojans

    Trap Game: at UCLA (Nov. 17)

    Given the relative (lack of) strength in the Pac-12 South, USC may have already locked up a division title by this game. So even though this is a deep-rooted rivalry, this contest won't feel as important as the following week's showdown with No. 12 Notre Dame or the subsequent Pac-12 Championship Game. If the Trojans are napping in the slightest here, look for Bruins head coach Chip Kelly and his team to take advantage.


    14. Michigan Wolverines

    Trap Game: at Northwestern (Sept. 29)

    It's hard to argue for any trap game on Michigan's schedule, since the Wolverines have five obvious major challenges against teams in the preseason AP Top 12 and six other games that they should be able to win in their sleep. The lone wild card is this road game against Northwestern, two weeks before the back-to-back-to-back slugfests with No. 4 Wisconsin, No. 11 Michigan State and No. 10 Penn State. 


    13. Stanford Cardinal

    Trap Game: at Oregon (Sept. 22)

    Stanford's September is the furthest thing from a walk in the park. The Cardinal open with a tough "Group of Five" opponent (San Diego State) before facing three ranked teams in the span of four weeks. This road game against Oregon comes two weeks after a big battle with USC and one week before another road tilt with Notre Dame. If Stanford doesn't win this one, it might have three losses before October.


    12. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

    Trap Game: vs. Pittsburgh (Oct. 13)

    What if Notre Dame decides to start its bye week a little too early? The Fighting Irish face three ranked opponents (Michigan, Stanford and Virginia Tech) in the first six weeks, and they also have a potentially tricky road game against Wake Forest during that stretch. By the time they play this home game against Pittsburgh, the impending two-week break before Navy will look like a comfy bed at the end of a long day. But they can't afford to let up before putting away the Panthers.


    11. Michigan State Spartans

    Trap Game: vs. Northwestern (Oct. 6)

    Both Michigan teams had better watch out for Northwestern this year. For the Spartans, their game against the Wildcats falls right before the road game against Penn Statewhich is right before the rivalry game against Michigan. Northwestern has won the last two games in this series too.    

10. Penn State Nittany Lions

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    James Franklin and Trace McSorley (9)
    James Franklin and Trace McSorley (9)Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Trap Game: vs. Iowa (Oct. 27)

    Could Iowa ruin someone's shot at the College Football Playoff for a third consecutive year?

    In 2016, the Hawkeyes ended Michigan's perfect season. Last year, they blew out Ohio State so badly that the CFP selection committee opted for a team that didn't even win its division. This coming season, it's Penn State whose playoff dream may go up in smoke at the hands of head coach Kirk Ferentz and company.

    Iowa was almost the initial cause of Penn State's demise last year too. The Nittany Lions needed a touchdown on the final play of the game to escape Iowa City with a 21-19 victoryeven though Saquon Barkley racked up 305 yards from scrimmage. This one could go the other way without Penn State's now-former star running back.

    As far as the schedule is concerned, this is supposed to be Penn State's opportunity to regroup for the homestretch. After what should be an easy four-game start, the Nittany Lions have to go through No. 4 Wisconsin, No. 5 Ohio State, No. 11 Michigan State and No. 14 Michigan in the span of six games. This home game against Iowa comes in the middle of that onslaught, one week before back-to-back games at Michigan and against Wisconsin.

    Given Iowa's recent history of spoiling seasons, head coach James Franklin best prepare his guys just as intensely as he does for the ranked foes.

9. Auburn Tigers

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    Jarrett Stidham
    Jarrett StidhamDavid Goldman/Associated Press

    Trap Game: vs. Texas A&M (Nov. 3)

    If Auburn is able to win the season opener against Washington, there's a reasonable chance it will get all the way through October without suffering a loss. Surely, the home game against LSU and the road games against Mississippi State and Ole Miss will be challenges, but the preseason No. 9 team should be favored in all of those contests.

    The Tigers would be 8-0 heading into their bye week with huge, gigantic, massive road games against Georgia and Alabama looming in the near future.

    But before you start dreaming about the impending 9-0 vs. 9-0 battle in Athens, there's an Aggie-sized hurdle awaiting Auburn on Nov. 3.

    You might think that it's not much to worry about because it's a home game for the Tigers, but here's an interesting factoid: The road team has won this game in each of the last six years.

    You might believe that recent trend doesn't matter because the Aggies aren't expected to vie for a national championship this year, but they were also unranked at the start of the 2012 and 2016 seasons and were 15 spots behind Auburn in the 2014 preseason AP Top 25. None of it stopped them from marching into Jordan-Hare Stadium and emerging victorious.

    If head coach Jimbo Fisher is able to establish a few new receiving threats in the first two months of the seasonA&M lost both Christian Kirk and Damion Ratleythe Aggies just might keep that pattern going for a seventh season.

8. Miami Hurricanes

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    Ahmmon Richards
    Ahmmon RichardsWilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Trap Game: at Georgia Tech (Nov. 10)

    One could make the argument that the Sept. 15 road game against Toledo is actually Miami's trap. It's the only true road contest until Oct. 13, it's an opponent the Hurricanes had trouble with last season and it's the only time they might need to bring their A game in Weeks 2 through 5.

    However, the first of back-to-back road games against the ACC's Tech schools is the real trap.

    As was the case for Auburn, there's a good chance Miami gets to November with a perfect record, provided it wins the season opener (LSU). The 'Canes will host Florida State and travel to Boston College in October, but they'll clearly be favored in both games. Factor in a presumed home win over Duke on Nov. 3 and Miami will enter this one sitting at 9-0 with the upcoming contest at Virginia Tech potentially deciding who wins the ACC Coastal Division.

    But Miami will have to get by Georgia Tech first, which was anything but an easy task last year. The Hurricanes needed a last-second miracle to beat the Yellow Jacketsand that mid-October home game didn't have anywhere near the pressure that this matchup would contain.

    Normally, though, Miami has little trouble with Georgia Tech. The 'Canes have won eight of the last nine games in this series—six of them by a margin of at least two touchdowns.

    Perhaps the regular-season finale against Pittsburgh is what they need to watch out for again. One week after a road game against Virginia Tech and one week before a presumed rematch with Clemson in the ACC title game would certainly qualify as a potential trap.

7. Oklahoma Sooners

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    Rodney Anderson
    Rodney AndersonRon Jenkins/Getty Images

    Trap Game: vs. Kansas State (Oct. 27)

    It's surprising there aren't more people projecting Oklahoma to reach the College Football Playoff for a third time in four years. The Sooners are the best team in the Big 12, and their nonconference schedulehome games against Florida Atlantic, UCLA and Army—is challenging enough to be respected without being so challenging as to produce a loss.

    They aren't the most likely team to put together an undefeated season, but they should be favored in every game.

    But are they consistent enough to survive five consecutive challenges?

    The grind begins with the Red River Rivalry against Texas in Dallas on Oct. 6. After that, Oklahoma gets a bye week before alternating road and home games against TCU, Kansas State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. All five of those teams have bowl potential, so there's not a game during that stretch where the Sooners can afford to let their foot off the gas.

    If there's one where they might be tempted to do so, it's the home game against the Wildcatseven though Kansas State has won two of the last three meetings in Oklahoma. For a third consecutive year, Kansas State figures to have one of the best rushing attacks in the Big 12, and that could be trouble for a Sooners defense replacing front-seven leaders Emmanuel Neal, D.J. Ward and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo.

6. Washington Huskies

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    Jake Browning
    Jake BrowningElaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Trap Game: at UCLA (Oct. 6)

    Beyond the season opener against Auburn, there's not a likely loss on Washington's schedule.

    That isn't to say the Huskies are going undefeated if they start out 1-0. They could certainly pick up an L or two along the way. They'll be tested at Oregon, and the November home game against Stanford should decide who wins the Pac-12 North. But there's no matchup so brutal as to argue that they would overlook the opponent leading up to that game.

    That said, there is one spot on the schedule that figures to get a bit dicey.

    Washington will travel to UCLA for the first of back-to-back road tilts. (The second is at Oregon.) And thanks to a late bye week, this is game No. 6 in a stretch of 10 consecutive Saturdays on the gridiron for the Huskies. Fatigue may start to set in with the finish line still so far away.

    What's more, Washington fans can't be happy about Chip Kelly's return to the Pac-12. When he was at Oregon from 2009 to 2012, the Ducks consistently pounded the Huskies, averaging 45.5 points in those blowout victories. Granted, Washington wasn't anywhere near as good then as it is now, and Kelly doesn't have the same arsenal of athletes at UCLA that he had at Oregon, but the man has had this program's number.

5. Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Nick Bosa
    Nick BosaJay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Trap Game: at Maryland (Nov. 17)

    Given recent history, it's hard to keep a straight face while suggesting Ohio State had better watch out for Maryland. Since the Terrapins joined the Big Ten in 2014, the Buckeyes have beaten them like a dusty rug. All four games were decided by at least 21 points, and the average margin has been 39.0 points.

    But it's the most obvious spot for a trap.

    Last year's hideous loss to Iowa was a road game sandwiched directly between contests against No. 2 Penn State and No. 12 Michigan State. Though the Buckeyes emerged victorious from the bigger challenges, there was a colossal letdown in the matchup they should have had the least trouble winning.

    It's a nearly identical situation for this one.

    Ohio State has to travel to Maryland between much more noteworthy games against No. 11 Michigan State and No. 14 Michigan. And this may well be a desperation game for the Terrapins as far as bowl eligibility is concerned. Given their schedule, there's a good chance they'll be 5-5 heading into this one with an even tougher game (at Penn State) waiting in the season finale.

    An "all or nothing" situation for the underdog against the favorite who might be overlooking the matchup? Recent history be damned, that's a trap game if I've ever seen one.

4. Wisconsin Badgers

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    Jonathan Taylor
    Jonathan TaylorLynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Trap Game: at Purdue (Nov. 17)

    While it was hard to come up with any trap games for a few of these Top 10 teams, the difficult part with Wisconsin's schedule was whittling the list to one.

    That's because all five of Wisconsin's road contests represent potential losses.

    The obvious ones are against Michigan and Penn State. But the Badgers also play at Iowa after a weak nonconference slate and right before their bye, and they play at Northwestern two weeks after the Michigan game and two weeks before the Penn State tilt.

    The biggest trap, though, is the Purdue game, because it comes at a point when Wisconsin's guard might be down.

    Assuming the Badgers lose either zero or one of the first four road games, they should have the Big Ten West all but clinched. Not only will they be thinking about winning the conference championship, but they'll also be in the conversation for the College Football Playoff. With this road game against the Boilermakers coming seven days after facing the Nittany Lions, it's a prime spot for a letdown.

    However, as was the case with Ohio State, recent history makes this potential upset feel more than a little unlikely. Wisconsin has won 12 straight against Purdue, and nine of the last 10 games in this series were decided by at least a three-score margin. But Purdue is better now than it was during the majority of that lopsided stretch.

3. Georgia Bulldogs

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    Jake Fromm
    Jake FrommDavid J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Trap Game: at Kentucky (Nov. 3)

    For the past four decades, Georgia has dominated this series. The Bulldogs have won 35 of their last 40 games against the Wildcats, including an active eight-game winning streak. Moreover, four of the last five were decided by at least a 24-point margin.

    And yet, if there's a trap lurking on Georgia's schedule, this has to be the spot.

    Three weeks before this road game is a tougher road tilt against LSU. Then, after a bye week, it's on to the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party against Florida in Jacksonville. And seven days after this Kentucky game is the showdown with Auburn that every college football fan is already eager to see.

    This is the lone opportunity during that stretch for the Bulldogs to let their foot off the proverbial gas pedal. That could be a problem, since Kentucky has the top returning running back in the SEC in Benny Snell Jr.

    By November, though, most expect Georgia running back D'Andre Swift will have emerged as one of the best players in the conference. At this point in the season, Georgia's defense presumably will have also adjusted to life after Roquan Smith and will be ready to keep Snell bottled up. But even if the Wildcats don't pull off the upset, this game should be more interesting than it has been in recent years.

2. Clemson Tigers

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    Travis Etienne
    Travis EtienneBob Leverone/Associated Press

    Trap Game: at Boston College (Nov. 10)

    Clemson has perfected the art of the trap game, and not in a good way.

    Last year, the Tigers endured a Friday night loss to a Syracuse team that only won three other games all season. Sure, Kelly Bryant suffered a concussion near the end of the first half, but Clemson was already trailing and looking lethargic before that happened.

    In 2016, the Tigers suffered a home loss to a Pittsburgh team that had one of the worst defenses in the country that year (100th). Deshaun Watson threw for 580 yards, but it wasn't enough.

    In both cases, the trap game came a little over halfway through the season, two weeks after one marquee road game and three weeks prior to another big challenge. On this year's calendar, that's where we find a tricky road contest against Boston College14 days after traveling to Florida State and 21 days before the (presumed) matchup with Miami in the ACC championship.

    One would think that if there's any defensive line ready to shut down stud running back AJ Dillon, it'd be this one. Clelin Ferrell and Co. certainly had his number last year, limiting him to 57 rushing yards. But even with that pedestrian performance from their star, the Eagles put up one heck of a fight in a game that was tied at seven early in the fourth quarter.

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Jerry Jeudy
    Jerry JeudyButch Dill/Associated Press

    Trap Game: vs. Missouri (Oct. 13)

    I am aware how absurd it is to suggest Alabama might lose this game.

    The Crimson Tide are 66-4 at home over the past 10 seasons, and all four of those losses were to teams ranked in the AP Top 15 at the time of the game. Unless Missouri shocks the world by starting out 5-0—including a win over Georgiathe Tigers won't fit that description. Moreover, since joining the SEC in 2012, Missouri is 0-2 against Alabama with losses by 29 and 32 points.

    But there are two reasons this is the most logical trap game.

    First, it's the only time all season Alabama has one contest sandwiched between two road games, which is one of the telltale spots to find a trap. Considering a home game against The Citadel is the only time the Crimson Tide have one opponent surrounded by two ranked opponents, this is the only game that makes sense.

    The second and more important reason is Alabama lost its entire starting secondary—and Missouri has one of the most lethal quarterbacks in the country in Drew Lock. He threw for 44 touchdowns last season, and three of his four favorite targets are still on the roster. This is one team that could put points on the board against what is annually one of the country's stingiest defenses.

    Of course, Missouri's defense is so bad that it would probably need to score eight times to win, but this game could be entertaining.


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