The SEC's biggest trap games in 2015
Coaches dread them, as do fans who aren’t quite as ‘into it’ on game days against the less-talented teams.
We’re talking about trap games that exist on every team’s schedule.
Often defined by potential letdowns following momentum-changing wins or the pesky appetizer prior to a showdown with divisional title implications, these contests are speed bumps on the long journey to Atlanta.
The favorites struggle with focus and effort level. That’s the primary narrative if the game’s closer than expected — or worse.
With that in mind, here are a couple potential trap games this season in the SEC:
Auburn at Kentucky, Oct. 15
The stakes: One of the many must-wins on Auburn’s loaded SEC slate, both the Tigers and Wildcats will have ample time to prepare coming off a bye week. New Commonwealth Stadium’s spotlighted introduction in a raucous Thursday night environment heightens the challenge.
Underdogs’ edge: The statistics don’t lie — college football teams thrive at home during weekday made-for-TV matchups. In recent years, several Top 5 teams fell victim to road upsets on Thursday nights, but the Tigers nixed that trend last fall with a win at Kansas State. Kentucky will at least have the first-half edge for fan support.
Why it’s a trap for the favorite: It’s Auburn vs. Kentucky on paper, a game Gus Malzahn’s offense should dominate based on personnel advantages alone. But if the Tigers fall, they’ll have nine days to think about it before what would’ve been a pivotal West Division matchup at Arkansas the following weekend. Losing to a squad that hasn’t reached bowl eligibility since 2010 would lead to definite destruction for Auburn’s season.
Texas Tech at Arkansas, Sept. 19
The stakes: Ranked inside the preseason Top 25, Arkansas will look to improve to 3-0 in September as a double-digit favorite over a team it ran all over last season.
Underdogs’ edge: Perhaps Texas Tech catches the Hogs in sleepwalk mode looking ahead to the following week’s SEC opener against Texas A&M, a showdown at AT&T Stadium. The Red Raiders’ uptempo offense, if it stays turnover-free, could cause some frustration with an early lead against a run-heavy opposition.
Why it’s a trap for the favorite: Arkansas rushed for seven touchdowns and nearly 500 yards in this matchup a year ago with nearly identical personnel on offense. No would blame Bret Bielema’s team for expecting more of the same at D.W.R. Razorback Stadium this season against a middle-of-the-road opponent from the Big 12. However, the Red Raiders are anxious to erase a disastrous 4-8 campaign and Kliff Kingsbury has this one circled since Texas Tech will also be unbeaten coming in. With TCU looming the following week, you could imagine the Red Raiders will be going ‘all in’ at Arkansas.
BYU vs. Mizzou (Arrowhead Stadium), Nov. 14
The stakes: The Tigers haven’t lost a game in November since the 2012 season and the Cougars will be gunning for bowl eligibility, likely at 5-4 overall.
Underdogs’ edge: We commend the Tigers for stepping out of Cupcake City (compared to other non-SEC contests) and playing the Cougars, but it’s a matchup that may not be favorable defensively. Taysom Hill is one of the nation’s top dual-threat quarterbacks and may pose problems outside the pocket for a front four with depth concerns. BYU’s chances would improve if this game was early in the season, but it still won’t be an easy win for Mizzou in Week 11.
Why it’s a trap for the favorite: Mizzou’s final non-conference game of the season comes in neutral-site packaging sandwiched between pivotal SEC home games against Mississippi State and Tennessee. This one has potential letdown written all over it considering BYU will be a bowl team with a formidable offense. Bronco Mendenhall’s Cougars battle several Power 5s as an independent and this would make for a feather-in-the-cap victory.
Tennessee at Kentucky, Oct. 31
The stakes: Remaining in East Division contention is on the line for the Vols, while the Wildcats try and inch closer to that sixth win needed for bowl eligibility.
Underdogs’ edge: Kentucky welcomes Tennessee to Lexington after the Vols play at Alabama, so not only will the visitors be physically drained, they could be riding high after the biggest win of the Butch Jones era. Kentucky caught South Carolina in the same fashion a couple years ago after the Gamecocks had just upset the top-ranked Crimson Tide in Columbia.
Why it’s a trap for the favorite: This is a game Tennessee is supposed to win by double digits, having done so 21 times in the series since 1985. Kentucky’s lone win during that span came in 2010 when the Vols were offensively challenged during a 10-7 loss at Commonwealth Stadium. We’re all dismissing the Wildcats as a potential contender in what appears to be a top-heavy East this season, but this would be a game that shifts some of the attention in Mark Stoops’ favor.