The one 'trap game' each SEC team must avoid in 2014
Let’s face it, fans LOVE upsets; unless, of course, it’s their team being upset.
Upsets happen every year, and they often flip the football world on its head when they occur. They make any game worth watching, no matter how one-sided it may seem on paper.
But at the other end of every upset is a college football power being taken down. And in a conference like the SEC where teams fight furiously to avoid drowning in a sea of ranked opponents, sometimes all it takes is one underdog to slip through and catch a powerhouse program in its “trap.”
Every SEC team risks falling victim to a trap game throughout the season. Sometimes the favorite just doesn’t take the underdog seriously enough, firing up the ‘little guy’ for one gutsy performance.
Other times a team’s schedule may be what’s laying the trap. For example: if a team is scheduled to play three ranked opponents in a four-week stretch, the fourth team could easily get lost in the shuffle, making it as dangerous as its ranked counterparts.
There are potential trap games hidden on every SEC team’s schedule. To clarify, a trap game must be an upset, but it needs to be the kind of upset that should have been avoided. So if a team loses its starting quarterback in the second quarter and then loses that game, it wasn’t a trap game, but rather an unfortunate injury. But if that same quarterback doesn’t get hurt and instead throws three sloppy interceptions to cost his team the game, it is indeed a trap game.
Make sense? Good.
Here is one potential trap game for each team in the SEC:
Alabama – Sept. 20 vs. Florida: Alabama has experienced such sustained success in the Nick Saban era that it almost transcends the concept of the trap game. Every team on the Tide’s schedule is so geared up over the opportunity to play Alabama that Saban’s program hasn’t been able to take a week off in years, no matter the opponent. Teams just play with a different level of intensity when taking on the almost-unbeatable Crimson Tide, which doesn’t even give Alabama the opportunity to fall asleep on an opponent.
However, the team’s SEC opener, a home meeting with the Florida Gators, could be the closest thing to a “trap game” on ‘Bama’s schedule. Florida is coming off one of its worst seasons in recent history, and the program is no longer among the nation’s elite teams. That said, the roster is still filled with elite talents who always have the potential of coming together and playing like a ranked team once again. One week after taking on the Gators, Alabama will travel to the Grove to take on an emerging Ole Miss program, and if the Tide get distracted with a potential top-10 meeting in Oxford, the Gators could ‘chomp’ a bite out of Alabama’s chances at a perfect season.
Arkansas – Sept. 20 vs. Northern Illinois: Arkansas struggled in the SEC West in head coach Bret Bielema’s first season, but the program looks to be heading back in the right direction. Still, the Razorbacks cannot afford to get distracted outside the SEC. Northern Illinois lost its do-everything quarterback in Jordan Lynch, but it is still a team returning many of its starters from last season that knows what it takes to play on a national stage. The Huskies will not shy away from a challenge against Arkansas. The Razorbacks, meanwhile will be coming off a difficult non-conference road trip to take on Texas Tech and will be one week away from resuming SEC play when Northern Illinois comes to town. It’d be an upset if Northern Illinois won, just don’t tell their players that.
Auburn – Oct. 11 at Mississippi State: After opening the year with Arkansas at home, the Tigers will endure a difficult three-game non-conference stretch featuring games against San Jose State, Kansas State and Louisiana Tech. Auburn will then host LSU and two weeks later will host South Carolina. The Mississippi State game falls right between the Tigers’ showdowns with LSU and South Carolina, and Auburn may just be tired enough from a tough first five weeks and distracted enough by Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks that it falls prey to Mississippi State.
With a quarterback in Dak Prescott who can beat you in a number of ways, Mississippi State won’t be afraid of Auburn, especially not in the land of the cowbells. If Auburn lets up even a little the Bulldogs could easily steal this game.
Florida – Nov. 8 at Vanderbilt: Florida will try to prove last year was a fluke by returning to prominence this season, but it cannot lose sight of its road trip to Vandy sandwiched in between games against Florida’s two biggest rivals in the SEC East: Georgia and South Carolina. The Commodores took as big a step forward last season as Florida did backward, and although Vanderbilt lost coach James Franklin to Penn State, it still has a roster filled with Franklin’s former recruits. These aren’t your father’s Commodores, nor are these your father’s Gators, which could make this showdown very interesting.
Georgia – Sept. 27 vs. Tennessee: Georgia opens the season with as tough a two-game stretch as anyone in the conference. The Bulldogs will host Clemson then travel to take on South Carolina one week later in its most important SEC East game of the season. Things quiet down for Georgia after that as the team is slated to play Troy, Tennessee and Vanderbilt in its next three games. But if Georgia takes its foot off the gas after those first two games, look for Tennessee to be the team that takes advantage.
Troy would need a miracle to top Georgia in Athens, but Tennessee would not. Butch Jones has brought hope back to Neyland Stadium since his arrival in Knoxville last year, and if the Vols can get any semblance of decent quarterback play this season they are not a team to take lightly.
Kentucky – Oct. 11 vs. Louisiana-Monroe: The Wildcats haven’t won an SEC in each of the last two seasons, so they are the conference’s designated “trappers,” in that they’re the team most other SEC teams fall asleep on. So who might UK fall asleep on this year? UL-Monroe may get to travel to Lexington at the perfect time of the year in 2014, as UK will have just endured three straight SEC East tests and will have to travel to LSU the week after playing ULM. The Warhawks topped Auburn just two years ago and know what it takes to take down an SEC foe. Kentucky rarely lets up against non-conference opponents, mostly because those have been the program’s only wins in recent history, but if there was a team that could trap UK in 2014 its ULM.
LSU – Oct. 25 vs. Ole Miss: Although LSU lost to Ole Miss as recently as last year, the Tigers may fall victim to the Rebels’ trap once again. The Tigers will enter the game a week after what should be a slaughter against Kentucky and a week before its annual “game of the year” against Alabama. If LSU walks away uninspired from its likely win over UK and already begins looking ahead to ‘Bama (as many teams are susceptible to doing) Ole Miss could pull the rug out from under LSU once again. Bo Wallace enters this season with more career starts than any other quarterback in the SEC, so the Tigers cannot afford to look past the Rebels once again.
Mississippi State – Nov. 1 vs. Arkansas: The Razorbacks are once again being projected to finish last in the SEC West, and they fall between Kentucky and UT Martin on Mississippi State’s schedule. If Arkansas can blend in with its surroundings, it could burn the Bulldogs in the middle of what should be called their “cupcake season.” If there’s one thing Bielema likes to do, it’s run the football downhill, and after losing its top-two defenders from last season in Nickoe Whitley and Deonte Skinner, MSU had better be ready.
Missouri – Sept. 6 at Toledo: Mizzou opens the season with four straight non-conference games before it hones in on its SEC schedule. The game against Toledo is the only one of those games played outside Columbia, and it comes a week before Mizzou’s toughest non-conference game against UCF (to be televised on ABC). If Missouri gets distracted focusing on UCF or even on looking good for the ABC cameras, it could get burned by a Toledo team playing for the pride of the MAC.
Ole Miss – Oct. 11 at Texas A&M: Hugh Freeze’s team is ready to take the next step this season and be considered a contender for the College Football Playoff, which means the Rebels cannot afford any slip-ups. One potential trap could be Ole Miss’s showdown on the road against Texas A&M just one week after taking on Alabama. If Ole Miss is able to beat the Tide or even play them close enough to earn some national favor, it may look past the Johnny Football-less Aggies and toward matchups down the line with Tennessee, LSU (on the road), Auburn and Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl. Manziel may be gone, but the 12th man still lives at Kyle Field. No matter what happens against ‘Bama the week before, Ole Miss must be sharp for this one.
South Carolina – Sept. 20 at Vanderbilt: South Carolina’s annual early-season showdown with Georgia has become one of the most intense conference rivalries in the nation over the years. That’s why South Carolina needs to stay sharp one week later when it travels to take on Vanderbilt. Vandy may not be known for having a tremendous home field advantage in Nashville, but the team believes it is a true contender in the SEC East, and it doesn’t not need any help from a lackadaisical Gamecocks squad. USC may still be reeling from the Georgia game, or it may already be looking ahead to a showdown with defending East champion Missouri, but either way it needs to stay focused on the Commodores or risk having its national title chances ruined in the conference’s smallest stadium.
Tennessee – Nov. 15 vs. Kentucky: This game used to be played at the end of the season, but it was moved up two weeks earlier to accommodate Kentucky’s Governor’s Cup rivalry game against Louisville, which is now being played on the final week of the regular season. Kentucky’s only SEC win in the last three years came against Tennessee, and UK feels this game against the Vols might once again be one of its best chances at tallying a conference victory. The Vols will travel to Ole Miss, host Alabama and then travel to South Carolina before hosting Kentucky, and if it comes out of that stretch of games either battered or emotionally defeated, Kentucky could deliver the knockout punch to their season. These two teams hate each other, and Kentucky wants nothing more than to hold up its end of the rivalry by putting another one in the win column.
Texas A&M – Sept. 20 at SMU: SMU is a team on the rise, while A&M will be a team searching for its identity after losing college football’s most dynamic player in Manziel. The Aggies open the year with a highly anticipated game against South Carolina, but then play three straight non-conference games before getting into the meat of their SEC schedule. SMU is the final game in that three game stretch, and they’re the only opponent in that stretch who won’t have to travel to Kyle Field. If the Mustangs can play inspired football and catch the Aggies already looking ahead to games against conference foes, it could be an upset to remember deep in the heart of Texas.
Vanderbilt – Aug. 28 vs. Temple: Vanderbilt is a team on the rise that knows what it feels like to be disrespected, so finding a trap game on its schedule is a difficult task. The opponent has to be the right mix of capable but unheralded. You’ll never find the Commodores taking it easy on an SEC foe that has likely embarrassed them numerous times throughout history, so it likely has to be a non-conference opponent.
What better team than Temple, Vanderbilt’s first opponent of the season. The Owls have had their ups and downs since joining the ranks of the FBS, with the downs coming as recently as last year’s 2-10 season. But if Vanderbilt is caught peeking ahead to a Week 2 rematch with Ole Miss after last year’s classic, it could all Temple needs to earn a statement win.