Photo credit Lisa Horne
Every year a plethora of teams rise from the ashes and snatch victory away from the assumed victor. Every year fans are surprised. And every year coaches blame themselves for not having the team better prepared. This coming, mind you, after those same coaches in the previous week preached to the media how great their lesser opponent was.
In the Pac-12, a minefield of trap games* awaits unsuspecting teams. We've done the dirty work and circled these dates. Throw salt over your shoulders. Bad luck awaits. You have been warned.
Arizona has a history of starting out of the gate slowly. The Wildcats struggled last year against Texas-San Antonio but this year the Roadrunners only return six starters. Nevada had Arizona on the ropes last year so this year's contest should not be a trap game. Northern Arizona could be this season's surprisingly early struggle, especially since it precedes the Wildcats' conference opener against UCLA.
Another trap lays near the end of the season. Arizona plays 12 consecutive games without a bye. The team may be a little gassed and dinged up. Arizona will be up for USC and its rival Arizona State, but will it sleep on Utah, who is sandwiched between those two heavyweights?
Trap games: Northern Arizona and Utah.
The Sun Devils play USC and UCLA in back-to-back weeks followed by a date with Colorado. The Buffs will upset someone because they are an improved team that will still get overlooked by some teams.
Another trap game remains at the end of their season. After playing their rival Arizona, the Sun Devils must travel to Northern California and play Cal. The Golden Bears may still be fighting for bowl eligibility. This game could be one for the ages.
Your first game of the season should never be a trap game unless... you are traveling to paradise. Swaying palm trees, beautiful beaches and beautiful people dot the Hawai'ian Islands. Colorado should beat Hawai'i but the Buffs may get lulled into complacency by the tranquil setting.
Since Colorado will most likely not be favored in any of its conference games, no trap games are in the mix for Colorado. The Buffaloes will, however, be a trap game for its conference brethren. Colorado will upset a big boy.
Trap (sort of) game: Hawai'i.
Two potential landmines exist for the Bruins. UCLA hosts an always dangerous BYU squad before starting conference play at Arizona the following week. Will UCLA get caught napping?
On November 21 UCLA travels to Utah. The Utes have given the Bruins headaches for years. Their last three games were decided by seven points or less. Throw in a date at USC the following week and you have all the makings of a trap game.
Trap games: BYU and Utah.
Unfortunately for the Trojans, several trap games are in the mix. After hosting Stanford on September 19, USC may be hungover from that victory when it heads to Tempe the following week to play Arizona State.
USC travels to Notre Dame on October 17 and assuming a victory there, may suffer a letdown when it hosts Utah. The following week the Trojans may get caught looking ahead to Arizona State when it plays a sleeper Cal team.
Trap games: Arizona State, Utah and Cal.
After playing Michigan and Utah State, Utah travels to Fresno State before playing at Oregon. That sandwich around Fresno State is frightening.
The last time Utah beat a team from the state of Washington was in 2012. The Utes travel to Seattle to play a Husky team that will have had the kinks and bugs worked out by November.
Trap games: Fresno State and Washington
Playing San Diego State before a road trip at Texas should make Cal fans squirm. The Aztecs' defense will be much better, especially with their top-notch secondary looking to pick quarterback Jared Goff.
A bigger problem for Cal lies at the end of the season. Cal plays rival Stanford on November 21. The last time Cal won the "Big Game" was in 2009. If victorious, count on Cal to be nursing a major hangover when it plays Arizona State the following week.
Trap games: San Diego State and Arizona State.
Technically, every game is a trap game when you are the perennial favorite because there is a target on your back every week. Michigan State should be favored by a few points when the two clash in East Lansing on September 12. Oregon will be up for the Spartans (as well as the Trojans and the Cardinal.)
So which underdog could ruffle the Ducks' feathers?
On paper, the Ducks' three-game stretch of Colorado, Washington State and Washington looks like a vacation but the Cougars will be up to the challenge. Last year they lost a 38-31 heartbreaker to the Ducks. This year Washington State may put that "cougin 'it " moniker to rest.
Trap game: Washington State.
Oregon State may be favored in only two games this year: San Jose State and Weber State. A big concern lies on September 19. San Jose State returns 10 starters on offense while the Beavers return two on defense.
Trap game: San Jose State
Sandwiched between its season opener at Northwestern and its conference opener at USC is Central Florida. Uh oh.
Stanford ends its season hosting Oregon, Cal and Notre Dame. But it has to play at Colorado before that three-game gauntlet. The last time these two teams met in 2012, Stanford won 48-0. This is not the same 2012 Colorado team.
Trap games: Central Florida and Colorado
The Huskies' nightmare begins on October 8. They play at USC, Oregon, at Stanford, Arizona, Utah and Arizona State in six consecutive weeks. Think they may overlook the Oregon State Beavers in week seven?
Trap game: Oregon State.
The Cougars have two sandwiches to worry about. Oregon State is sandwiched between road trips at Oregon and Arizona. Colorado is also sandwiched between road trips at UCLA and the Apple Cup at Washington. On a Friday night. Welp
Trap games: Oregon State and Colorado
*by definition, a trap game is a contest of which the outcome is different than expected for various reasons. An opponent's slot in a schedule can affect how another team plays. A team playing an underdog preceding a highly anticipated matchup may get caught sleeping or looking ahead. A team playing an underdog following a rivalry game or big-name opponent may have a let down or, if victorious, be suffering from the proverbial hangover.