Pairings between teams often occur years in advance, so what might appear to be a layup when papers were signed winds up being a closely contested jumper.
Now, all of these games won’t be won by the underdog, but don’t be surprised if each and every one is more competitive than the conventional wisdom that’s out there today.
True, it’ll take a Herculean effort for the Hilltoppers to upend the defending national champs at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Still, the Tide shouldn’t take Jeff Brohm’s team lightly, tempting though it may be with the USC game in the books and a trip to play Ole Miss sitting in the on-deck circle.
Western Kentucky is the reigning Conference USA champ with visions of repeating. The Toppers faced two SEC teams last fall, beating Vandy, and Brohm has crafted a potent offense that beats defenses through the air and on the ground. Again, it’s an enormous challenge, but WKU won’t wilt at the idea of playing in Tuscaloosa.
The Buckeyes are no strangers to allowing lesser opponents hang around in trap games. Northern Illinois last Sept. 19, for instance. Under normal circumstances, the Golden Hurricane would have no business competing with Ohio State in Columbus. But Tulsa is a veteran squad with a coach entering his second season, and a Dane Evans-led passing game that could cause fits for a new-look Buckeye secondary. Also, it’s that other Oklahoma team, the Sooners, that Ohio State could be dwelling on in Week 2 since it’ll be traveling to Norman the following Saturday.
Utah is a rock-solid all-around program. But since the Utes lack offensive consistency, especially in a year that the quarterback, all-league back and top three receivers are gone, underdogs can catch them. Take San Jose State, for example.
Ron Caragher has his Spartans leaning in the right direction after closing last year with a Cure Bowl win. There’s a decent mix of talent, including a returning starting quarterback, Kenny Potter, and a collection of proven receivers that’s led by tight tend Billy Freeman. San Jose State last hosted a Pac-12 visitor a decade ago, so Utah will see all that the Spartans can muster in Week 3.
Unless an FCS opponent is in town, it’s not easy breaking out of the conference schedule mindset at midseason. Obviously, this is not a problem for BYU, which is one of four Independents.
The Spartans are going to have a razor focus on defending their Big Ten crown … and then here come the Cougars in a trap game that will have no impact on the East Division race. BYU opened last season with a win over Nebraska on a Hail Mary, and this program is always a threat, especially if Taysom Hill is healthy.
You want to become the coach’s best friend, Cowboys? Go out and play your best game in Lincoln. Craig Bohl is a former Husker who, despite winning three national championships in a row at North Dakota State, was never given a shot to be the head coach at his alma mater. While he’s struggled in Laramie, he has Wyoming tilting in the right direction. And if the underrated backfield duo of Brian Hill and Shaun Wick can get cranking against a Nebraska front wall breaking in four new starters, they’re liable to play keep-away with the Husker offense.
The Aggies are always scrappy, always well-coached and always dangerous. And while they don’t match up seamlessly with top-tier Pac-12 opponents, the Trojans know they’ll get challenged in the Coliseum. Utah State enters with a seasoned quarterback, Kent Myers, and enough veteran blockers to exploit a USC defensive line that’ll be the team’s biggest weakness.
Intangibles also favor the visitor in this trap game. While Matt Wells will have his Aggies fired up for this trip, Troy will be beaten up after playing Alabama and looking ahead to the league opener at defending champ Stanford.
The Seminoles own the obvious talent edge. In terms of motivation, though, it’ll be no contest. Getting Florida State in Tampa is like the Bulls’ Super Bowl. South Florida revels at the opportunity to host one of the Sunshine State’s three power programs. And what better way to showcase Willie Taggart’s progress than by derailing the Noles’ national title hopes? USF boasts the backfield duo of Quinton Flowers and Marlon Mack, an athletic defense and the confidence of knowing it was tied with FSU at halftime of last year’s meeting at Doak Campbell.
Interesting matchup here, particularly since it’ll be the first of its kind in football. Both schools have sleeper qualities this offseason, namely a slew of returning starters. But while the Cowboys will be favored—and home—the Panthers promise to be a significant handful in Week 3.
Pitt is a more physical, blue-collar opponent than Oklahoma State is accustomed to in the Big 12. And average line play in Stillwater is liable to get exposed by Pitt offensive linemen Dorian Johnson and Adam Bisnowaty and defensive linemen Ejuan Price and Tyrique Jarrett.
If ever there was a potential landmine trap game on a schedule, this is it. The Cards, bona fide sleepers out of the ACC, will host Florida State on Sept. 17 and travel to Clemson on Oct. 1. How can Bobby Petrino possibly keep his kids focused on this trip to Huntington to play a Conference USA opponent?
Meanwhile, Marshall will be fired up by this rare opportunity to host a team from a power conference. The Herd, which has won 20 of its last 21 games at home, continues to recruit the athletes needed to neutralize a speedy Louisville team.
Hosting the Hurricanes is a timeline moment for Appalachian State football, and bank on the players and the fans in Boone, North Carolina to react accordingly. This is the first half of a home-and-home series that’ll conclude at Sun Life Stadium in 2021. If Miami arrives the least bit unmotivated by this game, it’s liable to witness the goal posts coming down at Kidd Brewer Stadium. No stranger to seismic upsets, App State begins this season as the Sun Belt Conference favorite, fueled by a veteran defense and the backfield tandem of quarterback Taylor Lamb and running back Marcus Cox.
Nobody likes facing Georgia Southern, much the way opponents wince when Navy or Georgia Tech is slated on the schedule. The ground-and-pound Eagles shocked Florida in 2013, came within four points of Georgia Tech and NC State in 2014 and took Georgia into overtime last November. Have fun with this trap game, Ole Miss, especially during the thick of the SEC race. Head coach Willie Fritz is now in Tulane, but GSU will once again be prolific on the ground with the returns of quarterback Kevin Ellison and running backs Matt Breida and L.A. Ramsby.
With a chance to regain some lost swagger, the Tigers are going to leave it all out on the field in the opener against Clemson. And then a week later, they’ve got to turn around and fend off upset-minded Arkansas State. This will be a sneaky-tough spot for Auburn, hosting the defending Sun Belt champs who’ll play with nothing to lose.
The Red Wolves believe they’ve addressed their quarterback void with transfers, Chad Voytik of Pitt and Justice Hansen of Oklahoma. The team’s line play, headlined by offensive guard Colton Jackson, defensive end Ja’Von Rolland-Jones and defensive tackle Dee Liner, an Alabama import, will earn Auburn’s respect.
FBS schools schedule FCS opponents for a singular purpose—pick up the kind of win that allows the backups to get reps and the starters to take a half off. North Dakota State is not the typical FCS program, and the Hawkeyes know it.
The Bison have won five straight national championships and five consecutive games over FBS members, Kansas, Minnesota, Colorado State, Kansas State and Iowa State. Sure, Carson Wentz is now a Philadelphia Eagle, but Easton Stick started eight games in his stead a year ago, and running back King Frazier and the defense can pull more of the weight if needed this fall.
by Rich Cirminiello, Campus Insiders