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The ACC and SEC’s Top 10 Trap Games

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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Predicting 10 ACC and SEC games that could be potential roadblocks en route to conference titles and playoff berths.

Trap games are, by definition, difficult to predict. If they could be pre-determined, they wouldn’t be trap games at all. Therefore, the annual summer exercise of trying to identify games where top teams could stumble seems inherently flawed.

Alas, we give it our best shot with 10 ACC and SEC games that could be potential roadblocks en route to conference titles and playoff berths.

Arkansas State at Tennessee (Sept. 6)

The Volunteers will hear all summer how Utah State and quarterback Chuckie Keeton have a great chance to pull an upset in Neyland Stadium in the Aug. 31 opener. Their second game, however, on a short week against Arkansas State, could catch the Vols napping. While the Red Wolves are on their fifth head in coach in five years (former North Carolina offensive coordinator Blake Anderson), this is a dangerous team with a potent offense. Tennessee has quarterback and line issues to settle early in the season, and may be looking ahead to going to Oklahoma a week later.

Rice at Texas A&M (Sept. 13)

Last year’s season opener between the Owls and Aggies was overshadowed by Johnny Manziel’s first-half suspension. Texas A&M ultimately won, 52-31, but now will have to face the defending conference champions without Manziel for the entire game. Even the most optimistic of Aggies backers would admit this is probably a rebuilding year for Texas A&M. Rice won’t be intimidated by the atmosphere in College Station, having opened the season two weeks earlier at Notre Dame. The best news for the Owls is that there’s a bye week in between the trips to South Bend and College Station.

Tulane at Duke (Sept. 20)

The Green Wave were one of the great stories of the 2013 season, ending an 11-year bowl drought with a shocking 7-5 season and a New Orleans Bowl berth. Tulane now rides a wave (no pun intended) of momentum into a season where it returns seven offensive starters and moves back to an on-campus stadium in uptown New Orleans for the first time in 40 years. After its first division title, Duke has gone from doing the trapping to potentially getting trapped. Duke is again in the mix in the ACC Coastal race after going from 0-2 to 6-2 in conference play last year. This is the toughest and last of a perennially light non-conference slate for the Blue Devils before an important conference opener at Miami (FL).

South Carolina at Vanderbilt (Sept. 20)

Where will the Gamecocks’ annual head-scratching defeat come? It seems inevitable, as division title hopes in 2011 and 2013 were derailed by curious losses to mediocre Auburn and Tennessee teams. A late September trip to Vanderbilt falls right in between two huge division home games with Georgia and Missouri. The Commodores should be fresh, with the game at the end of a four-week homestand and after hosting a terrible Massachusetts team. South Carolina has struggled of late in Nashville, losing in 2008 and needing a missed pass interference penalty to escape in 2012.

Alabama at Arkansas (Oct. 11)

Arkansas’ last points against Alabama came when Bobby Petrino was still the head coach. Yikes. After consecutive 52-0 losses, is there any way the Razorbacks can put a scare into the mighty Crimson Tide? Perhaps the Hogs can take solace in what Auburn did last year, upsetting Alabama a year after a 49-0 loss. Arkansas gets two weeks to prepare, while Alabama will be making its second consecutive road trip after a key game at Ole Miss a week earlier. If that’s still not enough, does Nick Saban go easy on fellow tempo-averse coach Bret Bielema?

Auburn at Mississippi State (Oct. 11)

The Tigers’ miraculous run to the BCS National Championship Game last season nearly never got off the ground. Auburn needed a last-minute touchdown against the Bulldogs in Week 3 to pull out a 24-20 victory. This year’s game with Mississippi State is in expanded Davis Wade Stadium, where the Bulldogs routed Auburn in 2012 and nearly upset the Cam Newton-led 2010 Tigers. They’ll meet in October for the first time more than a decade, in between games with LSU and South Carolina for the defending SEC champions. Head coach Dan Mullen has yet to defeat a top-15 team in five seasons. This might be his best chance yet.

Clemson at Boston College (Oct. 18)

It’s nothing more than a footnote now, but the Eagles made things extremely uncomfortable for both Clemson and Florida State last season. After holding on for dear life last year in Death Valley, the Tigers now must make the long trip to New England. They’ll be coming off of a four-week stretch that includes showdowns with Florida State, North Carolina and Louisville, while Boston College will be at home for the fifth time in six games. While Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney has generally avoided the curious losses that plagued Tommy Bowden, this could be a game that invokes memories of Swinney’s predecessor.

North Carolina at Virginia (Oct. 25)

The roll of the scheduling dice did not go the way of the Tar Heels. A seven-week gauntlet for North Carolina goes like this: at East Carolina, at Clemson, Virginia Tech, at Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, at Virginia, at Miami (FL). The one seemingly easy victory in that stretch comes in Charlottesville. But what shape will the Tar Heels be in by late October? Playing a triple-option team the week before is an added challenge. This game still means something, as it’s the oldest rivalry in the South. This may be Mike London’s last best chance for a win that could save his job, as he enters the season on the hottest seat in the ACC.

Georgia Tech at N.C. State (Nov. 8)

A scheduling anomaly forces the Yellow Jackets to play their six Coastal Division games consecutively in a critical year for head coach Paul Johnson. After that stretch, the final five of which come without a week off, Georgia Tech travels to Raleigh. N.C. State was winless in ACC play last year, but there’s more talent on the roster than their 2013 record would suggest. With division play behind them and Clemson visiting a week later, this is a logical time for a letdown for a team that, given its predictable offense, has highly unpredictable since capturing the ACC title in 2009.

Georgia at Kentucky (Nov. 8)

The Bulldogs have struggled with Big Blue in recent years, barely squeaking out victories in both 2011 and 2012 against Wildcats teams that combined to go just 2-14 in SEC play. This year’s trip to the Commonwealth falls in between games with Florida and Auburn, Georgia’s two major rivals. Mark Richt’s teams, have a bit of South Carolina in them when it comes to playing down to level of competition. It’s a mismatch on paper, but that hasn’t always translated to the scoreboard in this series. Georgia may want to bring gloves as well. November in Lexington is no day at the beach.

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.