The big boys are ready to go head-to-head in the Big Ten, but what are some of the trap games that could derail the upper-crust of the league?
The football machine is crankin’ in the heartland again, after Minnesota and Indiana won on Thursday night. There are plenty of storylines to watch as we get ready to break the champagne against the SS Delany and let the Big Ten ship take sail in 2016.
Of course, one of the main storylines is the anticipation of who’ll win each division, and which team will emerge from Indianapolis as the Big Ten conference’s best bet for the College Football Playoff.
We all know about the monumental matchups that will shape the arms race this year, but often times it’s a trip on an untied shoelace on the way to the ball that dashes dreams of grandeur.
Here is the top potential trap game for Big Ten contender in 2016 in order of preseason ranking:
Ohio State – No. 6 AP, No. 5 USA Today Coaches
Biggest Trap – At Penn State, Saturday October 22
We’ve all set our clocks already for the game against Oklahoma in week three, and the games at the tail end of the year against Michigan State and Michigan in back-to-back weeks will have implications across this great country of ours, but it’s the game in Happy Valley that should give Ohio State fans pause for concern.
The Nittany Lion fans always get jacked up for a visit from Ohio State, and have more time to “get ready” for a night game and all that comes with a white out and playing Zombie Nation and the lion roar over the PA system ad-nauseum.
Also, the game comes after a physical affair against Wisconsin at Camp Randall.
Michigan – No. 7 AP, No. 8 USA Today Coaches
Biggest Trap – vs. Indiana, October 19
The Wolverines and Jim Harbaugh’s tweeting khakis have some extremely high expectations that have been set squarely on their shoulders this year. It’s Big Ten championship and College Football Playoff or bust. To get there, Michigan will have to find a way to beat both arch rivals and West favorite Iowa on the road, but there’s a game lurking right in the middle of two of those games that could be very dangerous.
Last year, the Hoosiers ran all over Michigan and could have very easily been the team walking away with a victory in Bloomington rather than the Maize and Blue. That same scenario could play out this year. The game against Kevin Wilson’s squad is at home in 2016, but it sits squarely in-between road trips to Iowa and the season finale against OSU. Going against a team that can outscore anyone right in the middle of two tough road games isn’t ideal for anyone.
Michigan State – No. 12 AP, No. 11 USA Today Coaches
Biggest Trap – vs. BYU, October 8
The Spartans lost quite a bit of experience and talent from a year ago — most notably Mr. Everything Connor Cook under center — and are a bit of an unknown coming in 2016. Mark Dantonio’s crew get both Ohio State and Michigan at home as door prize, but it won’t matter much if it stumbles somewhere else along the way.
Brigham Young comes to East Lansing right after the Spartans engage in a potential track meet on the road against Indiana, and the contest against the Hoosiers comes just a week after playing a Wisconsin team that can leave opposing teams with some bruises and bumps. It feels like a breather in the schedule, but BYU plays a style that is contrarian to the Spartan way. They’d rather line up and play physical football, but instead will have to be disciplined and make plays in space.
Iowa – No. 17 AP, No. 15 USA Today Coaches
Biggest Trap – vs. Miami University, September 3
The laws of inertia would seem to point to Iowa continuing where it left off last year. C.J. Beathard is back under center and there are plenty of other pieces returning for a team that went undefeated in the regular season and took home the Big Ten West crown. There’s the early and always unpredictable Donnybrook against in-state rival Iowa State, and games against Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska loom large, but there’s one game that’s flying under the radar.
For whatever reason, the Hawkeyes have shown issues getting the motor cranked up early in the season under Kirk Ferentz. There always seems to be a squeaker or loss against a MAC school or other non- Power-Five team, and guess who’s coming for dinner in week one? Yep, it’s another Mid-American opponent looking to ruin things before they get started. It’s not like Miami is a juggernaut, but the RedHawks have a solid defense that could give a rusty Iowa offense some troubles — especially after the Hawkeyes are still black and blue from getting publicly flogged by Stanford in the Rose Bowl.
Phil Harrison is the lead Big Ten writer for CollegeFootballNews.com. Catch his analysis and opinion all-season long.