College football fans and analysts love the idea of a ‘trap’ game. While this phenomenon happens across many major sports, it seems as though it is no more prevalent than in the college game.
So what exactly is a trap game? By definition, a trap game generally occurs when a much stronger team overlooks a weaker opponent, and as a result the underdog comes away with a shocking victory. There are usually extenuating circumstances surrounding these types of games, such as a team coming off an emotional win from the week before or the stronger team looking ahead to tougher opponents on the horizon.
We don't have to go back very far in Ohio State’s history to find some clear instances of trap game losses, and I'm sure you know them all too well. The biggest example in recent years was the 55-24 loss to Iowa in 2017. The Buckeyes were coming off their most emotional victory in quite some time after a 39-38 comeback win over Penn State the week prior, and headed into Iowa City clearly unprepared and without the focus they so obviously needed to get a win that day.
With all due respect to the Hawkeyes that played their butts off on the field that afternoon, that team was not very good. They finished the season 8-5, and lost games to both Northwestern and Purdue that same year. Ohio State entered that matchup as over 20-point favorites, and on paper were overwhelmingly the much more talented team. However, a hostile road environment, lack of preparation, and where that game happened to fall on the schedule made it the perfect recipe for a classic trap game.
All in all, the Buckeyes have been pretty good at avoiding these types of performances most years. When you're one of the top programs in the country, you know you will be getting every team’s best shot to try and knock you off. As a result, you must always have your guard up, and no teams on the schedule can be taken lightly regardless of how lopsided the matchup may appear.
Even the embarrassing Purdue loss in 2018 wasn’t even really a trap game. That Ohio State team had a ton of flaws — especially on defense — that were just waiting to be exploited by a good game plan, and the Boilermakers had the wherewithal and the Rondale Moore to get it done. A lot of people picked Nebraska last year as the potential trap game in 2019, but Ryan Day was having none of that as his guys thumped the Cornhuskers in Lincoln and went on to go undefeated in the regular season.
Which brings us to the point of all this. There is absolutely no reason to think that Day won’t have his team ready to go each and every week. We have not seen a single glimpse of Ohio State playing down to weaker opponents or losing focus as big favorites in the now second-year headman’s early tenure. However, if the Buckeyes were to fall victim to the dreaded trap game in 2020, which of the opposing teams on this year’s schedule would be the most likely candidate to play spoiler?
Ohio State’s early season schedule is remarkably easy outside the obvious trip to Eugene, Oregon. The second game of the year against Ducks would not be considered a trap game, as even though the Buckeyes will likely enter the game as the betting favorite, Oregon should begin the season as an AP Top-10 opponent. While defeat would certainly sting, losing on the road to a highly-regarded program isn't exactly a ‘trap’. After opening against Bowling Green and playing Buffalo in Week 3, the Buckeyes take on Rutgers before their first off week of the year.
Here is the part of the schedule that brings the biggest chance of a trap game should one occur. Next, Ohio State takes on Iowa in Columbus, a game in which they will certainly be looking to exact revenge for their previous loss despite very few remaining players on the rosters from that last matchup. The Buckeyes then hit the road for back-to-back road games against Michigan State and Penn State.
For this reason, I am picking the Spartans as my biggest potential trap game on Ohio State’s schedule in 2020. MSU has been on a downturn since 2017, as after finishing that season with a 10-3 record, the team has gone 7-6 each of the past two years. Now with a new headman in Mel Tucker, the former OSU assistant and previous head coach of Colorado will look to breathe new life into the once respectable program in East Lansing.
Now, am I predicting that the 2020 Michigan State Spartans are going to go from 7-6 to world-beaters in one season? Absolutely not. However, the location on the schedule is the biggest area of concern. The game falls right after the rematch against Iowa, and right before what has become Ohio State’s hardest game of the regular season each year against Penn State. Plus, while we still don't know the situation in regards to fans in the seats this year, the game being away from Columbus certainly doesn’t help either.
The Buckeyes cannot afford to take this game lightly. Depending on how MSU begins the season, OSU will likely be a big betting favorite heading into the matchup. However, the scheduling makes things a little precarious for the boys in Scarlet and Gray. If they are still coming down from an emotional revenge win over the Hawkeyes or looking ahead to a potential top-five matchup with the Nittany Lions, they could run into some real danger.
Outside of that game against the Spartans, Ohio State really shouldn’t face too much resistance other than the obvious tough teams on the schedule. Indiana is certainly a school that has played the Buckeyes relatively tough in the past, and does function as the beginning of a stretch of three games against likely overmatched opponents (Indiana, Maryland and Illinois, in that order) before the annual clash with Michigan, but the matchup taking place in Columbus quells some of those fears.
As previously mentioned, Ryan Day has seemed like a pretty darn good motivator in his first year at the helm, and has not yet given us any cause for concern that he would fall victim to a trap game. But what do you think? Is there a game on the schedule for the Buckeyes this season where you are worried the underdog could make some noise and potentially pull off the upset? Let us know in the comments!