If you're reading this, you probably know what a 'trap game' is in college football parlance (or just sports parlance in general). For those who don't, it's a pretty easy definition: A 'trap game' is a game that seems fairly easy in a vacuum, but because of where it falls on the schedule, can be more difficult than it ought to be.
A great example for Notre Dame fans is last year's North Carolina game. It fell directly between Stanford and Florida State on the schedule, so for those of us experienced in this sort of thing, it wasn't surprising that the Irish struggled to a win in that game even though the Heels were a less than foreboding obstacle on the surface. (Everything that happened after that game? Sort of a surprise.)
So for this edition of the 15 for '15, we're going to take a look at the three games on this year's schedule that qualify for, for lack of a better term, trappiness. With the help of Admiral Ackbar...
we'll rate the potential trappiness of each one. Let's get started.
Sept. 12: @ Virginia
ND Surrounding Weeks: vs Texas, vs Georgia Tech; UVA Surrounding Weeks: @ UCLA, vs William & Mary
On paper, Virginia doesn't look like a formidable foe. UVA has only been to a bowl once in Mike London's 5 years as coach so far — itself rather remarkable given that London is still there — and the Cavs' only off-season headline was the departure of graduate transfer quarterback Greyson Lambert. Unless Taquan Mizzell can win some games by himself, there isn't a whole ton of reason to think Virginia is going to be much better this season, either.
However, this game has 'trap' written all over it because of where it falls on Notre Dame's schedule. The Irish will be coming off what should be, if nothing else, a physical battle with Texas, and looming next week will be Orange Bowl champion Georgia Tech. On top of that, this is ND's first road game of the season — in fact, its only one in September — and since it's just the second game, the chances of a bad start to the season sending the Cavs into a tailspin that would make this one easier are minimal.
Also, it's UVA's home opener, and their stadium will likely be riled up — the last time this high-profile an opponent visited Charlottesville was probably Florida State in 2010 (aren't 14-team conferences great?), and the last time it happened in non-league play was USC in 2008.
That said, I'm only going to rate this 7 out of 10 'Ackbars', for this reason: The timing of this game isn't ideal for UVA either, coming the week after making a cross-country round trip to the Rose Bowl and opening the season at UCLA. The combination of the trip and tough opening foe for the Cavs leads me to dock what would've otherwise been a perfect 10/10 trap score. I'm still leery of this game, though.
Sept. 26: vs UMass
ND Surrounding Weeks: vs Georgia Tech, @ Clemson; UMass Surrounding Weeks: vs Temple, vs FIU
This is another game that will be more difficult than it appears because of the schedule. The whole 'post-Navy' thing that scares everyone is going to factor in because Georgia Tech, led by former Middies' coach Paul Johnson, runs the same system with more talented players. The week after features ND's likely toughest road game against Clemson.
That said, this is freakin' UMass. (I'm still a bit bitter this game was scheduled — the only reason it happened was because they hired Charley Molnar as coach, and by the time it was announced, it was pretty clear Molnar wasn't going to make it to this game anyway.) The trappiness of the game might help the Minutemen cover the spread, but if this game actually becomes a real issue, ND has much bigger problems than anything anyone on their schedule can muster. Since UMass shouldn't pose much of a threat to even an unfocused Irish team, I'm giving this only 3 out of 10 'Ackbars'.
Oct. 10: vs Navy
ND Surrounding Weeks: @ Clemson, vs USC; Navy Surrounding Weeks: vs Air Force, Bye Week
Surprisingly, this is the last game that you could argue qualifies as a 'trap game' for Notre Dame. After USC, ND only faces two more foes that, on paper, qualify as difficult: @ Pittsburgh and @ Stanford. And neither of those games features a clear look-ahead spot the prior week — ND plays Temple before Pitt, but that'll be the Irish's first game after the bye; ND plays BC before Stanford, but it's the Shamrock game at Fenway, so there will be plenty to shake the Irish from the routine and get fired up to play.
All that said, this is the most dangerous spot on the whole Notre Dame schedule — after Clemson, before USC. In a way, it's a good thing that it is Navy in this spot as opposed to a generic team from a Group of 5 league, against whom ND might think they could cruise. Of course, we don't know what's going to happen against Clemson. It's possible some gut-punching loss motivates the Irish and turns them into a band of bloodthirsty monsters the next week.
Again, thankfully this is Navy. ND's struggles with the Midshipmen the last two seasons should mean that the team has little trouble getting up for what should be another tough battle. Still, though, these kids are human, and when you're coming off a trip to Death Valley and you know USC is on deck...you only have so much get-up in you. This game scares the bejesus out of me. I'm giving it 8 out of 10 'Ackbars' — we're on full-blown trap watch, and the only reason it's that low is because it's Navy.
Godspeed, everyone. Beware of the trap.