Almost every Husky fan has October 19th circled on their calendar as the biggest game of the year. Oregon comes to Seattle as the Dawgs’ top challenger in the North division and with revenge for last year on everyone’s mind. Anyone who doesn’t see Oregon as the most significant game of the year is probably looking at USC, @ Stanford, Utah, or Washington State as the marquee matchup. Those are the games with historical significance and built-in narrative.
To be sure, those are the games that should give UW the most trouble this year. But nobody thought Cal was going to beat the Huskies last season. Arizona State didn’t look like the most difficult game in 2017. Even in the magical 2016 season, the Huskies had to get several late breaks to pull out an overtime victory against Arizona. Which game is most likely to cause similarly unforeseen problems this year?
Looking back at the trap games from the last three years can help us narrow down the possibilities. Most importantly, all three games were on the road. Under Chris Petersen, the Huskies have not had major letdowns at home. In the rare situations where they struggle in Husky Stadium, their opponents tend to have more talent. One common idea is that trap games tend to come when one team has more rest than the other; either the Huskies are coming off a short week, or the opponent is coming off a bye. The recent examples don’t entirely back up that theory. While Arizona State had a bye before hosting UW in 2017, the other two matchups featured both teams on normal rest. With those thoughts in mind, let’s look at a few possibilities (I’m excluding all home games from consideration based on UW’s history).
September 21 - @BYU
Non-conference games don’t typically make it onto the list of trap games, especially considering the weak overall slate the Huskies have this year. This season shapes up in a unique way, though, as UW plays Cal in week two before returning to non-conference play in the next two games. The other Cougars haven given the Dawgs tough games in the past, including a memorable loss at Husky Stadium due to a prematurely jubilant Jake Locker. S&P+ rates BYU as the 50th best team in the country. While their home-field advantage rates as average in terms of their home record against the spread, it’s an unfamiliar environment for Washington. One factor that plays in UW’s favor is BYU’s early-season schedule. Before this matchup, they face a brutal slate of Utah, Tennessee, and USC. They could easily be 0-3 and it’s unlikely they’ll be any better than 1-2, which could put the team’s collective back against the wall.
October 12 - @Arizona
This game stands out on the schedule to such a degree that it hardly even qualifies as a trap game. UW always struggles in the desert whether it is against Arizona or Arizona State—note that two of the examples from the previous three years are the last two AZ road games they have played. This game also happens to fall in the middle of the most difficult stretch on the schedule; following USC and @Stanford, preceding Oregon. If the Dawgs get through Stanford at 6-0 and head to Tucson with the Ducks on the horizon, all of our stomachs will immediately be in a knot. Add in that Arizona has a decent home-field advantage and their overall positive trajectory under Kevin Sumlin (52nd in preseason S&P+), and it’s difficult to feel calm about this one.
November 23 - @Colorado
The only reason the Wildcats aren’t the obvious answer here is that Colorado might be even more of an unexpected trap. The ingredients are there. In Laviska Shenault, the Buffaloes have a game-breaking offensive player who can give his team a puncher’s chance. The trip to the mountains introduces the elevation variable that is always difficult. The game takes place only six days before the Apple Cup, which creates the possibility of looking too far ahead. Most frighteningly, Colorado comes off a bye and has an entire week to prepare for the game. Colorado is only ranked 68th in S&P+ and projects near the bottom of the conference. Nonetheless, it’s not one for the Huskies to take for granted if they want to repeat as Pac-12 Champions.
What is the biggest trap game on the 2019 schedule?
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