Ah the trap game. That stomach-churning matchup that helps derail a once-promising season.
I don’t recall ever looking back over a season and referring to a win as a trap game. Since would-be trap games generally occur with fair-to-middling opponents, a victory doesn’t stand out as remarkable when viewed in retrospect. But it’s the losses - the ones you should’ve seen coming and kept your guard up for - it’s the losses that earn the “trap game” moniker.
“No way we should’ve lost that game.” “We were looking ahead to next week.” “We completely underestimated those guys.” That’s usually what it sounds like, right?
It’s hard to predict a trap game before the season begins, as the picture of who’s-who only crystallizes with each passing week. Nevertheless, when each year’s schedule comes out, there are some matchups that jump off the page as candidates. Every season has them.
A trap game by nature has one team overlooking another. But also at play are context, and what’s at stake. By context I mean where the game sits in relation to other games. Can the first game of the year ever be considered a trap game? Further, trap games only exist when a team has something to lose. Trap games aren’t a thing for a 2-7 team that struggles every week to eke out a win.
It seems like the most common formula for a trap game is: Away game to a seemingly lesser opponent, the week before - or after - one of the biggest games of the year. We have a few of those on the schedule this season.
From this year’s schedule, let’s first eliminate games that don’t qualify as trap games - home, away, on Jupiter - anywhere. And those games are: Michigan, Oregon, and WSU. Contests versus arch-enemies or big time non-conference opponents should never be trap games.
Also not trap games this year: Stanford, Cal, ASU, and Montana. And I’ll explain why.
These two foes share more than geography - both have 2-game win streaks against UW, with all four of those games being winnable by the Huskies.
Cal ground out two low-scoring nail biters, while the 2019 loss at Stanford was the 2nd most soul-sucking Husky loss I’ve witnessed in recent years (the loss to Colorado a month later was #1). Given the recent history, neither of these games should be considered a trap regardless of how superior a team UW may appear to be - there’s too much revenge to be had.
Although coming right after the Oregon game - where the Huskies could easily have an emotional letdown with a win or a loss - ASU may be something of a mystery right now, but they appear too good an opponent to overlook, and UW has the benefit of staying home. The Huskies will have to keep their minds right for this one, but even if a let down occurs, I don’t see this as a trap game.
Montana is not a bad team, but since I’ve got the microphone, I say that it’s impossible for the first game of the season to ever be a trap game. If you’re not prepared for your first opponent of the year you’ve got bigger problems to sort out than the odd trap game.
I’m on the fence whether to qualify this as a trap game, seeing as the Red Wolves of Arkansas State finished 2-6 in the Sun Belt last year and appear to be vastly inferior to the Dawgs. But, in context, there is the potential for a letdown after the Michigan game. And the Huskies may very well be looking forward to a Cal team that they must beat this year.
What’s more, last season Arkansas State upset a Kansas State team, who themselves went on to beat Oklahoma the following game. So Arkansas State has it in them to play spoiler.
Still, this shouldn’t be a game the Huskies lose in any year under any conditions. A loss to Arkansas State would be an embarrassment for the ages, but is it a trap game? I’m not so sure... but let’s add it to the list anyway. Under no circumstances should this game end in an upset, but the overlook factor could be high.
Oregon State, being what they’ve been for most of their existence, never strikes fear when you see them on the schedule, do they? And while they finished a paltry 2-4 last year, they did beat Cal and Oregon, and lost to Utah and Stanford by 6 and 3 points, respectively. I think the Huskies will face stiff competition by the Beavs in Corvallis, and may even come away with an L if they’re not careful. But after last year’s 27-21 win I don’t think the Dawgs will overlook Oregon State, and that is the main ingredient in the trap game recipe.
But another ingredient in the trap game recipe is the underdog (we’ll assume the Beavers will be underdogs) wanting it more than the other guy. If I was Oregon State I would be PISSED after last year. Oregon State got a raw deal on what looked like two consecutive bad spots by the refs, when they were deep in UW territory and threatening to take the lead in the 4th quarter. If that doesn’t spell revenge I don’t know what does. Perhaps no one will overlook the Beavers this year, but UW may underestimate the reception Oregon State will have waiting in Corvallis.
This is the first of two road games (the next being at Stanford) and who knows what shape the Huskies will be in from the previous week’s meeting with UCLA. This has all the makings of a trap game, and I’m categorizing it as one, but I just don’t see Arizona beating the Huskies.
UW throttled Arizona for three quarters and rang up 37 unanswered points last year before winning 44-27. Arizona was clobbered by ASU 70-7 to end the season. The Huskies have also won their last two games in Tempe after not having won in the state of Arizona in ages.
Jedd Fisch has been making waves since being announced the new Arizona head coach last December. And while all signs point to Fisch reinvigorating the program - he even promised to buy 500 Chick-fil-A sandwiches for students that stay to the end of each game - it’s too early to forecast a turnaround for the Wildcats. But it’s never too early to forecast trap games. Remember UW/USC in 2009? I knew that you could.
If we’re talking context, UW has the clear advantage of a bye week before UCLA - whereas the Bruins will be playing their fifth straight game after an early bye, and their third road game in four weeks. None of this sets up in UCLA’s favor, but I don’t know... there’s just something about this game I don’t like. And trap games are often won by the team that bucks the odds and rises to the occasion when they’re expected to roll over.
Maybe it’s that I feel UCLA is due for bigger things in Chip Kelly’s fourth year - though they may continue to play the chameleon, making them even more unpredictable. UCLA struggled to put it together in 7 games last year, but their 4 losses were by an average of 3.75 points.
Logic dictates that UW have the advantage, but trap games by their very nature don’t play out to logical conclusions. Now if UCLA comes into this game 6-0 or 5-1 with a win over LSU, no one will be underestimating them.
Once game week with Colorado arrives - the second to last week of the regular season - we’ll know what sort of Buffs team we’re facing. But from this vantage point one week before the season, the visit to Boulder on November 20th SCREAMS trap game:
- An opponent that UW has owned for a decade.
- A game sandwiched in between the double whammy of Oregon and ASU at home, then the Apple Cup the following week.
- Late in the season, when UW should be jockeying for Pac-12 North supremacy with each game.
Add in the advantage CU has playing at home and I see this as the biggest potential trap game.
Colorado is breaking in 2nd-year head coach Karl Dorrell, and though they’ve flashed some potential the last few years, the Buffs haven’t been able to put together a consistency of winning. CU did go 3-1 in Pac-12 play last year, but it’s hard to know what to take away from the Covid-marred 2020 season. UW could have it all to lose coming into this game, and could be looking past Colorado to the Apple Cup. Add it all up and you’ve got a classic trap game scenario. This is the one I’m picking.
What’s this year’s biggest trap game?
This poll is closed
vs Arkansas State
at Oregon State