While physical ability matters in the SEC, mental focus separates championship contenders from cellar dwellers. Almost every team in the SEC has the talent to beat the others on a given day, especially when the schedule works out.
Trap games can be the result of favorable scheduling for an underdog or a bad break for a favorite on the heels of a physically demanding game. Losing one of these unexpected games can derail a team’s season – or national championship hopes.
Here are six of the biggest trap games in the SEC this season.
Georgia at Missouri – Sept. 17
Mizzou has experienced one of the most disastrous calendar years in recent memory. Over the last 365 days, the Tigers have lost their head coach, athletic director, interim athletic director, university president and university chancellor. Additionally, the players nearly forfeited a game as part of widespread protests about the climate for black students on campus.
To say the least, it would be easy to overlook Missouri in 2016. However, the Tigers still return one of the most devastating defensive lines in college football. Defensive end Charles Harris should be a first-round NFL draft pick next season. If Missouri can get some true production from its offense, this game could be closer than expected. Georgia has a road game against Ole Miss and home game against Tennessee in the two weeks that follow.
Florida at Vanderbilt – Oct. 1
Five games into the year, Florida likely will have settled on a quarterback, likely Luke Del Rio. Whoever is at quarterback will be fresh off his first game against a quality defense the previous week at Tennessee. With Derek Mason leading the defense, Vanderbilt should still be able to play at a high level one end of the field. The game being a week before Florida’s home matchup with LSU will only help.
This game will be completely dependent on each team’s offense. When Will Grier was suspended last season, Florida’s offense fell apart and averaged fewer than half as many points as with Grier in the lineup. Though Vanderbilt does not have the same level of talent, it has consistency with RB Ralph Webb, QB Kyle Shurmur and WR Trent Sherfield entrenched at their positions. It will be a long shot, but Vanderbilt could sneak up on Florida.
Ole Miss vs. Memphis – Oct. 1
Ole Miss has one of the toughest stretches in the nation to start. In all, 10 of the 11 teams the Rebels play this season played in a bowl game last season. The most challenging part comes at the beginning. Ole Miss opens with Florida State and an easy game against Wofford. Then, Alabama, Georgia and Memphis come to town in consecutive weeks, before the Rebels travel to Arkansas and LSU after a bye.
With QB Paxton Lynch gone to the NFL and Justin Fuente at Virginia Tech, this is not the same Memphis team that went 9-4 last season. But with bright new head coach Mike Norvell at the helm, the Tigers could quickly give Chad Kelly and the Rebels some headaches.
Tennessee at Texas A&M – Oct. 8
Once again, the Aggies could be the look-ahead game that derails an SEC team’s season. Tennessee’s schedule is more than manageable, but the middle features a difficult stretch. In consecutive weeks, Tennessee has Florida at home, Georgia and Texas A&M on the road before hosting Alabama on Oct. 15.
The Volunteers have developed into one of the darlings of the preseason. Entering Butch Jones’ fourth season in Knoxville, Tennessee is the favorite to win the SEC East. However, Texas A&M has enough disruptive pieces to give Tennessee trouble in College Station. The greatest chance for Tennessee optimism, however, is the Aggies’ bizarre 1-6 record against ranked teams at home in four seasons under coach Kevin Sumlin. Against ranked opponents in any other venue, the Aggies are 8-5 over the same stretch.
Alabama vs. Texas A&M – Oct. 22
The Crimson Tide are the favorites to win the SEC once again, but the schedule has several pitfalls. Most notably, Alabama has a stretch of traveling to Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU over the course of four games. Hidden in the middle, before LSU, is a sneaky matchup against Texas A&M.
Though it has no business beating Alabama, Texas A&M has just enough pieces to make this game competitive. QB Trevor Knight, of course, has experience beating Alabama after leading his Oklahoma Sooners to a Sugar Bowl victory in 2014. The defense should also take another step forward in John Chavis’ second season. Beating Alabama is always a tough task, but sandwiching difficult games can potentially give the Aggies an opening.
LSU at Arkansas – Nov. 12
Never count out Bret Bielema in November. Over the past two seasons, Arkansas has gone 5-3 in the final month of the regular season, including four wins against AP Top 25 teams. Perhaps one of the most notable came last season, when the Razorbacks came into Baton Rouge and embarrassed No. 9 LSU 31-14.
Perhaps last season’s result means LSU will not overlook Arkansas this season. However, the schedule sets up favorably for the Razorbacks to make their move. LSU plays Alabama on Nov. 5, which is one of the most physically demanding games of the season. If the Crimson Tide wear down LSU, it would bode well for an Arkansas team that wins games in the trenches.