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Thursday, July 15, 2010
Five trap games in the Big Ten this fall

By Adam Rittenberg

Beware of the trap game.

Every Big Ten team usually has one or two on the schedule, and they drive everybody nuts: coaches, players and especially fans. We're talking about games that should be won, but carry challenging factors such as location, timing and the type of opponent on the other sideline. Trap games usually aren't obvious mismatches on paper, and they occur both during nonconference play and within the league.

Here's a look at five potential trap games for Big Ten teams this season:

Iowa at Arizona, Sept. 18: The Hawkeyes' trip to Tucson served as the primary inspiration for this post. A trap game in every sense, Iowa must travel two time zones away to face a tough Arizona team in its backyard in prime time. Iowa will be favored, but Arizona boasts most of the advantages. The heat likely will still be a factor despite the night kickoff, and Iowa must be in peak condition both physically and mentally to withstand what should be a very tough test from Nick Foles and the Wildcats.

Wisconsin at Purdue, Nov. 6: The Badgers come off an emotion-charged stretch that includes Michigan State, Ohio State and Iowa, as well as rival Minnesota in the battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe. Wisconsin embarrassed Purdue last year in Madison, crushing Danny Hope's squad 37-0. Things won't be nearly as easy this time around, as an improved team with a potentially explosive offense tries to avenge the shutout on its home field.

Michigan State vs. Illinois, Oct. 16: We've seen Michigan State teams fall apart in October after strong starts, and Mark Dantonio might need to guard against a letdown against the Illini. The Spartans should sweep the nonconference slate before opening Big Ten play against a strong Wisconsin team. Michigan State then goes on the road to archrival Michigan, where it aims for its first three-game win streak in the series since 1965-67. A 6-0 start is certainly possible, but Michigan State can't lose focus against an Illinois team that has enough talent to win.

Ohio State at Minnesota, Oct. 30: The Buckeyes might be 8-0 heading to the Twin Cities, thinking national title and looking forward to a bye week before the stretch run against Penn State, Iowa and Michigan. Minnesota has been a poor late-season team under head coach Tim Brewster and boasts only two wins against Ohio State since 1966. But the Gophers should be comfortable with Jeff Horton's offense by this point, and their talented young players will have adjusted to the college game. If the Buckeyes overlook this matchup like they did with Purdue in 2009, they could be sorry.

Penn State vs. Temple, Sept. 25: Everyone knows the challenge that awaits Penn State in Tuscaloosa, Ala., but don't forget about the Nittany Lions' date with Al Golden and his Temple Owls. Temple won nine games in 2009 and enters the fall as one of the favorites to win the Mid-American Conference. This is a better team than the one Penn State pummeled 31-6 last year, while the Lions will still be breaking in a young and inexperienced starting quarterback.

A few other trap games: Minnesota vs. Northern Illinois (Sept. 25), Illinois vs. Northern Illinois (Sept. 18), Penn State vs. Northwestern (Nov. 6), Michigan at Indiana (Oct. 2), Northwestern vs. Central Michigan (Sept. 25), Iowa at Indiana (Nov. 6).