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College Football's Biggest Trap Games for Playoff Contenders in 2022

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Unexpected results, upsets and trap games are a staple of every college football season. No team's path to a playoff trip, conference title or bowl berth will go smooth or according to plan. Don't expect that to change in 2022 either, as all of the top contenders - Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia, Clemson, Texas A&M, Michigan, Notre Dame and Utah - each have tricky matchups to navigate on the road and in terms of timing. A "trap game" doesn't mean the favorite will lose that game, but by our definition, the timing or location makes these contests tougher than some may expect.

On this week's edition of the Cover 2 Podcast, hosts Braden Gall and Steven Lassan used Athlon Sports' projected top 25 to highlight key games for College Football Playoff contenders that could be a trap game or upset. Of note: These aren't projected losses or upsets, but more about taking a look at which games could be more difficult than some might anticipate due to timing, schedule, road trip or other factors that might align leading up to the matchup. 

College Football's Biggest Trap Games for Playoff Contenders in 2022

1. Alabama
Oct. 1 at Arkansas:
Hogs lost by seven in Tuscaloosa last season and return nine starters, including quarterback K.J. Jefferson. This game also comes one week before the Crimson Tide's showdown versus Texas A&M.

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2. Ohio State
Oct. 29 at Penn State: A close game between Penn State and Ohio State wouldn't be a surprise. After all, the Nittany Lions lost by nine in Columbus last fall, and three out of the last four in Happy Valley have been decided by one score. Penn State also beat the Buckeyes in '16.
A longshot trap game: at Maryland on Nov. 19 - a week before playing Michigan.

3. Georgia
Nov. 12 at Mississippi State: Trips to Starkville to play Mike Leach's offense are never easy.
Nov. 19 at Kentucky: Can the 'Cats pull off an upset and shake up the East? Back-to-back treks to Mississippi State and Kentucky are a tough way to end SEC play in '22 for Georgia.

4. Clemson
Oct. 15 at Florida State:
The Seminoles led 20-17 in the fourth quarter of last year's 30-20 loss in Death Valley and should be improved in '22. Also, this game marks the end of a key three-game stretch for coach Dabo Swinney's team: NC State, at Boston College and at Florida State.

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5. Texas A&M
Oct. 1 at Mississippi State:
The Bulldogs knocked off the Aggies 26-22 in College Station last season and catch coach Jimbo Fisher's team in a run of interesting games. Texas A&M plays Arkansas on Sept. 24 in Arlington and has Alabama on Oct. 8. Looking past Mississippi State on a tough road trip to Starkville would be dangerous.
Nov. 12 at Auburn: The Tigers could be fighting for bowl eligibility (or to save coach Bryan Harsin's job?) by Nov. 12. Also, this is Texas A&M's only road game in the last five matchups of '22.

6. Michigan
Oct. 1 at Iowa:
The Wolverines have lost four in a row at Iowa. With Michigan State and Penn State visiting Ann Arbor, a road trek to play the Hawkeyes might be all that stands between 11-0 going into the finale against Ohio State.

7. Notre Dame
Oct. 8 vs. BYU in Las Vegas:
There's no obvious game to fit this designation on Notre Dame's schedule, but the showdown in Las Vegas against BYU will be tough. The Cougars return an explosive offense led by quarterback Jaren Hall and one of the nation's top lines. BYU also brings back 10 starters on defense.

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8. Utah
Oct. 27 at Washington State: Utah has won three in a row against Washington State, but coach Kyle Whittingham's squad lost its last two trips (2013 and '18) in Pullman. Timing also plays a role here. The Utes have a huge showdown against USC on Oct. 15 and an off date on Oct. 22

Oct. 8 at UCLA: The Utes have won five in a row over UCLA and each of the last four has come by 20-plus points. The road trip to the Rose Bowl comes a week before the showdown versus USC in Salt Lake City. Utah has to avoid the look-ahead factor here.

9. USC
Sept. 24 at Oregon State:
An early-season road trip to face an Oregon State team that pummeled USC 45-27 in Los Angeles won't be an easy trek for coach Lincoln Riley's squad. The Trojans are just 2-3 in their last five trips to Corvallis.

10. Oregon
Sept. 24 at Washington State: 
Oregon has lost two out of its last three games to Washington State in Pullman.
Nov. 25 at Oregon State: It's hard to call a rivalry a trap game, but the Ducks get the rival Beavers after a physical battle against Utah on Nov. 19.

11. Baylor
Oct. 13 at West Virginia: Expect all of the contenders in the Big 12 to play in their share of toss-up games this fall. The Bears have never won in Morgantown since West Virginia joined the Big 12. 
Oct. 29 at Texas Tech: Baylor has not won in Lubbock since 1990. This matchup takes place one week before the showdown at Oklahoma on Nov. 5.

Related: Complete Big 12 Preview and Predictions

12. NC State
Oct. 8 vs. Florida State:
If the Wolfpack are going to win the Atlantic, beating Clemson in Death Valley on Oct. 1 is a must. And if that happens, catching an improved Florida State team one week later might be a prime letdown spot.
Nov. 19 at Louisville: Could the Cardinals' high-powered offense led by quarterback Malik Cunningham catch NC State in a look-ahead spot with the rivalry matchup against North Carolina the following Friday?

13. Oklahoma
Nov. 12 at West Virginia:
The Big 12 doesn't have a runaway contender for the league title, and with very little separation in the middle of the conference, expect the middle class to pick off the teams at the top a couple of times in '22. A trip to Morgantown is never easy, and Oklahoma gets that honor a week after hosting Baylor and a Saturday before the Bedlam showdown versus Oklahoma State. Also of note, games against TCU (week before Texas), Oct. 27 versus Iowa State (before Baylor), and Nov. 26 at Texas Tech (after playing Oklahoma State) certainly fit here too.

Listen to this week's episode for a complete and deeper breakdown and explanation of upsets and trap games that could define the 2022 college football season, as well as a look at the latest in realignment and expansion: