There are a handful of teams in the Big Ten with realistic aspirations of making it to Indianapolis and playing in the conference championship game on Dec. 5. That said, there are also a number of teams flying under the radar, waiting to play the role of spoiler and derail the championship hopes of some of the conference blue bloods.
Here are the five Big Ten trap games of 2015.
Oct. 3 —
Win or lose against TCU in the non-conference schedule, the Gophers should be flying high heading into conference play. They'll likely be looking ahead to tough divisional games with Nebraska and Wisconsin that will go a long way in deciding the West. It's very possible — even after years of watching Northwestern surprise opponents — that Minnesota will be looking right past the the trip to Evanston and failing to give the Wildcats the respect and attention they deserve at home. A loss to Northwestern in the conference opener would greatly increase the degree of difficulty for the Gophers to make it to Indy.
Oct. 10 —
Connor Cook is going to be showered with preseason accolades leading up to the season. Do not discount, however, the Spartans' loss of big-time playmakers on both sides of the ball over the last couple of seasons. Others are going to need to step up, especially in games like this. The Rutgers home crowd will be raucous under the lights, anxious to introduce another one of the Big Ten's "old guard" to the friendly confines of High Point Solutions Stadium. If the Spartans let the Scarlet Knights hang around long enough, things could get dicey.
Oct. 17 —
This is a bit of a long shot, but we watched arguably a lesser team take down the Buckeyes in Columbus in 2014. Ohio State is going to wear the bull's-eye every week. As a result, they'll get every team's best shot. Christian Hackenberg's best shot just might be good enough to give the Buckeye defense fits if Penn State's offensive line can give him time in the pocket. The Nittany Lions are going to have some talent quietly lingering around the field in the form of James Franklin's first couple of recruiting classes — both of which were top-25 efforts. Upset or not, it will be Ohio State's biggest test thus far of the season since opening weekend at Virginia Tech.
Nov. 14 —
At this point, the Huskers should know exactly where they stand in the race for the Big Ten West. They'll either be ready to put away their final two conference opponents and celebrating a successful first year under Mike Riley, or they'll still be licking their wounds from that gauntlet they ran through during the middle of October. Rutgers and their fans won't care. As was the case with Michigan State, it'll be time for another Garden State welcome, complete with a punch in the mouth from players on both sides of the ball who can go toe-to-toe with the Husker talent. It will be up to Nebraska to respond and play like the better team — avoiding what would likely be the most embarassing loss of the season in the eyes of the fans.
It'll be a "one game at a time" sort of season in Iowa City, regardless of how the Hawkeyes are faring from week to week. If the Gophers are still the quality opponent some are expecting them to be this late in the season, Kinnick Stadium will be electric under the lights when the Gophers visit. Regardless of the records when these two teams meet, Iowa will have the talent on both sides of the ball to cause Minnesota some problems and keep this one close in front of the home crowd.