Must-win and trap games of 2017: Alabama Crimson Tide
There are 12 regular-season games, but they’re not all created equal.
To help get prepared for next season, we’re looking at every SEC team’s must-win and trap games.
First up is Alabama.
Must-win game: It’s tempting to say that the season-opener against Florida State qualifies here. Think about it: Coming off a crushing defeat in the national championship, what would Alabama’s psyche be if it lost to a title contender in Florida State? Bouncing back from that wouldn’t be easy. But nonetheless, a must-win game can’t be the first game of the season. The playoff era has removed that need to go undefeated entirely, leaving a Nov. 4 date with LSU as the most obvious choice. While Nick Saban’s squad has beaten the Tigers six years in a row, it’s not as if the series hasn’t been competitive. Last season’s game came down to the fourth quarter, and in 2014, Alabama needed overtime to win. LSU has a long way to go offensively, but with Matt Canada now calling plays and Dave Aranda back to lead the defense, this is a team that should be looked upon as the top competition in the SEC West.
Trap game: It’s not just a matter of convenience that the trap game comes after the must-win game; it’s common sense. If LSU is one of those proverbial games for all the marbles, then that makes Mississippi State inherently dangerous. Because win or lose, it’s going to be hard to get up for a big game in back-to-back weeks. And it’s not just that, as the Nov. 11 game is also is a tough road environment in Starkville. The noise of thousands of cowbells is essentially the worst possible remedy for hangover. What’s more, Dan Mullen’s team should improve from last year, when sophomore Nick Fitzgerald established himself as the most productive running quarterback in the conference. With Todd Grantham now installed as defensive coordinator, the hope for Mississippi State fans is that the defense gets back to being the kind of big-play unit they became accustomed to under Geoff Collins and Manny Diaz.