In 2008, even with memories of their last trip to Reser Stadium still fresh and aware of the potential for a letdown after smashing Ohio State, the Trojans were ambushed by Oregon State in an obvious trap game. The 27-21 Thursday night loss ultimately kept Pete Carroll's best defense from playing for the BCS title, joining UCLA and Stanford on the list of spoilers that denied USC a chance to finish No. 1 in successive seasons.
If only Lucas had passed along a copy of "Return of the Jedi" ahead of the game.
In the spirit of everyone's favorite Mon Calamari, here are 10 games that could derail bowl and championship aspirations across the Pac-12 this season. Neither Colorado nor Washington State qualifies because of their schedules and consensus predictions for last-place finishes, but are well represented as spoilers.
Game: at Oregon State, October 8
It's A Trap: Who did Mike Stoops anger to draw the schedule Arizona closed out 2010 with, resulting in a five-game losing streak? What did he do to draw four of those same five – Oklahoma State, Stanford, Oregon and USC – in September and the first week of October? If the Wildcats feel like they will catch a break here with a clearly winnable game, look again. The season, perhaps Stoops' job, could be in the balance.
Game: Cal, November 25
It's A Trap: Odds are the Sun Devils will be preparing for the Pac-12 championship game or figuring out who will replace Dennis Erickson as head coach. Either way it seems unlikely Arizona State will be entirely invested in this one, a major downside to not having rivalry games to close out the regular season.
Game: Fresno State, September 3
It's A Trap: The Bulldogs love nothing more than the chance to take out their frustrations on the big dogs, but save their best efforts for the California Pac-12 members. Remember the epic performance against USC, among the best games never played? Well Pat Hill finally gets his crack at the Golden Bears, so they better be emotionally ready for the season opening war that will ensue.
Game: at Washington, November 5
It's A Trap: Don't look ahead. That's the danger with crucial showdowns against Stanford and USC following the bitter rivalry with the Huskies. The intensity of the feud should prevent that, but running back Chris Polk and improving Washington will be foaming at the mouth to knock off the Ducks.
Game: at Washington State, October 22
It's A Trap: It shouldn't be, not after the shocking loss that denied Oregon State a bowl bid, Washington State's first win over an conference foe since the dreadful 2008 Apple Cup. Again this will have significant bowl implications for the Beavers and be a must-win playing in the tougher Pac-12 North with tough non-conference games at Wisconsin and against BYU.
Game: at Oregon State, November 5
It's A Trap: It falls between perhaps the two most important games in Cardinal football history, its toughest road game at USC and the de-facto Pac-12 North title game against Oregon. Wins there would vault first-year coach David Shaw into the BCS title mix and cement QB Andrew Luck as the unquestioned Heisman Trophy frontrunner, unless the Beavers play giant killer once more. It will be a test of Luck's leadership to prevent another Corvallis pratfall.
Game: Washington State, October 8
It's A Trap: The Cougs had the Rose Bowl petrified last year until their apparent go-ahead touchdown was overturned by replay, ultimately leading to a turnover on downs at the UCLA 1 that swung momentum. Rick Neuheisel's team escaped with a 42-28 win, but will be coming off back-to-back road trips to Oregon State and Stanford this time around in a must-win contest if Slick Rick is to keep his job. Quarterback Jeff Tuel (20 for 37, 311 yards and 2 TD against UCLA last season) and his favorite target Marquess Wilson (five receptions for 118 yards) are more than capable of scaring the daylights out of the Bruins again.
Game: at Colorado, November 4
It's A Trap: This one looked dangerous long before it was moved to Friday night to accommodate a national television audience. Sandwiched between revenge games against Stanford, Washington and Oregon, USC's first conference trip to Boulder has all the telltale signs of a letdown, especially since the hype for the showdown between Trojan quarterback Matt Barkley and his Cardinal counterpart Andrew Luck should be off the charts. Factor in the possibility for chilly weather and precipitation and Lane Kiffin will have to keep his team on high alert.
Game: at Cal, October 22
It's A Trap: The Utes' first run through the Pac-12 features a non-conference cross-country trip to play Pittsburgh before heading to the Bay Area the next week. Fatigue is always an issue by the halfway point and it could be compounded by the step up in class. The Golden Bears could catch a worn-down Utah and avenge their 2009 Poinsettia Bowl loss.
Game: Hawaii, September 10
It's A Trap: If it comes down to quarterbacks, the Huskies are in trouble. Warriors signal-caller Bryant Moniz is the best-kept secret in college football, throwing for 5,040 yards and 39 touchdowns last season, whereas the Huskies will be relying on new starter Keith Price. Throw in look ahead potential with the rubber game against Nebraska on tap the next week, Washington better be ready for this early test.