College Football Week 3 Picks: Predicting Saturday's Top Games vs. the Spread

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistSeptember 12, 2012

September 8, 2012; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA;  Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver Christion Jones (22) celebrates his touchdown pass against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers with teammate quarterback A.J. McCarron (10)during the second half at Bryant Denny Stadium. The Alabama Crimson Tide defeated the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers 35-0.  Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-US PRESSWIRE
John David Mercer-US PRESSWIRE

We're through two weeks of the 2012 college football season, and it seems this year more than ever there is a cavalcade of great games on each week.

Well, don't look for that trend to stop in Week 3.

With the top two teams in the country on the road against heated rivals and the rekindling of once-storied rivalries, this week feels almost worthy of late-season hype. These standout games pit Heisman hopefuls against stalwart defenses and struggling former Top-25 squads against hated in-conference opponents. 

Here's a preview of those top-tier games and my picks against the spread for Saturday's best action. 

(Note: All spreads are via Vegas Insider)

No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide at Arkansas Razorbacks (+20.5)

This is a hate-has-gone-way-too-far game if I've ever seen one. According to Vegas Insider, the line opened up at most sportsbooks with Alabama favored by 13 points. Considering the Razorbacks just lost in one of the biggest upsets in recent memory, that seemed more than fair (even at home).

However, it seems like the public has jumped all over this line over the past few days. A 7.5-point leap is really rare—even in instances like this one.

The Crimson Tide should obviously be favorites and will likely win the game. On the other hand, it seems that bettors have forgotten this Arkansas team was talented enough to be the eighth-ranked team in the nation just a week ago. 

With the Razorbacks undoubtedly motivated to take down their biggest rival after such an embarrassing defeat, look for them to come out strong on Saturday. 

The biggest question heading into this weekend, however, surrounds Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson. His injury was the overarching reason the Razorbacks lost to Louisiana-Monroe and it's the driving force behind this big spread. 

Wilson is currently listed as questionable, but the Crimson Tide are preparing for the senior signal-caller (via, and I think that's sound reasoning.

The story obviously changes if Wilson is out. However, I expect him to play and succeed in a hard-fought contest worthy of these two teams' talents. 

Alabama will win, but it'll be far closer than the spread suggests. 

Final Score Prediction: Alabama 28, Arkansas 17 (Razorbacks Cover)

No. 18 Florida Gators at No. 23 Tennessee Volunteers (-3)

After opening as a pick 'em, the Vols have slowly creeped into the standard three-point home favorite territory. 

When considering quarterback Tyler Bray's abject brilliance so far this season, there's little wonderment left as to why. 

In last week's victory over Georgia State, the junior signal caller missed on just two passes while throwing for 310 yards and four touchdowns. That performance brought his season totals up to 45-of-61 (73.8 percent) passing for 643 yards and six touchdowns.

Bray has also cut down on his former deficiencies, throwing no interceptions while going down for a sack just once thus far.

On the other side, questions are boundless for Florida behind center. Sophomore Jeff Driskel has essentially been handled with kid gloves through the first two games of the season, and it's unclear how he'll handle big-time moments. 

We'll find out on Saturday. A raucous College Gameday atmosphere is headed to Knoxville this weekend, so expect a bellowing sea of orange in Neyland Stadium. 

If Driskel can handle the pressure, Florida wins. I've just not seen enough from the youngster to feel comfortable saying he will. 

Final Score Prediction: Tennessee 24, Florida 20 (Volunteers Cover)

No. 2 USC Trojans at No. 21 Stanford Cardinal (+8)

Following a closer-than-expected 42-29 victory over Syracuse with a Top-25 opponent is almost always a recipe for an upset.

And considering USC's historical penchant for frustrating Pac-12 road losses, this could be the game that dooms the Trojans' national championship hopes—I just wouldn't expect it. 

Despite dropping 50 points on Duke last week, this is a Cardinal squad that needs a low-scoring affair to come out on top. In both of Stanford's victories thus far in 2012, the team has been out-gained, relying on a strong defense and timely turnovers to come out on top. 

With an explosive USC offense full of veteran stars coming into Stanford on Saturday, this game feels far more like a blowout than an upset. 

Expect top-notch performances from quarterback Matt Barkley and running back Silas Redd en route to an easy win for the Trojans. 

Final Score Prediction: USC 45, Stanford 24 (Trojans Cover)

No. 20 Notre Dame Fighting Irish at No. 10 Michigan State Spartans (-6)

With the entire world watching in an ABC prime-time showdown, we'll likely get an answer as to whether two breakout stars are worthy of the hype.

Through two games against less-than-stellar Navy and Purdue teams, Fighting Irish quarterback Everett Golson has looked every bit deserving of the starting job.

Completing 33-of-49 passes for 433 yards and two touchdowns, Golson has looked more like a poised upperclassman than a redshirt freshman. His throws have been crisp and smart, hardly ever taking unnecessary risks while still moving the ball down the field.

He'll his first true test of the season on Saturday against a Michigan State defense that has made embarrassing opposing quarterbacks the norm in 2012. Neither Boise State's Joe Southwick nor Central Michigan's Ryan Radcliff could get into the end zone against Spartans while tossing three picks and averaging just 171 yards through the air.

For Notre Dame to have a shot at winning, that trend cannot hit its third week. 

On the other side of the field, Spartans running back Le'Veon Bell is trending back down after an other-worldly Week 1 performance against Boise State. If his early Heisman buzz is going pick its steam back up, he'll need a banner game against a tough Notre Dame front seven.

The Irish stuffed Navy's vaunted triple-option attack in their first game and allowed just 37 yards to Purdue lead back Akeem Shavers last week.

However, none of those opposing backs had Bell's talent nor did they have the Spartans' fantastic offensive line. Look for the junior star to rekindle his Heisman chase with a big performance while Golson struggles in his first experience with elite competition.

It will be a fun game to watch early-on, but look for Michigan State to come away with a late-game cover. 

Final Score Prediction: Michigan State 27, Notre Dame 14 (Spartans Cover)



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