College Football Picks Week 3: Top 25 Games That Will Be Closer Than You Think

Josh Sadlock@@JoshSadlockCorrespondent IIISeptember 14, 2011

College Football Picks Week 3: Top 25 Games That Will Be Closer Than You Think

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    College football is still largely in its non-conference phase. The big boys in the Top 25 are for the most part feasting on lesser foes from the mid-majors. That does not mean, however, that they can be content to sit back and enjoy an easy victory.

    Thanks in large part to the spread offense's role in revolutionizing college football, mid-majors are able to hang with their BCS counterparts. Toledo very nearly left Columbus with a victory over, in-state rival Ohio State.

    This week features another slate of college football games dominated by non-conference warmup games, but here are five members of the Top 25 who must be on upset alert.

No. 22 Arizona State at Illinois

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    This is one matchup on the list that does feature two teams from BCS conferences. Arizona State enters as the ranked team, but they cannot overlook Illinois.

    The Sun Devils made their initial appearance in the Top 25 after last week's victory over 21st ranked Missouri. It was a victory the Sun Devils were lucky to get. Arizona State let Missouri claw back into the game and were forced to sweat out overtime to get the win.

    Their opponent this week, Illinois, is very capable of doing exactly what the Sun Devils did last week, knock off a team in the Top 25. Arizona State's defense is not exactly stout. They gave up a lot of yards to the Tigers last week. Illinois' offense is also very capable of racking up the yards.

    Dual-threat quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and punishing running back Jason Ford must be salivating at the prospect of facing a defense that surrendered over 500 yards of offense to Missouri.

    Arizona State, led by talented quarterback Brock Osweiler, has had no trouble scoring in the early going. This one should be a shootout, very similar to the Sun Devils' victory over Missouri.

No. 18 West Virginia at Maryland

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    What gets lost in West Virginia's 55-12 beatdown of Norfolk State last weekend is the fact that the Mountaineers were actually down 12-10 at halftime. Their superior size and speed proved to be too much for Norfolk State in the second half.

    West Virginia cannot afford to start slowly again this weekend in Maryland. The Terrapins picked up a 32-24 win over Miami to open the season. No matter who was suspended, a victory over The U is always impressive for an upstart program like Maryland's.

    West Virginia has struggled to run the ball early in 2011 and have had to rely heavily on Geno Smith. If the offense is one dimensional against Maryland, the Terps defense is talented enough to focus in on the pass and shut down the Mountaineers.

    Do not be fooled by Maryland's lack of football pedigree. They can take down the more highly touted Mountaineers.

No. 8 Oklahoma State at Tulsa

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    Oklahoma State has risen into the upper echelon of the college football rankings in large part due to their offensive prowess.

    Scratch that, only due to their offensive prowess.

    Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon are the best quarterback-receiver duo in college football. They are the force that drives the Cowboys.

    The defense, on the other hand, cannot hold a candle to these two and the rest of Mike Gundy's spread offense. The Cowboys are famous for getting themselves involved in back and forth shootouts.

    Their opponent this week, the Tulsa Golden Hurricane are also well versed in the ways of the offensive shootout. Oklahoma State got the better of Tulsa 65-28 a year ago, but their 10-3 campaign featured a victory over Notre Dame.

    There might not be many teams in the ranks of the mid-majors who can hang with Oklahoma State's offense, but Tulsa's offensive scheme could prove good enough to let them hang around against Oklahoma State's less than stellar defense.

Northern Illinois vs. No. 7 Wisconsin

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    The Wisconsin Badgers have certainly enjoyed having Russell Wilson around at quarterback in 2011. He gives them a signal caller the likes of which has never set up under center in Madison. Wilson is a complete quarterback, unlike the game managers typically found leading the Badgers offense.

    Wisconsin has been very impressive offensively in 2011. Their defense has looked just as good. That might not be saying much since they have only played UNLV and Oregon State.

    Their opponent this weekend, Northern Illinois, has a history of hanging tough against Big Ten opponents. The Huskies are a scrappy bunch, and they have given Ohio State and Illinois scares in the past.

    Wisconsin will ultimately prove to be too much for the smaller Huskies side, but do not be surprised if Wisconsin is given its first real test of 2011 on Saturday.

No. 4 Boise State at Toledo

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    The Golden Rockets of Toledo nearly scored a landmark victory for their program last weekend against Ohio State. Toledo had their instate rivals on the ropes but could not punch the ball into the end zone late in the game.

    If Toledo can be competitive against Ohio State, they can definitely compete against Boise State. The Broncos are forced to travel to Toledo, which could help give the Rockets and edge.

    The only thing that could turn this game into a blowout is Toledo coming out flat after an emotionally draining game in Columbus. Look instead for the Golden Rockets to come out firing, proving their close call with Ohio State was more than a one-week wonder.