11/29/2007 12:00AM

According to oddsmakers, Missouri far from No. 1

EmailParity, once the buzz word associated with the NFL and its "on any given Sunday" mantra, has certainly spread to college football.

It all started this season with Appalachian State shocking Michigan, and continued with Syracuse knocking off Louisville, Stanford upsetting USC, and on and on. On any given Saturday, indeed, or any given Thursday (No. 2 South Florida losing to Rutgers on Oct. 18 and No. 2 Oregon losing to Arizona on Nov. 18) or even on any given Friday (Arkansas knocking off No. 1 LSU a week ago).

The BCS title picture has come into more focus, but the current top two teams, Missouri and West Virginia, have to win Saturday to secure their spots in the Jan. 7 championship game in New Orleans. West Virginia is a 28-point favorite over Pittsburgh in the annual "Backyard Brawl" rivalry game, while Missouri is a 3-point underdog to Oklahoma in the Big 12 Conference title game.

Since Missouri is the No. 1 team in the country, according to the official BCS standings, a lot of people might be surprised by the line, but it's clear the oddsmakers still feel the Sooners are the stronger team. To see that, one need only look at Las Vegas Sports Consultants' top 30 poll (it can be seen on the Oddsmakers' View page at ViewFromVegas.com) where LVSC has Missouri as only the sixth-best team in its power rankings with a rating of 108.3. West Virginia is LVSC's No. 1 team at 110.9, Ohio State is second at 110.4, and then there are actually three two-loss teams ahead of Missouri: Oklahoma (109.8), USC (109.3), and LSU (109.0).

These ratings are based on how teams would compare on a neutral field, so we can see that no matter what matchup we get in the BCS title game, it's going to be pretty close to pick-em. Going on the raw numbers (and not factoring in public perception such as if West Virginia or Missouri look incredibly good on national TV this Saturday), the line for the potential BCS matchups would look like this:

* West Virginia -2.5 against Missouri.

* West Virginia -1 against Ohio State.

* Ohio State -2 against Missouri.

If that doesn't further show parity in college football, with no clear dominant team, I don't know what does.

The biggest nightmare for BCS apologists would be if West Virginia and Missouri were to both lose, because the current No. 4 team is two-loss Georgia, which didn't even win its division of the SEC and isn't playing for the conference title this Saturday. Ohio State would be around -5 versus Georgia, according to LVSC's rating of Georgia at 10.51 (behind Florida and Virginia Tech).

Earlier this week, the Hilton posted West Virginia as the 2-3 favorite to win the BCS title, with Missouri and Ohio State both at 5-2 (again, showing how much oddsmakers think Oklahoma has the better team than Missouri), and Georgia at 40-1. For the record, USC, LSU, and Oklahoma were offered at 100-1 apiece, with Virginia Tech at 200-1.

College handicapping contest ends

The BCS might still be up for grabs, but the Leroy's chain of sports books crowned its college football champion last week in the College Challenge handicapping contest. Bobby W., a native Californian who now lives in Las Vegas, finished with a record of 53-31 (63 percent) to claim the $32,100 first-place prize. He went 3-4 in the final week of the 12-week contest, but so did his two closest competitors. Bobby W. is an alias as the player chooses to keep his given name private.

Feverish, an alias of horseplayer Jodi Anderson and her husband, Mark, who used a handicapping program developed by noted horse tournament player Tim Haley, finished second with a 52-32 record and collected $14,980.

The Leroy's College Challenge drew 428 entries at $250 apiece to make up the $107,000 purse and paid out to the top 40 finishers.

Leroy's college basketball contest

The Leroy's contest filled a void in Las Vegas when it started three years ago as the only point-spread contest in town for college football, and now Leroy's is again being aggressive and progressive by launching the first college basketball point-spread contest.

Signups begin Saturday for the Leroy's College Challenge (looks like they're trying to build a brand name). Like the football version, it will have a $250 entry fee, with a limit of three per person. The contest will start on Saturday, Jan. 5, with the deadline to register Jan. 4. There will be as many as 50 games listed on each Saturday's card - with lines all being half-points to eliminate pushes - and contestants will make seven plays a week. The College Challenge will run for 10 weeks through March 9, wrapping up with the conference tournaments before the NCAA tournament the following week.

Jimmy Vaccaro, the marketing director for Leroy's who is responsible for their contests, said a separate March Madness contest is in the works and he also is looking into doing a contest next baseball season.

"My whole mantra is you try it as you have nothing to lose," Vaccaro said. "If it doesn't work, you scrap it and move on. But if it works, it can get bigger and bigger and bring a lot of people into your joints."

"We've built a lot of a following with the football contest and it doesn't make sense to make them wait until March Madness. I wanted to start this because college basketball is getting more and more popular and we want to capitalize on that. My thing as I explain to [Leroy's owner] Vic Salerno is this basketball contest won't have the impact of the football, but the key is to keep things moving. We can continue to promote Leroy's on our radio show and this keeps our name out there."

There is no guaranteed purse for the College Challenge, but Leroy's estimates 200 entries, with the winner receiving 30 percent of the prize pool, or an estimated $15,000. The top 16 finishers will cash. There will also be a mini-contest over the last four weeks of the contest for 5 percent of the prize pool, or an estimated $2,500.

Prizes will increase or decrease depending on the number of entries, and I'm betting on the over.

* The Fiesta Rancho and Fiesta Henderson have a free Friday NBA against-the-spread contest. Each week is a separate contest. First place is $500 cash, with $250 for second, $150 for third, and fourth getting a $100 dining dining coupon.

* For those reading this in time, this is last call for the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship qualifying tournament at Green Valley Ranch on Saturday. The format is the same as used last month at Red Rock, with entries costing $250 and each player making 15 mythical $2 win-and-place wagers with eight of the races being mandatory and the other seven being player's choice from the designated contest tracks. Steve Davidowitz, author of "The Best and Worst of Thoroughbred Racing," also will be hosting a seminar at 8 a.m. in the race book, complete with a continental breakfast.