11/11/2004 12:00AM

Akron has edge in likely air battle


LAS VEGAS - Some athletes can't handle success.

We see it all the time where a team gets off to a great start, then the players start believing all the hype and their press clippings. They get to the point where they think they can just show up and win. They get overconfident and don't put in the hard work that made them a success in the first place.

Handicappers, both in race and sports, can be the same way.

After a win at the races, how many times have you looked at the next race and a horse seems to jump off the page at you? It's very easy to feel you can do no wrong and fire away. But a true handicapper needs to take a step back and analyze the whole field to make sound decisions.

Coming off a 4-0 week in college football last Saturday, I looked at this week's schedule and the picks just seemed to jump off the page at me. If I went with my first impressions, I would have a dozen or so plays, but I knew that was just my ego run amuck. I knew I had to look in-depth at all the games and make sure I wasn't overlooking anything in my snap decisions.

When I finally got through with all my handicapping, I settled on three games that I felt stronger about than the others. Here's hoping that I didn't outsmart myself.

(For the morbidly curious, the other games I originally liked but decided to pass were Connecticut +9 vs. Georgia Tech, Iowa +3 at Minnesota, Northwestern +13 1/2 vs. Michigan, UNLV +6 1/2 vs. Colorado St., Oregon -6 vs. UCLA, South Carolina +7 vs. Florida, Purdue -4 vs. Ohio St., North Carolina +5 1/2 vs. Wake Forest, and Alabama +7 1/2 vs. LSU.)

Akron (PK) at Ohio

Akron is a team that has been flying under most people's radar screens, and it's understandable. The Zips started the season with three straight losses and lost four of their first five, including blowout losses to Penn St., Virginia, and Northern Illinois. But since then, they have won four straight - including last week's 31-28 win over Marshall - and are 5-1 in the Mid-American Conference and control their own destiny in the MAC East if they win their final two games. Charlie Frye could be the next in the line of MAC quarterbacks headed for the NFL (Chad Pennington, Byron Leftwich, Ben Roethlisberger), as he has turned around Akron's season and led the offense to an average of 34 points a game during its winning streak. The Zips' Achilles' heel is their run defense (allowing 191 yards per game), but that's also Ohio's weakness, so that should lead to an air battle in which Akron has the clear advantage.

PLAY: Akron for 1 unit.

Texas Tech (+2 1/2) at Texas A&M

Results vs. common opponents can sometimes be misleading, but try this on for size: Two weeks ago, Texas A&M was upset by Baylor 35-34 as more than a three-touchdown favorite, and last week Texas Tech easily beat Baylor 42-17. Granted, A&M was playing at Baylor and Tech got to play the Bears at home, but that's that's quite a difference. The Aggies were on a roll before that loss and probably were looking ahead to last week's encounter with Oklahoma, in which they played their hearts out and lost 42-35. I just don't see them bouncing back from those two losses. A&M's run defense is its strength, but that will be irrelevant this week, as Tech will pass, pass, and pass some more with Sonny Crumbie leading the nation with 405 yards per game. A&M quarterback Reggie McNeal, who injured a shoulder last week, is expected to play, but if he is unable to go the whole game or is anything less than 100 percent, I don't see the Aggies being able to keep up with the Red Raiders.

PLAY: Texas Tech for 1 unit.

Georgia (+4) at Auburn

Okay, this is my one "gut-reaction" play that I'm keeping. By just about every measure, Auburn is the better team. The offense has performed more consistently than Georgia's and so has the defense, and the Tigers are healthy coming off their bye week. Ranked No. 3, the Tigers are undefeated and have a legitimate chance to play for the national championship if USC or Oklahoma stumbles or if they can make up ground in the polls. Auburn is 6-1-1 against the spread as it has repeatedly blown out its competition, while Georgia is 4-4 as it usually plays down to the level of competition. But that could actually aid the Bulldogs here, as they usually get up for big games (see the 45-16 rout of defending national champ LSU and the 31-24 win over an inspired Florida team in the "world's largest cocktail party" matchup) and are used to close games. Georgia is a veteran team - quarterback David Green, the winningest QB in NCAA history, and defensive stud David Pollack seem to have been around forever - and will not be fazed by the spotlight. A lot of Auburn's success has been in creating turnovers and converting those into points, but that's not as likely against Greene, who has 16 touchdown passes and only one interception on the season. If the Auburn defensive backs try to jump the short routes, look for Georgia receiver Fred Gibson to burn them deep. Pollack and the rest of the Georgia defense will be focused on the Tigers' running game and make quarterback Jason Campbell beat them through the air.

PLAY: Georgia for 1 unit.

Last week: 4-0 for a profit of 4 units. College season record: 21-16 for a net profit of 3.4 units.