08/02/2002 12:00AM

Are you ready for some football?


In the race and sports books of Las Vegas, the "old" American pastime of baseball highlights the betting boards right now. But that will soon change. The "new" American pastime is about to turn the lazy days of summer into the frenzied days of fall.

Football has officially kicked off this weekend, with NFL games Saturday in Japan and Monday in Canton, Ohio. And while these are only exhibition games, they are welcome betting events for both bookmakers and sports players.

The pros may lead the way, but there already is action available on college games.

The Imperial Palace race and sports book in July posted marquee gridiron match-ups for the upcoming college football season, and most of the popular rivalry games have been actively bet.

One of the games that has seen two-way action is Georgia vs. Clemson on Aug. 31. Although Georgia opened a 5-point favorite, the number - which changed at least five times - has moved to Georgia by 6 1/2. Another game with at least five lines moves is the Wisconsin-UNLV game on the same day. Wisconsin is a 6-point favorite, which was the opening number.

Significant action has been taken on the Sept. 1 game between Miami and the University of Florida. One-sided play has moved the game from Florida -2 1/2 points to pick 'em.

Betting on the Sept. 14 game featuring the hometown UNLV Rebels against Oregon State has been flowing one way. Oregon State opened a 6 1/2-point choice, jumped to as high as 10, and is now back down to a

9-point favorite.

On Oct. 3, Clemson takes on Florida State, and bettors seem to think it's a one-sided affair. Florida State opened -15 and has been bet up to an 18-point favorite.

The Oct. 19 game matching Texas and Kansas State has received enough betting action to almost double the opening number. Texas opened a 3-point favorite, but has been driven up to a 5 1/2-point choice.

Texas faces Nebraska on Nov. 2, with Nebraska opening and remaining a 2 1/2-point favorite.

Miami takes on Tennessee on

Nov. 9, with Tennessee the choice by a field goal. There has been no movement on this game as well.

Michigan faces Ohio State on

Nov. 23, with Ohio State opening and currently a 3-point favorite.

Also scheduled for Nov. 23 is Washington against Washington State. Action has been brisk for this contest, with back-and-forth play having landed on the opening number of Washington State +3.

The Southern California collegiate rivalry of USC vs. UCLA, also

Nov. 23, has received vigorous action, no doubt as a result of the colleges' close proximity to Las Vegas. UCLA opened a 1 1/2-point favorite and has been bet down to -1.

Colorado meets Nebraska on

Nov. 29, and Nebraska is the choice by 5 1/2 points. That number hasn't changed since it opened.

One of the more popular national games is the meeting between Florida and Florida State on Nov. 30. Florida State opened a 5-point choice and has been bet up to an 8-point favorite.

Finally, on Dec. 7, the Army-Navy game takes place at The Meadowlands in East Rutherford, N.J. Army opened and is still the 2 1/2-point favorite.

Las Vegas books also are offering future bets on horses, of course. Bally's has had a future book open for months on most of the World Thoroughbred Championship Breeders' Cup races, to be held on Oct. 26. The Coast Casinos race-book oddsmaker, Frank Minervini, has left his senses by already offering fixed odds on the 2003 Kentucky Derby.

For those of you as sick as Frank, Whywhywhy is the future favorite at 80-1, replacing the opening favorite, Bashford Manor winner Lone Star Sky, who has drifted up to 100-1. Impressive Del Mar maiden-breaker Vindication was at 90-1 on Wednesday.

Ralph Siraco is turf editor for the Las Vegas Sun and host of the Race Day Las Vegas radio show.