09/15/2004 11:00PM

Avoid low-octane Buckeyes


LAS VEGAS - Last week, I went 4-0 with my college picks.

With each pat on the back I received late Saturday and early Sunday in the race and sports books of Las Vegas, I told people that those four games were a short sample in a long season and that sports betting can humble you in a hurry.

As if Old Man Fate wanted to prove my point, I went 2-3 on Sunday with my NFL picks. In fact, if the Rams had added an insurance TD vs. the Cardinals and the 49ers hadn't rallied late to cover vs. the Falcons, I easily could have gone 0-5 and erased all my profit for the weekend.

For a public handicapper, there's always that fine line between being a hero or a bum. And no matter how well you do, people will ask, "What have you done for me lately?"

So it's back to the betting board, and hopefully the good pickings continue on the college schedule.

Ohio St. at North Carolina St. (+1 1/2)

My one loss this year in college football was when I took Cincinnati +15 vs. Ohio St. two weeks ago. I went against Ohio St. because, as I wrote, "The Buckeyes have been a great bet-against team the last few years with a strong defense that keeps their games close and an offense that does just enough to win." The game played out as expected with Cincy staying close until Ohio St. got over the number late in the game for a 27-6, spread-covering victory. I should have stuck with that way of thinking last week as Ohio St. barely beat Marshall, 24-21, as a 16 1/2-point favorite. So, now I'm jumping back on the anti-Buckeye bandwagon and hoping I'm not zigging when I should be zagging. Last year, North Carolina St. went into Columbus and nearly beat Ohio St., losing 44-38 in triple overtime. North Carolina St. star running back T.A. McClendon is listed as questionable, but even if he can't go, the Wolfpack has a solid offensive line, and backup Darrell Blackmon, while not the bruising back that McClendon is, will able to find running room. In addition, quarterback Jay Davis is picking up where first-round NFL draft pick Philip Rivers left off. The Buckeyes' inconsistent play should catch up with them here.

PLAY: North Carolina St. for 1 unit.

San Diego St. (+20 1/2) at Michigan

You might notice a trend here. Last week, I went against Illinois and Northwestern, and now I'm going against two more Big Ten (actually, Big Eleven) teams. Basically, I feel the oddsmakers and the betting public are overrating the Big Ten's teams in a lot of their non-conference games. In fact, I almost included Arizona St. -1 vs. Iowa as one of my plays.

Michigan is coming off an upset loss to Notre Dame last week - more anecdotal evidence of the above hypothesis - and could be looking ahead to a critical game next week vs. Iowa. That makes this point spread very attractive for a San Diego St. team that could be a sleeper in the Mountain West Conference. San Diego St. is likely to be without starting running back Lynell Hamilton, but he is the starter in name only, as Michael Franklin has rushed for more than 100 yards in each of the last three games "subbing" for Hamilton, dating back to last season. Michigan's run defense showed some vulnerabilities that San Diego St. could exploit.

Also, San Diego St. went to Ohio St. last year and nearly beat the Buckeyes in a 16-13 loss (add that to the evidence stash). Michigan has the talent edge and I'm not calling an outright upset, but I like having nearly a three-touchdown head start.

PLAY: San Diego St. for 1 unit.

LSU at Auburn (-1 1/2)

Similar to Ohio St., LSU seems to have taken a step backward from last year. The defending BCS national champ, LSU was unimpressive in its season opener vs. Oregon St. despite rallying to win 22-21, and the Tigers revealed many weaknesses that Auburn should be able to exploit. LSU's defense is not as dominant as last year, and will have trouble containing Auburn quarterback Jason Campbell and the running-back tandem of Carnell "Cadillac" Williams and Ronnie Brown. When LSU has the ball, the Tigers be facing an Auburn defense that has allowed only 510 yards and 14 points in two games, and a lot of the points were given up by the second-stringers late in Auburn's 43-14 whipping of Mississippi St. In a way, Auburn could be this year's LSU, and this is the chance to prove it.

PLAY: Auburn for 1 unit.

TCU (+6) at Texas Tech

This line surprised me. Texas Tech opened the season by barely getting past a very weak SMU team, 27-13. Last week, TCU ran over that same SMU team 44-0. In other games, TCU outlasted Northwestern 48-45 in double overtime, while Texas Tech lost 27-24 at New Mexico.

So, that's a win for each against mid-level competition, and TCU faring better against the common opponent. I was thinking this would be around pick-em with Tech getting a few points for home-field advantage. But I'm not complaining; I'll take the 6 points.

Both teams have explosive offenses and mediocre defenses, so this should be a shootout as reflected by the over/under of 61 points. TCU's defense is better than it looked vs. Northwestern and not as good as it looked in the shutout vs. SMU, and is capable of making some stops, especially since the Horned Frogs won't have to worry about Tech's nonexistent running game. On offense, TCU has a more balanced attack to help quarterback Tye Gunn, who is 10-0 as a starter and should engineer the minor upset.

PLAY: TCU for 1 unit.

Last week: 4-0 for a net profit of 4 units. Season record: 5-1 for net profit of 3.9 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1).