10/18/2001 12:00AM

Avoid top teams who are 'prepping' as big favorites

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This week's college football schedule reminds me of a bunch of stakes horses prepping against allowance company.

Oklahoma and Nebraska, tuning up for their Oct. 27 clash, play Baylor and Texas Tech. Oklahoma is favored by 36 points, Nebraska by 24. UCLA, gearing up for a stretch run against Stanford, Washington State, and Oregon, is a 28-point favorite over California.

In the East, unbeaten Maryland is a 26-point favorite against Duke while getting ready for an Atlantic Coast Conference battle next week at Florida State.

I'm going to avoid those games because there's too much of a chance that the favored teams will be looking past their opponents. In addition, coaches might rest starters earlier than usual and expose themselves to backdoor covers more so than usual, especially with such large spreads.

I will play four more competitive games.

Colorado at Texas (-10)

This is the week's only game between ranked opponents. After a slow start, Texas rolled over Oklahoma State last week, and QB Chris Simms looked much more comfortable than he did against the Oklahoma defense the previous week. Colorado will present a bigger challenge, but the Texas experience against Oklahoma's defense will benefit them the Longhorns. Expect a shootout with both teams filling the air with passes, but the Texas defense has the better chance of shutting down Colorado than vice-versa.

Play: Texas for 11 units.

USC (+1) at Notre Dame

This used to be an annual marquee game, but now it's on TV only because NBC forces it on viewers. We definitely respect the Golden Dome mystique. Who can forget the game two years ago, when the Irish rallied from a 21-point deficit after Mother Nature gave the Irish the wind in the third and fourth quarters? But I have to go with the more talented squad in a game that is basically pick-'em. Carson Palmer gives the Trojans an edge at QB and is coming off two solid games. USC's losses are to Kansas State, Oregon, Stanford, and Washington by a combined 15 points. The road losses to Oregon and Washington were on last-second field goals. With a little luck, the Trojans could easily be 4-2 instead of 2-4.

Play: USC for 11 units.

Stanford at Oregon (-7 1/2)

Moving to Pac-10 play, Oregon is undefeated and Stanford is coming off a 45-39 loss to Washington State. Oregon QB Joey Harrington should put up big numbers again, against the Stanford defense. Laying more than a touchdown is a concern, but the Ducks' D has surpassed expectations, forcing 10 turnovers in the last two games. In addition, Oregon's confidence on its home field (the nation's longest current home winning streak at 23) will make the difference.

Play: Oregon for 11 units.

Oregon State (+2) at Arizona State

Oregon State has been a disappointment, but there's no shame in its losses to Fresno State., UCLA, and Washington State. Arizona State has beaten up weaker teams (San Diego State, San Jose State, Louisiana-Lafayette) while getting blown out by the only two quality teams it has faced, in Stanford and USC. It might not be a 38-3 victory like Oregon State had last week against Arizona, but the Beavers should be able to complete the Cactus State sweep.

Play: Oregon St. for 11 units.

Starting bankroll: 1,000 units.

Bankroll entering last week: 992 units.

Last week: 4-2 (including loss on best bet) for profit of 7 units.

Current bankroll: 999 units.