10/08/2003 11:00PM

Be wary of big games - but take Miami plus 7


LAS VEGAS - When going over each week's college football card, my inclination is to bypass the very biggest of the marquee matchups.

For one thing, oddsmakers know these games are going to attract the biggest handle, so they give them extra scrutiny. They break down the matchups in greater detail to try to find a hidden edge, keep an even closer eye on injury reports, and devote more time to analyzing the historical trends. In addition, "SportsCenter" and other media outlets devote more than the usual coverage, so it's easy for the oddsmakers to know what information the general public is receiving and adjust the line accordingly.

All this usually leads to a very "tight" number, one that is certain to split the action and really make it a 50-50 proposition for the bettor.

All that being said, I have to look at Miami-Fla. +7 at Florida St.

This line opened at Florida St. -4, which seemed about right considering that the Seminoles have home-field advantage and that the Hurricanes will be playing without injured running back Frank Gore. But as the week has progressed, the line has inflated to a solid 7 all over Vegas.

Getting a full touchdown with the Hurricanes is too much to pass up. They showed the heart of a champion in rallying to win 22-20 over West Virginia a week ago Thursday, and that should prove to be Miami's wake-up call, much like Florida St. has played with much more determination since barely getting by Georgia Tech 14-13 on Sept. 13.

This game should come down to the wire - it's pretty much a toss-up as far as who will get the straight-up victory. Since the 'Canes have won three straight over the 'Noles, including a 28-27 victory last season, and came through in the clutch again last week, you can even make the argument that Miami has the advantage. But it's still nice to have that 7-point head start in case a backdoor cover is needed.

PLAY: Miami-Fla. for 1 unit.

Northwestern (-3 1/2) at Indiana

How's this for a switch, going from two of the best teams in the country to two of the worst teams in the Big 10? Indiana has been terrible this season, only winning over Indiana St. and then getting blown out in four losses. Northwestern has at least shown some sparks of respectability, beating a Kansas team that has proven to be better than expected, hanging with (and covering vs.) Air Force in a 22-21 loss, beating Duke 28-10, pushing vs. Ohio St., and leading Minnesota 14-0 before falling apart last week. Duke is pretty much on the same level as Indiana (both are "basketball schools," after all), and Northwestern's running attack should control the game.

PLAY: Northwestern for 1 unit.

Syracuse (+19) at Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech has been rolling over teams this year, but this will be the Hokies' biggest test to date after beating up on Central Florida, James Madison, Texas A&M, Connecticut, and Rutgers. Texas A&M is the only opponent that could be considered a big-name football program, and the Aggies didn't look so formidable in a 59-28 loss at Texas Tech last week as they fell to 2-3 on the season and 0-5 against the spread. This is also the Big East opener for both teams, and the last Big East opener for Virginia Tech, which moves to the ACC next year. A lot of Big East teams will be using that as incentive. A more tangible reason for this play is the running attack of Syracuse: Walter Reyes leads the nation with 170.2 yards per game, averaging 7.4 yards per carry and scoring 10 touchdowns. Virginia Tech also runs the ball well, but that should help the cause as it keeps the clock running, making it harder to cover the 19-point spread. Syracuse probably just needs to score 20 points to get the cover.

PLAY: Syracuse for 1 unit.

Iowa St. at Texas Tech (-16)

I usually don't like laying this many points, but Texas Tech is on a roll and Iowa St. shows no signs of being able to stop them. Tech quarterback B.J. Symons was listed on the injury report as probable. The injury? Fatigue. That's not surprising, because he has thrown for more than 500 yards each of the last three games - including 505 against Texas A&M last week - and for a Big 12-record eight touchdowns. The Red Raiders should again be able to score early and often, and Iowa St. doesn't have the offensive firepower to keep up.

PLAY: Texas Tech for 1 unit.

Ohio St. at Wisconsin (+2 1/2)

Let's go back to the Big 10 to close out this week's picks. Wisconsin should have some success against the stingy OSU run defense even if starting tailback Anthony Davis isn't 100 percent, as Dwayne Smith and Booker Stanley can pick up the slack. The Badgers also have a potent passing attack, with receiver Lee Evans putting up All America-type numbers. Ohio St. is undefeated again at 5-0, but is only 1-3-1 against the spread (and those who had them at -20 1/2 or -21 two weeks ago vs. Northwestern think of them as 1-4 after their 20-0 win). With star running back Maurice Clarett out of the picture, the Buckeyes' offense hasn't been blowing anyone away. The Buckeyes have been winning close games for the past two seasons, and this could be where the streak ends, especially after winning their first five games at home and now having to go on the road to one of the biggest home-field advantages in college football. This game also is being played in prime time, so the rabid Badgers fans at Camp Randall Stadium will be "primed" as well.

PLAY: Wisconsin for 1 unit.

Last week: 2-2 for a net loss of 0.2 units (based on risking 1.1 units to win 1).

Season record: 12-14 for a net loss of 3.4 units.