10/30/2003 12:00AM

Bet on the states over the universities

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LAS VEGAS - Growing up in the Midwest in the 70's, I was always told that the "university" school was always better than the "state" school.

The University of Illinois was better than Illinois St., the University of Iowa was better than Iowa St., the University of Michigan was better than Michigan St., Indiana University was better than Indiana St., etc.

No one ever cared to explain how Ohio St. became superior to Ohio University. Another thing I never understood was why my schools never taught us about the existence of lesser-known "state" schools: Boise St. (Idaho), Troy St. (Alabama), Weber St. (Utah), and Ball St. (Indiana).

A changing of the guard occurred in 1979 when Michigan St. beat Indiana St. for the NCAA men's basketball title. How did those "state" schools get those athletes, particularly MSU's Magic Johnson and ISU's Larry Bird?

The reduction of scholarships has certainly leveled the playing field in the past few decades, and the gap between universities and state colleges is smaller than ever. For example, Iowa St. has held its own against Iowa recently, and I don't think Florida St. has an inferiority complex when they play Florida.

This is all a roundabout way of saying that four of my five college bankroll plays are on "state" schools, including two of them playing their biggest rivals.

Michigan at Michigan St. (+4)

Michigan, the big school that plays its home games at the Big House, has underachieved this year, while Michigan St. has exceeded all expectations. Jeff Smoker has rebounded from his substance-abuse suspension last year to lead Michigan St. to 7-1 overall and 4-0 in the Big 10. If Michigan's offense brings its A game the Wolverines can beat anyone in the country. But the Wolverines rarely play to their potential. This week, they face a Michigan St. defense that has been strong against the run but vulnerable to the pass. The key for the Spartans has been the 23 turnovers they've created on defense, while committing only eight turnovers offense. Michigan won this matchup, 49-3, last year, but has lost the last two times it has visited Lansing. I'll take the hungry home team of kids that have the incentive to beat the school that most likely turned them away.

PLAY: Michigan St. for 1 unit.

Oklahoma St. (+16) at Oklahoma

Oklahoma has a perfect 8-0 record and is ranked No. 1, and while other top teams have had their share of scares, the Sooners have beaten their opponents by an average of 29 points per game. Now that I got that out of the way, I should point out that Oklahoma is only 4-4 against the spread and is being asked to lay more than two touchdowns vs. a team that has beaten the Sooners each of the last two years. Oklahoma QB Jason White is being touted for the Heisman, but he might not even be the best offensive player on the field Saturday, with Oklahoma St. receiver Rashaun Woods and running back Tatum Bell putting up huge numbers. Oklahoma's real edge is on the defensive side of the ball, but they'll have a hard time shutting down Woods and Tatum enough to cover this number. In fact, it's the state school that has "had the number" of its more prestigious rival and could pull yet another outright upset.

PLAY: Oklahoma St. for 1 unit.

Virginia at North Carolina St. (PK)

This game will be a battle of quarterbacks: Matt Schaub for Virginia and Philip Rivers for N.C. State. I give the edge to Rivers, who has completed more than 70 percent of his passes for 2,908 yards and 21 TDs. Rivers has also thrown only six interceptions and led the Wolfpack to an average of 35 points per game. The line value (at pick-em) also seems to be on N.C. St., in a game I figured would be around 3 or 4 points with the home-field advantage. Maybe oddsmakers shaded the number down because the Wolfpack are only 1-3 against the spread at home - but they won all four games. That's all we need them to do here.

PLAY: North Carolina St. for 1 unit.

Miami-Fla (-3 1/2) at Va. Tech

This was supposed to be the marquee game of the day until Virginia Tech lost to unranked West Virginia last Thursday (that's not as embarrassing as it sounds because Miami-Fla. nearly lost to West Virginia earlier this season). The loss exposed the Hokies' weak schedule up to this point; the only major schools they have faced are Syracuse (which has been very inconsistent all year) and Texas A&M (which I've been playing against all season). Miami-Fla.'s edge on talent is just too great on both sides of the ball to let this one slip away, and I don't expect it to be close.

PLAY: Miami-Fla. for 1 unit.

Washington St. (+12) at USC

Similar to last year, USC is coming on strong after a slow start (last year, the Trojans lost to Kansas St. and Washington St.; this year they were knocked off by Cal) and is in the thick of the BCS race. USC has won impressively in four straight games, but none of the wins were against a defense as strong as the Washington St. defense, which has 21 takeaways and is allowing 17 points per game. USC's solid offense, led by QB Matt Leinart, might be able to put up more than that, but 12 points will be a lot to cover against an equally effective Washington St. offense, led by Matt Kegel. The Cougars should be able to stay within a touchdown, or get in the backdoor late.

PLAY: Washington St. for 1 unit.

Last week: 1-2 for a net loss of 1.2 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1).

Season record: 23-19 for a net profit of 2.1 units.