12/09/2003 1:00AM

Biggest bowl favorite: Miami (Ohio), giving 13


LAS VEGAS - One complaint about the current college bowl setup is that everyone cares about the major bowls while interest continues to slide for the rest of the schedule.

That perception wasn't helped by the fact that Las Vegas oddsmakers put up odds on the Rose, Orange, Fiesta, and Sugar bowls right away on Sunday while waiting until Monday afternoon to post the other 24 matchups.

But any sharp bettor knows that some of the best opportunities come in the lower-profile games. And while these games don't seem important now, when they arrive, they will be the games on those days with the biggest TV ratings and the biggest handle for sports books. A cruddy bowl game is still of more interest than a marquee basketball game.

Here's a quick look at some of the interesting point spreads in the minor bowls:

* Most of the bowls are fairly competitive with 19 point spreads of less than a touchdown. There are seven spreads of more than a touchdown (eight if you count Texas).

* The biggest favorite is Miami-Ohio -13 over Louisville in the Dec. 18 GMAC Bowl. This line opened at -10 at some books and was bet up very quickly around town. Other double-digit favorites include North Carolina St. -11 1/2 over Kansas in the Dec. 22 Tangerine Bowl, Boise St. -10 over TCU in the Dec. 23 Fort Worth Bowl, Hawaii -11 on its home turf over Houston in the Dec. 25 Hawaii Bowl, and Texas Tech -13 1/2 over Navy in the Dec. 30 Houston Bowl.

* Two games were not on the betting boards at most sports books because of injuries to starting quarterbacks. Bradlee Van Pelt of Colorado St. is questionable for his team's Dec. 31 clash with Boston College in the San Francisco Bowl. Matt Kegel of Washington St. is questionable for the Dec. 30 Holiday Bowl vs. Texas, though the Imperial Palace made Texas an 8-point favorite and some offshore books had the line as high as 9.

* Of local interest, Oregon St. is a 3-point favorite over New Mexico in the Las Vegas Bowl, which this year will be at 4:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve after being on Christmas Day the past two years.

* In addition to having Michigan as a 6 1/2-point underdog to USC in the Jan. 1 Rose Bowl and Ohio St. a 6 1/2-point dog to Kansas St. in the Jan. 2 Fiesta Bowl, Big Ten teams are also underdogs in five of their six other matchups, with Minnesota -3 over Oregon in the Dec. 31 Sun Bowl as the only exception.

* By contrast, LSU +6 vs. Oklahoma in the Jan. 4 Sugar Bowl is the only underdog out of seven SEC teams. That might explain LSU's strength of schedule edge over USC in the BCS ratings as the Pac-10 has three favorites and three dogs.

Hot and cold NFL teams

At the risk of sounding like a broken record . . . the best bet in the NFL continues to be the Bills at 12-1 with the under after last week's 17-6 win over the Jets, including 11 straight. I haven't been including over/unders in my bankroll plays, but I've been riding this streak at the windows the past five games since the Bills' bye week. It makes sense with the Bills' defense playing well while the offense has been struggling. This week, the total on the Bills-Titans game is 40. The Buccaneers, Dolphins and Lions are all 9-4 with the under, while the Giants are 8-4-1.

* The Rams went over in Monday night's 26-20 win over the Browns and are 9-3-1 with the over, including a league-high five straight. Oddsmakers appear to be adjusted more quickly to this trend, with their total at 51 this week vs. the Seahawks. The Colts are right behind the Rams at 9-4 with the over.

* In addition to now having the top record in the AFC, the Patriots are also on top of the point spread standings at 10-2-1. The Eagles, after a slow start, have covered their last eight games and are tied for second in the league at 9-4 with the Bengals. The Colts and Rams are also 8-4-1.

* The Raiders, after a 27-7 loss to the Steelers are 2-10-1. The Giants are 3-9-1.

Generic league-wide betting stats

Last weekend, home teams and favorites (and there were 14 home favorites) were the way to go as they reclaimed their respective leads over road teams and underdogs. Home teams went 11-5 both straight up and against the spread and now hold a slim 100-97-10 lead over road teams. Favorites went 10-5 both straight up and against the spread and are ahead 99-95-10 on dogs.

* Home dogs, which only included the Falcons on Sunday night and the Browns on Monday night, went 1-1 and sit at 27-26-3 on the season. After going 7-21 through the first seven weeks of the season, home dogs are 20-5-3 over the past seven weeks.

* Unders went 9-7 last weekend and extended their slim lead to 104-99-5. It appeared early Sunday that a lot of weather-impacted games in the East would go under, but scoring picked up and the trend evened out during the day.

* The AFC and NFC split their games last week with the Chargers beating the Lions and the Rams barely covering the closing number of 5 1/2 in their six-point win. The AFC is now 25-17 (59.5 percent) with six pushes. Note: at the Imperial Palace, the AFC is a four-point favorite over the NFC in the Super Bowl. The total is 48.

Bankrolls dip slightly

For the second straight week, I wasn't crazy about the limited college football schedule and opted for only one play, a losing one, on Notre Dame vs. Syracuse. For the season, college bankroll plays are 32-31 (51 percent) for a net loss of 2.1 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1) heading into the bowl season.

* Sunday started off bad for my NFL bankroll, as I lost plays on the Bengals and Saints while winning with the Chargers. Things looked worse when the Cardinals got blown out early by the 49ers, but then I rebounded with the Patriots over the Dolphins in a low-scoring battle in the snow, and then with the Falcons on Sunday night versus the Panthers. When the dust settled, my NFL bankroll ended the day 3-3 for a net loss of 0.3 units and the season ledger stood at 41-31 (57 percent) with five pushes for a net profit of 6.9 units.