08/27/2008 11:00PM

Bulldogs ranked No. 1 - but not by the books

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LAS VEGAS - The college football season kicked off Thursday night but most teams will open their season on Saturday.

Georgia enters the season as the No. 1 team in the AP and USA Today polls, but the Bulldogs are only No. 7 in the Oddsmakers' Poll from Las Vegas Sports Consultants - ranked behind top-rated USC as well as Ohio St., Oklahoma, Missouri, Florida, and West Virginia. The full poll can be found and will be updated each week during the season at LVSC's new website, vegassportsconnect.com and at ViewFromVegas.com.

The oddsmakers' ratings are pretty much reflected in the BCS future book odds available around town.

USC, not Georgia, is the 7-2 favorite at the Las Vegas Hilton, followed by Ohio St. and Oklahoma, who are both at 5-1, Florida at 6-1, and then Georgia at 7-1. There's quite a dropoff to the next tier of teams with Missouri at 18-1 and LSU, West Virginia, and Clemson all at 20-1.

I'm very selective in what games I play in the opening week of the college football season as there are so many unknown factors. Unlike the NFL, there are no preaseason college games. Even though I don't put too much stock in NFL preseason games, at least that gives a glimpse at how teams are coming together.

That's why the Vegas Insider Football Seminar held last weekend at the Red Rock Resort was a great opportunity to hear thoughts of other handicappers (the seminar is archived on the vegasinsider.com website). My favorite session was "Handicapping College Football - Week 1" as the panel gave out its top plays for this weekend. Out of Saturday's 29 games on the betting board, the panel touched on at least 20 of them, and while I'll list comments from different handicappers, these are all games that I was thinking of playing but hearing my handicapping being validated sent me to the windows.

Utah +3.5 vs. Michigan: Many people throughout the seminar were down on Michigan. The prevailing opinion is that new coach Rich Rodriguez might turn around the program eventually but that the Wolverines will have growing pains. Lee Sterling of paramountsports.com mentioned that Utah won't be intimidated in the Big House and, in fact, the Utes' defensive line is as big as Michigan's offensive line and added that Rodriguez was 3-8 in his first year at West Virginia before he was able to recruit players to fit his system.

Michigan St. +5.5 vs. California:Marc Lawrence of playbook.com called for the outright upset. He said it's a matchup of a good coach (Marc D'Antonio of Michigan St.) vs. a declining coach (Jeff Tedford of California) and also cited a stat that when D'Antonio has been an underdog in a "competitive game" (which Lawrence defined as a line of 7 points or less), he's 11-0 against the spread and has won straight-up eight of those times.

East Carolina +10 vs. Virginia Tech: Brian Edwards and Bryan Leonard, both of Vegas Insider, like this dog at a neutral site. Edwards pointed out that East Carolina played VaTech tough last year at Blacksburg, covering a 28-point spread with basically the same nucleus.

Arkansas St. +20 vs. Texas A&M: Bruce Marshall of the Gold Sheet made a case for the big dog here. Arkansas St. played Texas and Tennessee tough last year and has a lot of its top offensive players back. Texas A&M also has a new coach and a new offense, so the Aggies might take a while to gel.

NCAA and books - friends again

Around the turn of the century, Nevada sports books were under fire from the NCAA, which teamed with Congress to try outlawing college sports betting in the state. Sen. John McCain was at the forefront of the fight, and for several years there were worries that there might not be wagering allowed for that upcoming college football season. However, Nevada won the battle and McCain put his crusade on the backburner.

At another VI seminar session last Saturday, LVSC's Kenny White said he was at NCAA headquarters earlier this month and gave a speech that was well-received - and that the NCAA and major sports leagues are far more concerned with illegal sports betting and finally understand that Nevada is on their side in trying to ensure that games are on the up-and-up. In a private conversation, White said that McCain, even if he became president, would no longer get the backing of the NCAA, which wants to continue being allies with the sports books here.

* On Aug. 21, the Nevada Gaming Commission made it official: cell phones are now allowed in the state's race and sports books. The ban was originally intended to thwart the illegal transfer of gaming information by those looking to lay off bets for bookies. The ban was lifted because it was so hard to enforce and most of the people being reprimanded were people innocently calling family or friends.

The commission has made it clear, however, that "the repeal of Nevada Gaming Regulation 22.135 does not signify relaxing of standards in any way; we remain committed to maintaining strict compliance with all relevant statutes and regulations pertaining to race and sports wagering."

In other words, don't blatantly be reading lines over the phone or trying to make phone/online wagers in the books or the commission has threatened to reinstate the ban.

* The Sunset Station race book has been giving away trips to the Breeders' Cup the past two weeks. The final drawing, with an all-expense paid trip for two as top prize, will be held Friday, Sept. 5, at 7 p.m. Players receive a ticket for every $10 wagered in the race book with a maximum of 10 drawing tickets per trip to the window. There will also be cash prizes from $1,000 for second place down to $100 for 10th. Winners must be present at the drawing. The promotion is being done to bring guests to the newly renovated book, which has 14 digital sports boards and 10 digital race boards, with TVs at every seat in the race book.