11/23/2006 12:00AM

Can't pass up Notre Dame at +7 1/2

Email

LAS VEGAS - With a lighter schedule of 32 college football games on Saturday, I wasn't sure if I would have enough selections to fill a column.

But as I went through the games earlier this week, I found myself circling more and more plays I liked. Heading into Friday's Texas A&M-Texas game, in which I took under 57 1/2 points, I was up 1 unit after trading money most of the season, so this Saturday's card will probably make or break the bankroll heading into the bowl season.

After winnowing my initial selections, I've settled on six totals and three sides (which is understandable, since I'm 20-13 on totals this season and 13-16-1 on sides).

Notre Dame (+7 1/2) at Southern Cal

If this line was less than a touchdown, I would probably pass, but at 7 1/2 I have to jump in with the live underdog. This game has so much on the line for the BCS bowls, and Notre Dame notoriously comes up big in big-money games. USC is not as strong as it has been in year's past, and Brady Quinn and Co. will keep the Irish in it the whole way. Notre Dame is also worth a look at 2-1 or better on the money line. The Palms had the highest price in town on Thanksgiving morning, at +240.

PLAY: Notre Dame for 1 unit.

Kansas (+7) at Missouri (o/u 51)

These are two teams heading in opposite directions. Kansas has won three straight to become bowl-eligible at 6-5, whereas Missouri started the season 6-0 and 7-1 but has lost three straight to stand at 7-4. I'll side with the hotter team getting a full touchdown. The over/under in Kansas's game last week vs. Kansas St. was 50 1/2 points. The Jayhawks hit the over, winning 39-20, but it was misleading, since there was a kickoff return for a touchdown and two defensive scores. This should be a much tighter game, with both teams trying to improve their bowl position. As long as there aren't a bunch of fluke plays, this should be a game of long, sustained drives and bend-but-don't-break defense.

PLAY: Kansas for 1 unit and under for 1 unit.

South Carolina at Clemson (o/u 45)

Four of South Carolina's five losses have come by 7 points or less, including a 17-16 loss to Florida two weeks ago. The Gamecocks are certainly capable of covering the 5 1/2-point spread, but I'm not confident enough to bet the side. I do think this game will be close, however, likely leading to an under. The strength of each team is on the defensive side of the ball.

PLAY: Under for 1 unit.

North Carolina at Duke (o/u 49)

As good as their basketball programs are, that's how bad the football teams are. I won't even venture to guess who will cover the spread, but I'll look for a low-scoring season finale. Both teams are offensively challenged, even against each other's weak defense.

PLAY: Under for 1 unit.

New Mexico St. at Utah St. (o/u 55)

Unlike the UNC-Duke game, this matchup of bad teams should be a shootout. New Mexico St. is No. 2 in the nation in passing offense, at 394 yards per game, and quarterback Chase Holbrook should pad his stats in this game. Even though the Utah St. offense isn't very good, New Mexico State hasn't been able to stop anyone, so the Aggies should contribute something to help get this game over the total.

PLAY: Over for 1 unit.

San Diego St. at New Mexico (o/u 44)

In the other game involving a team from New Mexico, I'll take the under. The Lobos need a win to become bowl-eligible and should come with a good effort here, certainly better than the one they showed last week in their 42-17 loss to BYU. San Diego St. is no BYU, and the Lobo defense should shut down the Aztecs.

PLAY: Under for 1 unit.

Wake Forest (+1 1/2) at Maryland

I successfully went against Wake last week, expecting its running game to be shut down by Virginia Tech, but I'll take Wake this week. The Demon Deacons boast a better running game than the Terrapins and should also be able to shut them down. Another reason I went against the Demon Deacons last week was that they could lose to Virginia Tech (which is in the ACC's Coastal Division) and still make the conference title game with a win over Maryland, so this was the much more important game to them, anyway. As for any home-field advantage, Maryland is just 2-3 against the spread, and Wake is 4-0-1 on the road.

PLAY: Wake Forest for 1 unit.

Arizona St. at Arizona (o/u 43)

If this game had been played earlier in the season, Arizona St. would have been a 3- or 4-point favorite, but Arizona is one of the most improved teams in the country over the second half of the season. The Wildcats have pulled three consecutive outright upsets as double-digit underdogs, to Washington St., California, and Oregon. Arizona is -4 and the better team right now, but I'm not going to lay the points in this rivalry game. Both teams have decent defenses, but also have offenses that can take advantage of opportunities on a perfect day (76 and sunny) expected in Tucson, Ariz.

PLAY: Over for 1 unit.

Last week: 3-3 for a net loss of 0.2 units (based on risking 1.1 units to win 1). College season record: 33-29-1, including 1-1 on 2-units plays, for a net profit of 1 unit.