10/15/2003 11:00PM

College football action saves the day


Las Vegas - Saturday was gearing up to be a monumental sports day, with a full college football slate all day long capped by the historic event of the Cubs making their first World Series appearance in 58 years vs. the survivor of the Yankees-Red Sox series.

At least that was how it looked earlier this week. Instead, the Marlins rallied from a three games to one deficit to spoil the dreams of the Cubs and their fans. Television ratings probably will be half of what they would have been had the Cubs not fallen apart, and betting handle should also be lower with the less-desirable matchup (though the sports book directors in Las Vegas are breathing a sigh of relief as they avoided a potential major loss in Cubs' future-book tickets).

But we still have a great day of college football.

Iowa (+3 1/2) at Ohio St.

The defending national champs Buckeyes saw their 19-game winning streak come to an end last week. If that had not happened, the winning streak might have ended this week anyway. Ohio St. returns home after losing at Wisconsin, but being on the road wasn't the Buckeyes' only problem, as evidenced by their 1-5-1 pointspread record this year even with their first five games being played at home. The offense has been lackluster all year and will be challenged by the Iowa defense (allowing only 13.3 points a game and 318 yards per game), which along with a strong running attack (led by Fred Russell at 121 yards per game) will keep Iowa in the game. Ohio St.'s run defense is also compromised by the suspension of linebacker Robert Reynolds. Some people will interpret the Buckeyes' loss as a wakeup call and get them refocused, but I see it as removing their aura of invincibility, especially in close games. With coach Kirk Ferentz having two weeks to prepare his team, Iowa has the talent to continue Ohio St.'s losing ways.

PLAY: Iowa for 1 unit.

Texas A&M at Nebraska (-10)

Like Ohio St., Nebraska is coming off its first loss of the season, a shocking 41-24 setback vs. Missouri after leading 24-14 heading into the fourth quarter. The Cornhuskers get a much easier draw, however, with Texas A&M coming to visit. The Aggies' defense is allowing 382 yards per game (and that's after shutting down Baylor last week) and just under 30 points a contest. Texas A&M has had trouble with running teams this year, failing to cover vs. Utah and getting blown out by Virginia Tech. That plays to Nebraska's strength. The Cornhuskers' defense also should step up after being embarrassed by Missouri. Texas A&M quarterback Reggie McNeal is not in the same league as Missouri's Brad Smith. Nebraska should get the rout at home and resume its anticipated march to the Big 12 title game vs. Oklahoma.

PLAY: Nebraska for 1 unit.

Arizona St. (-5 1/2) at North Carolina

Arizona St. let me down three weeks ago in a 21-2 loss to the aforementioned Iowa squad. That started a three-game skid for the Sun Devils as they lost 45-17 at Oregon St. and 37-17 vs. Southern Cal before blowing out Oregon 59-14 last week to get back in the win column. Now, ASU takes a huge step down in class as it faces 1-5 North Carolina, Granted, the Sun Devils are 0-2 both straight-up and against the spread on the road, but North Carolina has lost its last 10 home games against the spread. The Tar Heels actually won a game last week, but that was against winless East Carolina. Besides that game, North Carolina's defense has been sieve-like (allowing between 37 and 49 points in each of their five losses) and Arizona St. quarterback Andrew Walter and crew should put up similar numbers, and that should easily have them winning by more than a touchdown.

PLAY: Arizona St. for 1 unit.

California (+3 1/2) at UCLA

Narrow non-covering wins over Illinois and Arizona (arguably the worst teams in the Big 10 and Pac-10, respectively) and a loss to underachieving Colorado are all you need to know that, despite a 4-2 straight-up record, UCLA hasn't exactly turned things around in the first season under coach Karl Dorrell. The Bruins' defense is in for a long afternoon if it can't slow down California running back Adimchinobe Echemandu (boy, am I glad I don't work in radio), who is second in the conference with 638 rushing yards. If Arizona's offense could rush for 276 yards against UCLA, what can Echemandu do? Cal's defense has been suspect, too, but UCLA's offense doesn't look consistent enough to take advantage.

PLAY: California for 1 unit.

Washington St. (-9 1/2) at Stanford

Washington St. has rebounded from a second-half collapse in its second game of the season vs. Notre Dame to win four straight games and climb to No. 6 in the polls. Stanford gained only 242 yards last week vs. Southern Cal and isn't likely to be able to run the ball like crazy either. On offense, Washington St. is led by quarterback Matt Kegel, who should have plenty of time against a Stanford defense that doesn't have much of a pass rush. This looks like a total mismatch and a gift to be laying less than double digits.

PLAY: Washington St. for 1 unit.

Utah (-2) at UNLV

Which UNLV team will show up this week? The one that got blown out by Kansas, or the one that upset Wisconsin in Madison? The one that has registered nice home wins over Toledo and Hawaii this year, or the one that got run over by Air Force last week? At least with Utah, you know you're going to get a solid effort. Utah running back Brandon Warfield has averaged more than 120 yards per game while quarterback Alex Smith has not thrown an interception yet this year. Both teams play a bend-but-don't-break style of defense, and it should be the Utes' balance and consistency that makes the difference.

PLAY: Utah for 1 unit.

Last week: 5-1 for a net profit of 3.9 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1).

Season record: 17-15 for a net profit of 0.5 units.