08/30/2007 12:00AM

College football polls less precise than oddsmakers'


LAS VEGAS – One of my pet peeves is when the mainstream media calls a game an upset when the betting favorite actually won. (Another is when people refer to any favorite as "odds-on" even if they're not less than even money, but don't get me started on that.)

This happens in every sport, but it's more common in college football and basketball when a lower-ranked team beats a higher-ranked team, and we're sure to see it many times this college football season. But anyone who has followed sports from a betting perspective knows that the "better" team in the Associated Press and USA Today polls aren't always seen that way by bettors. Home-field advantage can play a factor in the odds being out of line with the polls, especially if the lower-ranked team is on its home turf, but more often than not the polls are heavily influenced by media and public perception as well as traditional powers being given too much credit. All in all, it's just that the voters don't always analyze all the teams as closely as the oddsmakers do.

Las Vegas Sports Consultants, which supplies odds to 90 percent of the sports books in Nevada as well as to other licensed operators outside the state, has its own preseason poll by its college football oddsmakers. The top two teams are the same as the AP and USA Today polls, with Southern Cal ranked No. 1 and LSU No. 2. Texas is No. 3 in the LVSC rankings, while West Virginia has that spot in the AP poll and Florida is No. 3 in the USA Today coaches' poll. A bigger difference of opinion comes with Louisville No. 4 in the oddsmakers' poll while the Cardinals are No. 10 in the AP and No. 11 in USA Today. The rest of the LVSC top 10 is No. 5 Oklahoma (No. 8 in both traditional polls), No. 6 Florida (same as AP), No. 7 California (No. 12 in the others), No. 8 West Virginia (No. 6 in AP along with the aforementioned No. 3 in USA Today), No. 9 UCLA (a major upgrade over No. 14 in AP and No. 17 in USA Today), and Wisconsin (No. 7 in the others).

One team that the oddsmakers obviously think is overrated is Michigan, which is No. 5 in both traditional polls but No. 11 according to LVSC. Others are Georgia, which is No. 13 in both polls but all the way down at No. 27 in LVSC's, and Rutgers at No. 16 in the others but No. 24 according to LVSC.

Last call for football contests

Lines at the betting windows in Las Vegas are going to be long this weekend, not only with the start of the college football season but also with people trying to sign up for the season-long handicapping contests. The full list can be found in the Aug. 18 print editions of Daily Racing Form or at ViewFromVegas.com.

All of the high-end contests - the $1,500 buy-in SuperContest at the Las Vegas Hilton, the $1,000 buy-in The Challenge at Station Casinos, the $1,000 Glory of the Gridiron at the Harrah's-Caesars properties, and the inaugural $2,500 buy-in Pro Championship Challenge at the South Point and its satellite at the El Cortez - are filling up slowly. There are roughly 150 in the SuperContest, 60 in The Challenge, 25 in the Glory of the Gridiron and 17 at the South Point as of Wednesday, but they're all sure to see a big spike with most having early-bird incentives that don't fall until this weekend. It's no coincidence that that's the case as the casinos like to capitalize on the holiday weekend traffic, and many out-of-towners who come in to enter the big contests with local proxies (who are needed to put in plays each week) choose this weekend for a getaway.

In addition to the number of contests starting to cannibalize each other (the SuperContest used to be the only big game in town), the economy is also seen as a factor in the slow entries.

"The economy has been scary a lot lately, so it's not surprising people are holding onto their money and waiting to enter," said Jay Kornegay of the Las Vegas Hilton. "I'm not sure we'll reach the number we had last year [416], but we should be in the mid- to upper 300s."

The SuperContest has an early-bird deadline of 4 p.m. Monday, with those signing up by then being eligible for a $10,000 mini-contest over the final three weeks of the NFL season. Late entries will be taken until 1op.m. on Friday, Sept. 7.

The Challenge at Station Casinos has an early-bird deadline of 6 p.m. Sunday with the final deadline at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 8.

The Pro Championship Challenge has an early-bird party for those who sign up by 5 p.m. on Thursday, Sept.o6, with drawings for $2,500 held at the end of each quarter of the Saints-Colts season-opener that night. Otherwise the deadline to enter is noon on Saturday, Sept. 8.

The Glory of the Gridiron doesn't have an early-bird bonus and entries are accepted until 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 8.

o In addition to the NFL contests that obviously have a week until they begin, the $250 buy-in Leroy's College Challenge doesn't include this weekend's opening games and instead has a deadline of 4 p.m. next Friday, Sept. 7, for the 12-week contest. The College Challenge has a guaranteed purse of $100,000.

Last Man Standing wins $20,000

Joseph Rosenberg, who lives in Las Vegas and is a regular at Green Valley Ranch, topped a field of 555 entries to win the $20,000-guaranteed first-place prize in Stations Casinos' Last Man Standing contest on the Del Mar meet. Contestants paid $25 per entry (so it was a huge overlay as far less money was collected than paid out) and had to make a selection to run in the money each day at Del Mar.

After the races on Aug. 15, only two remained in the winner-take-all contest, and when Rosenberg's opponent's horse finished off the board on Aug. 16, he was indeed the last man standing when his selection, Stormy Game, finished third in the third race.

Perhaps Rosenberg was looking to reinvest his winnings this fall as he was seen at the VegasInsider.com Football Seminar at the Red Rock Resort on Tuesday.

* The Stratosphere is the only sports book in Vegas that has announced it will put up college lines on Sunday nights this fall. However, with NFL Week 1 lines already on the betting boards, the Strat will not put up this upcoming week's college lines until Monday morning like the rest of the books in town. The rest of the season, the openers will be posted at 4:45 p.m. Sundays. The Stratosphere lines will also be available at its sister Arizona Charlie's properties and the Aquarius in Laughlin.