08/04/2004 12:00AM

College football ready to roll


The college football season is three weeks away - with the opening game Aug. 28 between Southern Cal and Virginia Tech - but the oddsmakers and bettors here in Las Vegas have already done their homework.

Oddsmakers don't have the luxury of waiting for all the preseason magazines to hit the newsstands, because they already have to have done their research to know which teams are returning how many starters on offense and defense and who has the up-and-coming stars. They have to try and stay one step ahead of the handicappers so they can set their odds to win the BCS title game and over/under season win totals.

The ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll came out last week. As expected, USC, the defending national champ in the Associated Press writers' poll, is ranked No. 1, followed by Oklahoma, defending BCS champ LSU, Georgia, and Miami-Fla. This year's opening AP poll won't be out until next weekend.

In Las Vegas's sports books, USC is the 2-1 favorite to win the BCS title game - the Orange Bowl on Jan. 4 - and has an over/under win total of 11 games (not including bowl games). When looking at college over/unders, be aware that it's not like the NFL, where every team plays 16 games, or major league baseball, where everyone plays 162. The vast majority of college football teams have 11 scheduled regular-season games, but sometimes teams will have 12, such as USC, Virginia Tech, and Hawaii this year. Also keep in mind that conference championships, such as the SEC, Big 12, and MAC title games, are not included, either.

It follows that Oklahoma is the second choice around town at 4-1 and has the second-highest total at 10, but then an interesting thing happens when you look at LSU. The Tigers only have an over/under of nine wins at the MGM Mirage books and are at 8 1/2 at the Las Vegas Hilton, and in the odds to win the BCS title they could be found as high as 12-1 at the Hilton, which had SEC rival Georgia at 7-1.

Miami is followed in the coaches' poll by rival Florida State, and oddsmakers rate them just about equally, too. The MGM Mirage books have both at 10-1 to win the Orange Bowl and with over/unders of 9 1/2 wins.

For Big Ten fans, Michigan has to be considered the preseason favorite as the Wolverines are also tabbed at 9 1/2 wins, with BCS odds ranging from 9-1 to 15-1 around town. Ohio State is right behind in the BCS odds, but the Buckeyes' over/under is 8 1/2.

Summer Stakes are high

The fifth running of the Summer Stakes horse handicapping tournament takes place Friday and Saturday in the Bally's race book.

As of noon Wednesday, the field, which will be capped at 200, had grown to 160.

Anyone wishing to sign up on Friday morning will want to do it before the first mandatory race. Similar to the format for the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship, there will be six mandatory races on which everyone will make a mythical $2 across-the-board wager, and then each player will have nine other races to play each day. Payoffs are capped at 25-1 to win, 12-1 to place, and 6-1 to show.

Based on a field of 200, first prize would be $75,000, with cash paid out to the top 25 finishers. The top 10 scorers each day will also win daily prizes.

Influence of reality TV continues

John Avello, director of Bally's race and sports book, is a reality-TV junkie and regularly posts odds (for entertainment purposes only) on such offerings as "Survivor," "American Idol," "The Apprentice," "The Bachelor," ad nauseam.

Inspired by the success of "American Idol," Avello this weekend is launching a search for Las Vegas's next lounge singer, with competitions in the back of the Bally's race and sports book every Friday and Saturday night at 10 p.m. It was going to be called "Strip Search," but that name was already copyrighted by Playboy (which makes sense), so now it's going to be called "Searchin' the Strip." The winner will be hired to perform a full-length set in the Jubilee Theatre.

Avello now needs business cards that describe his job title as director of race, sports, poker, keno, and karaoke.

* Bally's sister property, Caesars Palace, is getting directly involved in the current reality-TV craze. The cable channel A&E started filming last weekend for a reality show called, appropriately enough, "Caesars," to be aired starting in October. Shooting is planned to continue through November.

* Cameras continue to roll at Green Valley Ranch in Henderson as the Discovery Channel has signed on for 18 more episodes of "American Casino." The show is on hiatus until Sept. 3.

* Spike TV was scheduled to start shooting Thursday for a new show called "The Club," which would focus on the Ice Meta Club (formerly called Drink) on Harmon Avenue.

* Donald Trump, star of "The Apprentice," has been in town recently with producers of the show to hold auditions for future shows. He also took time to announce last week that he is building a $300 million, 64-story hotel and luxury apartment complex just west of the Strip behind the Fashion Show Mall.

As if Trump's hair isn't scary . . .

Reality shows tend to try and portray Las Vegas in the best possible light, but if you want to check out the true dark side of Las Vegas, there's a new entertainment option called Haunted Vegas Tours.

Starting at 9 p.m. Saturdays through Mondays, Haunted Vegas is a 1 1/2-hour guided tour of the city that takes guests to old haunts of Bugsy Siegel, Liberace, and Elvis, as well as the "Motel of Death" where several celebrities have met their maker, and other sites with alleged paranormal activity.

Tours originate in the Greek Isles Casino parking lot on Convention Center Boulevard. The $52.03 ticket price also includes the show "Shock!" at 11 p.m. at the Greek Isles. That show isn't for the squeamish, either (shockshow.com).