10/11/2006 11:00PM

Couple of road favorites should roll


Most college football teams have already played half of their 12-game regular-season schedules, with the rest of the teams playing their sixth games this weekend.

By now, I've formed my opinions on most of the teams and it seems easier for me to pull the trigger, so let's get right to the games.

Michigan at Penn St. (+6)

Michigan has exceeded a lot of expectations this season, but this is a very dangerous spot for the nation's No. 4 team. This looks like another step toward what everyone is assuming is an Ohio St.-Michigan matchup at the end of the season for a BCS bid and a spot in the national title game, but the Wolverines had better not take this lightly. Last year, Penn St. was undefeated when the Nittany Lions went into Ann Arbor and lost on a last-second TD pass after Michigan coach Lloyd Carr had more time put on the clock. This is a big revenge spot for the Nittany Lions and their rabid fans. In addition, the Wolverines will be without receiver Mario Manningham (knee surgery), and that should allow Penn St., which has one of the top linebacking corps in the country, to single-cover everyone and devote more attention to stopping the run. This has upset written all over it (and if the line were over a touchdown, I'd certainly make it a 2-unit play).

PLAY: Penn St. for 1 unit

South Florida (-3 1/2) at North Carolina

This game opened at 2 1/ 2 and has been bet to 3 1/2 at most places and even to 4 at a few - and with good reason. South Florida is clearly the better team on both sides of the ball, and even though the Bulls are on the road, I wouldn't hesitate laying anything less than a touchdown (which is saying a lot, since I rarely bet favorites and even more rarely a road favorite of more than a field goal). Dual-threat quarterback Matt Grothe (1,230 passing yards and eight touchdowns, plus 422 rushing yards and seven touchdowns) should have a field day against the Tar Heels' defense

PLAY: South Florida for 1 unit

Rutgers (+2 1/2) at Navy

Both teams are having great seasons - Rutgers is 5-0 and ranked No. 24, and Navy is 5-1 - and this non-conference game could determine which team gets the better bowl bid. Both have great running attacks and just-use-when-necessary passing games, so it really comes down to which defense is more likely to make a stop when it needs it. That would be Rutgers, which has stood up to running teams better and is allowing 74 yards per game on the ground compared to 130 by Navy's defense.

PLAY: Rutgers for 1 unit

Missouri (-2) at Texas A&M

College Station is never an easy place to visit, but I have to side with the road favorite here. I have to admit that coming into the season I had doubts about how the Tigers would fare without quarterback Brad Smith (now a receiver with the New York Jets), but Chase Daniel has filled in admirably with 1,446 passing yards and 14 touchdowns, plus another 3 rushing. The key will be for Missouri to get a fast start to take the crowd out of it, like the Tigers did last week at Texas Tech when they jumped out to a 24-0 lead before Tech even crossed midfield on the way to a 38-21 victory. Also of note, that same Tech team came into College Station two weeks ago and handed A&M a 31-27 setback.

PLAY: Missouri for 1 unit

Northern Illinois (-2 1/2) at Western Michigan

I only used my alma mater, Northern Illinois, in one previous bankroll play this year, in the opener vs. Ohio St. NIU lost 35-12 and I lost my bet, but Garrett Wolfe rushed for 171 yards and had 114 more receiving. Since then, he's established himself as a legitimate Heisman candidate by leading the nation with 1,343 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. Western Michigan usually wins with defense, but if Ohio St. and other teams haven't been able to shut down Wolfe, I don't expect it to happen here. And even though NIU's defense isn't the best, Western Michigan, averaging just 273 yards per game (barely more than Wolfe gets himself), doesn't have the offensive firepower to keep up.

PLAY: Northern Illinois for 1 unit

Florida at Auburn (o/u 39)

I'm going to stick with going under in marquee games (it worked last week when Texas beat Oklahoma 28-10 with a total of 49). This should be a knock-down, drag-out SEC brawl under the lights. I was leaning toward taking Florida in this game (it opened Auburn -2 1/2 and has been bet to Florida -2 1/2) as they appear to be the more well-rounded team, but Auburn should be up for this home game off its loss to Arkansas last week, which hurt its national title hopes. I'll just cheer for lots of punts and no overtime.

PLAY: Under 39 points for 1 unit

Hawaii at Fresno St. (o/u 56)

I'll also go under in this game. Fresno St., at 1-4 overall and 0-5 against the spread, is one of the biggest underachieving teams this year. After seeing them lose 13-12 to lowly Utah St. last week, it's tempting to lay the -5 1/2 with Hawaii, but I think the under is the more solid play. Fresno's defense, which played well last week except for the winning touchdown drive, has been playing decently and should be able to slow down Hawaii's high-flying pass attack. But what should really help keep this game under is the improved Hawaii defense taking on a Fresno St. offense that has shown no consistency.

PLAY: Under 56 points for 1 unit

Last week: 3-4 for a net loss of 1.4 units (based on risking 1.1 units to win 1). College season record: 19-14 for a net profit of 3.6 units.

* A column item Wednesday about the Fall Classic handicapping tournament at the Orleans misstated the order of finish. Ken Esterline did not finish third, but was entered in partnership with George Phipps, with whom he shared second place. Lee and Kevin Geraghty of Mission Viejo, Calif., finished third with 10,626 points.