09/25/2002 11:00PM

Do as I say, not as I do

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LAS VEGAS - For sports bettors, discipline is very important. Just as important as making good plays is having the willpower to resist betting on games you should pass.

I should probably be disciplined for not following my own guidelines that I wrote about before the season. I will repeat them now, as much for myself as for anyone else.

* Don't bet games just because they are on TV: When trying to decide what bankroll plays to make each week, my eyes tend to drift to the marquee games because those are the ones everyone is talking about. I know they're not the best games to bet because the oddsmakers also have a handle on those teams, but I've fallen into that trap twice: last week when I took Tennessee over Florida, and earlier this year with Maryland over Notre Dame. In retrospect, I think I "forced" those picks. This became clear this week while handicapping the Iowa State-Nebraska game. I kept going in circle, finding reasons to back each team. I finally realized that any pick I made would be a coin-flip.

* Don't bet a bad number: In my original draft for this column, I had plays on Temple, Auburn, and Virginia Tech. Early in the week, I thought they were all solid selections. As the week has progressed, however, Temple has been bet from a 7-point home underdog to Cincinnati down to +4 1/2, Auburn has been bet up from -10 1/2 to -14 over Syracuse, and Virginia Tech has gone from -19 to -23 over Western Michigan. I still think those are the right sides, but I shouldn't use those as bankroll selections because all the value has been bet out of the line.

So after weeding out the kind of plays that have my college bankroll off to a slow start, I have three plays, all 2-unit best bets.

Iowa (+8) at Penn State

Penn State is getting all the hype as everyone seems to be back on the Joe Paterno bandwagon. But while the Nittany Lions' turnaround is impressive, Iowa is no slouch and won't roll over in the Big 10 opener for both teams. If not for one bad quarter - when it was outscored 23-0 by a very good Iowa State team at the start of the second half in a 36-31 loss - Iowa also would be undefeated. The matchups set up well for Iowa. Penn State's defense has allowed 398 yards per game and has only been saved by seven interceptions. Iowa QB Brad Banks hasn't thrown an interceptions this season, and if he takes care of the ball he could have some success. When Penn State has the ball, RB Larry Johnson is averaging 121 yards, but Iowa's defense is allowing only 47 yards per game. If this line were 3 or 4 points, I wouldn't touch it, but at a touchdown and 2-point conversion I can't resist.

Play: Iowa for 2 units.

Mississippi State at LSU (-12)

Mississippi State was horrid in a 42-14 loss to Auburn last Thursday. It also was blown out at Oregon, 36-13. The team's only win was 51-13 over I-AA Jacksonville State. Jackie Sherrill is a good coach, but he would have to be a miracle worker to turn this team around in 10 days. Meanwhile, LSU has had two weeks to prepare for this game and comes in an improved team. The threat of RB LaBrandon Toefield will help slow down the blitzes of the MSU defense, and give developing QB Matt Mauck time to operate. I never try to put too much stock in historical trends, but LSU has owned this series, winning 9-1 both straight up and against the spread in its last 10 games against Mississippi State. Overconfidence is the only thing that can keep LSU from covering this number.

Play: LSU for 2 units.

Colorado State (-11 1/2) at Nevada

Nevada upset BYU two weeks ago, so Colorado State won't be taking Nevada for granted. Coach Sonny Lubick has also had two weeks to prepare for this game after facing a touch early-season schedule (wins over Virginia, Colorado, and Louisville and a loss to UCLA). The exposure to Louisville's passing game will help Colorado State prepare for Nevada's combo of QB Zack Threadgill (973 yards in three games and eight TDs) and receiver Nate Burleson (33 receptions and three TDs). On offense, the Rams counter with the running of TB Cecil Sapp (123 yards per game) and QB Bradlee Van Pelt, a triple-option threat. The running game should help Colorado State control the clock, plus Nevada is still a notch or two below Colorado State's level.

Play: Colorado State for 2 units.

Season record: 5-10 for -7.3 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1).