10/16/2002 11:00PM

Don't 'Miss' chance to grab the points


LAS VEGAS - A handful of college football lines have moved several points this week. Penn State has been bet from a 22 to a 25 1/2-point favorite over Northwestern; Minnesota has been backed from a 5 1/2-point dog at Michigan State down to 3 1/ 2; and there has been a change of favorite in one game as Colorado State opened as a one-point choice and now Utah is favored by a point in their game.

All of those might be the winning sides - the public at least thinks so - but I made a resolution three weeks ago that I wouldn't take any bad numbers even if I still liked a team at the inflated price.

This week's top play is a game where I'm actually getting a better number now than was available earlier in the week. I'll go against the public in this spot.

Mississippi (+11) at Alabama

This line opened Alabama -7 1/2 and has been bet all the way up to 11, but I think the money is on the wrong side. Mississippi upset Florida 17-14 two weeks ago as a 13-point underdog, and while Florida is down this year, the Gators still have more talent than Alabama.

Mississippi is trying to go 3-0 in the SEC for the first time since 1970, when Archie Manning was the quarterback. His son, Eli, calls the signals now, and he's a solid game manager. He throws very few interceptions (less than one in 50 passes, on average) and has been sacked only 36 times in his career, 21 less than any other SEC team has allowed during that span.

Alabama is coming off a tough 27-25 loss to Georgia. They will have an easier time against the Mississippi defense, but even though they very well might win this game, it won't be a rout and Mississippi should stay within a touchdown. A low-scoring battle like the Mississippi-Florida game would be ideal.

PLAY: Mississippi for 2 units.

Michigan at Purdue (+4)

The Wolverines are coming off a grueling 27-24 overtime victory over Penn State, and now face Purdue, which is 2-4 and a longshot to become bowl-eligible. Can you say letdown? All week, the Michigan team has been talking about how they're not looking past the Boilermakers to games versus Iowa and in-state rival Michigan State But just because a team "says" it's not taking a team for granted doesn't mean it won't come out and play flat. It happens all the time. Looking closer at the Purdue's losses, they have all been by a touchdown or less. Coach Joe Tiller has them playing hard, and this week won't be an exception. Purdue plays much better at home, including wins over Michigan the last two times the Wolverines have visited.

PLAY: Purdue for 2 units.

Rice (-13) at UTEP

You won't find many people playing this game, but it's a soft spot for Rice. The Owls lost their first four games of the season against Houston, Michigan State, Nevada, and Fresno State For their level of program, there's no shame in that, plus they covered versus Michigan State and Fresno State Rice then beat defending Western Athletic Conference champ Louisiana Tech and Navy. UTEP is 1-5 straight up (with the only win against Division I-AA Sacramento State) and 0-5 against the spread in board games against Division I-A competition, losing by an average of some 44 points per game (nearly 21 points when taking the spread into account). Rice has the 10th-rated running game in the country at 242 yards per game, while UTEP is ranked 107th in run defense. In all, it should be Rice, in a cake walk.

PLAY: Rice for 1 unit.

Season record: 14-13 for a net profit of 1.1 units (based on laying 1.1 units for every 1 unit I'm trying to win).

Giants to stand tall in World Series

Look for the Giants to pull a not-so-giant upset over the Angels in the World Series, which starts Saturday at Edison Field in Anaheim, Calif.

These teams, which both made the playoffs as wild cards, are pretty evenly matched, as is reflected in the fact the Angels are only a -120 to a -130 favorite to win the Series, with the Giants offered between even money and +110, depending on where you shop. The Angels' favoritism is as simple as the American League home-field advantage this year. As seen as recently as last year when the home team won each game in the Diamondbacks-Yankees, that can be a huge factor, but the Giants can buck that trend.

Both pitching staffs are solid, and the bullpens, anchored by the Angels' Troy Percival and the Giants' Rob Nenn, are as good as they come.

The X-factor is Barry Bonds. Just the fact that he's likely to receive an intentional walk per game will give the Giants more scoring opportunities, especially if Jeff Kent and Benito Santiago continue to hit well around him. Scoring should be at a premium, and those extra times on base could be the difference the Giants need.

Totals will generally be in the 8- to 9-run range. But before jumping on the unders, beware that all seven umpires in the Series had more over games than under this year, though not by much. In rotation order, Jerry Crawford, the crew chief who will behind the plate in Game 1 and Game 7 (if necessary) was 17-15-1 with the over; Angel Hernandez was 18-15-1; Tim Schida was 19-15; Mike Winters was 18-16-1; Mike Reilly was 20-16; and Tim McClelland was 19-14-3.

As with any championship event, plenty of proposition wagers will be available around Las Vegas, with the most offered at the Imperial Palace. Some intriguing props for Game 1 include most hits plus runs for Bonds vs. Garret Anderson (-115 each way), total number of players to throw a pitch (over/under 7 1/2), total runs, hits and errors (over/under 25), and will the Angels' David Eckstein walk or strike out (yes is +130, no is -160).

Your guess is as good as mine.