12/06/2004 1:00AM

Early money on Oklahoma vs. USC


LAS VEGAS - Five major college football teams finished the regular season undefeated, so there were the predictable complaints about the BCS system and how some teams lucked out by getting the gold mine (Texas and Pittsburgh) and some got the shaft (Auburn and California).

But oddsmakers here in Vegas and offshore don't have much interest in what might have or should have been - there are odds to be made for the actual matchups in the 28 bowl games this season.

The first of the lines here in Vegas went up Sunday night at the Stardust on the four biggest bowls. In the marquee matchup, No. 1 Southern Cal opened as a 3 1/2-point favorite over No. 2 Oklahoma in the Jan. 4 Orange Bowl, this year's BCS title game.

In the two major bowls to be played New Year's Day, Texas opened as a 6-point favorite over Michigan in the Rose Bowl and Utah was installed as a 15-point favorite over Pitt in the Fiesta Bowl. In the Jan. 3 Sugar Bowl, Auburn is a 6 1/2-point choice over Virginia Tech.

During the early hours of betting, none of the lines moved at the Stardust, even though USC was a consensus -3 at offshore books and other Vegas books opened the line at 3 on Monday morning. Hinting that the early sentiment is on Oklahoma, the CRIS offshore sports book lowered its line to 2 1/2 on Monday morning. Shortly thereafter, the Stardust dropped USC to -3.

The rest of the college bowl lines were expected to be posted later Monday.

Slow betting on NFL board

With very few games to choose from - the four big bowl games and eight NFL games, because the other eight were off the board due to injuries or teams being in action Sunday/Monday night - there wasn't much movement on the Stardust's NFL openers. Only three lines moved off their opening numbers.

Of the five NFL teams I wrote about in Sunday's editions that continue to cover to the oddsmakers' dismay, the Patriots, Colts, and Eagles easily won and covered on Sunday, while the Chargers pushed in their 20-17 win over the Broncos and the Steelers failed to cover a 3-point spread in their thrilling 17-16 victory over the Jaguars.

In the cat-and-mouse game between oddsmakers and bettors, the oddsmakers keep increasing the points these teams have to lay, especially since bookmakers have been losing lately with so many favorites covering. Of the eight games posted Sunday night, the lowest spread was the Chargers -5 1/2 vs. the Buccaneers. The Falcons opened -7 1/2 over the Raiders and then four games opened at 9 1/2, two games were at 10 1/2, and one was at 11.

Recreational bettors will probably continue to bet those teams no matter what the spreads, but professional bettors jumped in with plays on two of the biggest underdogs, taking the Bengals +11 vs. the Patriots and the Texans +10 1/2 vs. the Colts.

The only total to move was on the over in the Raiders-Falcons game, being bet from 44 to 45. NFL totals bettors have fared well against the Stardust openers, going 23-14 (62 percent), though it should be pointed out that much of that success has been when the plays were on the under.

NFL bankroll takes a beating

I was one of those trying to step in front of the train of all these big favorites covering time after time - and I got run over Sunday.

My NFL bankroll plays went 0-4-1, with losses on the Browns +11 vs. the Patriots (it looked good until the Pats returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown), Titans +11 vs. the Colts (it looked good until the Titans stopped scoring after leading 24-17 at the end of the first quarter), Packers +6 vs. the Eagles (it never looked good), and Giants +2 vs. the Redskins (ditto). The push was on the Broncos +3 vs. the Chargers.

For the year, my NFL bankroll plays dropped to 28-34-2 for a net loss of 9.4 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1).

The worst part is that I talked myself out of using the Jaguars +3 vs. the Steelers. The only consolation is that I didn't go with my original thought of making them all 2-unit plays!

The news had been much better on Saturday as I won with my only two bankroll plays: Southern Miss +24 vs. California, and Hawaii +6 1/2 vs. Michigan State. That raised my college bankroll record to a respectable-if-not-spectacular 28-21-1 for a net profit of 4.9 units.

Champions defend belts at Mandalay

Jose Luis Castillo outlasted Joel Casamayor to defend his WBC lightweight championship last Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.

In a relatively even fight, as evidenced by the fact that Castillo was just a -170 favorite (risk $1.70 to win $1), Castillo dominated in the end as he won the final three rounds on all three judges' scorecards.

On the undercard, Jeff Lacy won a unanimous decision to retain his IBF super middleweight belt over Omar Sheika, though it was closer than most people thought it would be. Lacy won 117-111 on one judge's scorecard, but only 115-113 on the other two.

* Boxing returns to Mandalay Bay this Saturday when WBC heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko faces Danny Williams, who is best known for knocking out Mike Tyson earlier this year. Klitschko is a -500 favorite.