10/29/2002 12:00AM

Emmitt Smith record was a great bet - for the books

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LAS VEGAS - Forget about Halloween, the Boogie Man, and Ozzy Osbourne. What keeps sports bettors up late at night is how hard it is to beat the oddsmakers on a consistent basis.

They have a lot of resources at their fingertips to make the lines as tough to beat as possible. They crunch the numbers, taking all the trends into account long before the average bettor even knows they exist. And then, after having that big advantage, they still require you to try and beat them by laying 11 to win 10. Now that's scary.

Case in point: Before this season, Cowboys RB Emmitt Smith was 539 yards short of breaking Walter Payton's career rushing record of 16,726 yards. The Park Place Entertainment properties (Caesars Palace, Bally's, Paris, Flamingo, Las Vegas Hilton, and other properties in the Reno-Tahoe area and Laughlin) put up a proposition wager in which you could predict which game Smith would break the record.

When Smith passed Payton Sunday, what do you think the bettors collected for forecasting that he would accomplish the feat in Week 8 versus the Seahawks - 5-1 or 10-1?

Nope, even money.

Of course, it wasn't too hard to handicap. Smith averaged 72.9 yards a game in 14 games last year, so as long as he stayed healthy it was statistically expected that he would do it in the eighth game.

But the bookmakers aren't giving away the store, and they made the odds short on the Seahawks game, and it wasn't much better on the games on either side (6-5 for the game at Arizona a week ago and 11-10 on next week's game at Detroit).

And even though some people made money, it wasn't a very smart bet since the aging but hard-working, Smith - who has lost a step or two - could have been hurt and not set the record until later, or not at all (the odds on that were 25-1).

It's pretty frightening when you have a bet all figured out, but you're still a longshot to win.

Dogs having their days

Underdogs had another great week, going 9-5 against the spread, and are hitting at a 66-46 (58.9 percent) clip for the season, with four pushes.

Home dogs are even more reliable. They were 3-2 last week, with the Chiefs, Panthers, and Redskins covering - and the Chiefs and Redskins winning outright.

The home dog Ravens and Bengals failed to come through. The Bengals came up inches short of upsetting the Titans in a 30-24 loss as 5-point underdogs, and some bettors did cash on the Bengals because the line opened at Titans -6 1/2. For the season, home dogs are 23-15 (60.5 percent winners) with two pushes. This week's home dogs are the Bears +6 1/2 vs. the Eagles, the Browns +3 vs. the Steelers, and the Cardinals +3 1/2 vs. the Rams.

The Chiefs have the league's best against-the-spread record at 6-1-1. The Panthers, despite losing five straight on the scoreboard, are still a winning bet with a 6-2 ATS mark. On the losing end, the Bears, Bengals, and Colts are all 1-6 ATS.

In over-under betting, the Saints, with a high-scoring offense and a sieve-like defense, have gone over in all eight of their games. The next-best over record is a tie between the Bills and Chiefs at 6-2. The Panthers have gone under in seven of their eight games while the Cowboys and Buccaneers are both 6-2 with the under.

Trends for this week

Kansas State has beaten its intrastate rival Kansas eight straight years by an average of 40 points and covered the spread each time. This Saturday, K-State is laying 31 points, but I wouldn't bet against another blowout.

In the last eight meetings between Miami of Florida and Rutgers, the Hurricanes have been favored by an average of 32 points but are still 7-1 against the spread. Miami is favored by 39 points this week, and I wouldn't go against this trend either.

One underdog that could cover a big spread is Pittsburgh at Virginia Tech. Pitt has covered five of its last six games with Tech and is getting 13 points on Saturday.

If you like betting trends, you have to like Tennessee at South Carolina. The Vols have won nine straight in this series, yet are only asked to lay 1 1/2 points this time.

In the NFL, the Vikings are 3-11 ATS in their last 14 road games and travel to Tampa Bay this Sunday. In addition, the home team is 7-0-1 in this series the last four years.

This next one kind of cancels out the "home dog" angle above in regards to the Bears getting 6 1/2 points at home. The Eagles are 21-9 ATS on the road under coach Andy Reid, and the Bears are 0-3 ATS at their temporary home in Champaign, Ill.

Meanwhile, the Lions are 3-0 at home at Ford Field. They host the Cowboys Sunday as a 3-point favorite.

NFL bankroll rises

The NFL bankroll made a slight profit last week as I went 4-4 overall (3-2 on sides, 1-2 on totals), but hit my 2-unit best bet on the Browns +3, as they rallied to beat the Jets 24-21. Other winners were the Falcons, 49ers, and the Giants-Eagles under on Monday night. Losses were on the Ravens, the Ravens-Steelers under, the Browns-Jets under, and the Giants. Based on laying 1.1 units for each unit I was trying to win, the bankroll had a net profit of 0.6 units. The season record is 33-40-1 with a net loss of 9.5 units.

The college bankroll got off to a great start with Iowa upsetting Michigan 34-9 Saturday morning as a 3 1/2-point underdog on a 2-unit play. However, Miami failed to cover a 19-point spread in a 40-23 win over West Virginia as a 1-unit play - and Kentucky, after leading Georgia 24-21 at halftime, got beaten 52-24 on a 2-unit play. The 1-2 record and net loss of 1.3 units drops the college bankroll to 16-17 on the season with a net loss of 1.5 units.