12/26/2001 1:00AM

Football tourneys going into final rounds


The two most high-profile invitational football handicapping contests for professional handicappers wrap up this Friday night on opposite ends of town.

In Henderson, the Sunset Station All-Star Handicappers Invitational takes place at 6 p.m. in the sports book (and will be broadcast on KDWN-AM 720). Bryan Leonard, who was the final contestant to qualify for last weekend's semifinals, is guaranteed one of the two spots in the championship match. Leonard posted a 5-0 record through Tuesday's Las Vegas Bowl, in which he had under 46 1/2 in Utah's 10-6 victory over Southern Cal.

Leonard's opponent was undetermined as of press time Wednesday, as the other three semifinalists were awaiting results of bowl games on Thursday. Leonard was the regular-season winner last year, only to lose in the semifinal round. The same thing happened to Bob Donahue this year. Donahue (3-2 over the weekend, including hard-luck losses with the Chiefs and Giants) has been eliminated on a tiebreaker.

If Stanford covers -4 over Georgia Tech in Thursday's Seattle Bowl or Alabama covers a 6 1/2-point spread in the Independence Bowl against Iowa St, Brent Crow will take the other spot in the final. Otherwise, Rob Veno (3-2 over the weekend) would win on a tiebreaker.

It's far less complicated in the seventh annual Stardust Invitational on the Strip. Coast Resorts sports book director Bert Osborne was 4-3 last weekend to defeat defending champion Dave Cokin (2-4-1) and advance to the championship match against Mike Orkin, who two weeks ago posted the first 7-0 record in the tournament's history.

Osborne and Orkin meet for the title in the Stardust sports book at 9 p.m. (also broadcast live on KDWN).

No invite needed, pseudonyms okay

The Las Vegas SuperContest, the biggest handicapping contest that is open to anyone willing to put up the entry fee, is down to its final two weeks, and Tony Salinas is back in the lead.

Salinas, who won the Castaways Challenge (the predecessor to the SuperContest) 20 years ago, was 4-1 last weekend to move past three other top contenders into sole possession of first place with a record of 46-26-3. SuperContest participants pay a $1,500 entry fee and select five NFL games against the spread each week.

The Bud Man, who has been at or near the top all season long, was 3-2 to stay within striking distance at 46.5 points, tied with Bruno's Boys, who went 4-1. Juss Teen, who was in second place last week, went 2-3 and is in fourth place at 46 points and is followed by James Pronovich, who entered last weekend in first place but put up a 1-4 mark to fall into fifth place with 45.5 points.

NFL betting trends

Contest players and bettors really had to put faith in favorites and home teams last week.

Underdog bettors really took it on the chin as favorites were 8-3-4. That narrowed underdogs' edge for the season to 104-101-13. Home teams also were 8-3-4 against the spread and hold a 107-98-13 advantage for the year.

* Of the four pushes last weekend, three landed on the key number of 3. In the early Sunday games, the three games that closed on 3 all landed on the number (and all three were home favorites): The Chiefs beat the Chargers 20-17, the Giants beat the Seahawks 27-24, and the Falcons beat the Bills 33-30. The other push was in the Jets' 29-28 victory over the Colts on Sunday night. The Colts actually opened as a 2 1/2-point favorite, but the bettors jumped on the Jets early and kept betting them until they were favored by a point. As is generally the case, the betting public fared well in all four pushes because the majority of people cashed tickets by betting the early lines, and then the bookmakers had to refund all the bets that pushed.

* The red-hot Steelers now have the league's top spread record at 10-3-1. As you would expect, the league's other surprise teams are also the best against the spread: Patriots (10-5), Bears (9-5), and 49ers (8-5-1). All won and covered last week. The Giants managed a push in their three-point win over the Seahawks, but still have the league's worst spread record (along with the Chargers) at 4-9-1.

* For the fifth straight week, there were more unders than overs, as the under went 8-7. Before that recent run, the unders held only a 71-70-2 edge on the season, but now the gap has widened to 114-102-2.

The trend toward unders hasn't affected the Colts, as they went over in their loss to the Jets. The Colts have now exceeded the total in 12 of their 14 games this season. The Titans, who went under in their upset of the Raiders last Saturday, are a distant second at 9-4-1.

All four teams that were 10-3 with the under heading into last weekend's games all went over: Giants, Jets, Bears, and Redskins. The Bears-Redskins result was rough on under bettors, as the Bears were leading 20-13 in the final minute with a closing total of 33. It was looking like a push, but then the Bears took an intentional safety so they wouldn't have to punt out of their own end zone, and the final score was 20-15.

Late swing makes bankroll a loser

My NFL bankroll came down to the last game of the weekend, as my best bet of 22 units was on the Colts -1.

If you had the Colts, hopefully you had them at +1 and got a push. But for the purposes of the bankroll, I had to lay the point and ended the weekend with a 3-5-1 record and a net loss of 36 units (if the Colts had won and covered, the bankroll would have showed a net profit of 6 units).

In other games, I lost on the Dolphins, Patriots, Saints, and the Seahawks-Giants under. Winners were with the Titans, Seahawks, and the Packers, with the pushing coming in the Chiefs-Chargers game. The NFL bankroll, which started the season at 1,000 units and entered the weekend at 959, now stands at 923 units.