08/31/2001 12:00AM

Fresno St., Colorado look like winners


Oregon St. at Fresno St. (+ 3 1/2)

Fresno St. is probably still on a high from last week's 24-22 win at Colorado, but there is no time for a letdown with an upcoming non-conference slate that still includes Oregon St. and Wisconsin. The Bulldogs are the pre-season favorites in the WAC thanks to the arm of quarterback David Carr (2729 yards, 23 TDs last year), and last week's win proved to many that they are for real. This week they return home where they own a 15-game winning streak dating back to 1998 and where they routinely play in front of packed houses. The fans (referred to as the Red Wave) will be expecting nothing less than victory here, even against these Pac-10 visitors from Oregon St. The Beavers are coming off a tremendous season where they went 11-1 including a win over Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. However, they return just 10 starters from last year's squad including only two on the offensive line and one on the defensive line. Beavers star running back Ken Simonton (1559 yards last year) returns as does quarterback Jonathan Smith (2773 yards, 20 TDs), but the Oregon St. passing attack may stall as all four of Smith's top receivers from last season have departed. Despite a pointspread record of 9-2 in 2000, the Beavers went 0-2 against the spread in the role of road favorites. Meanwhile, Fresno St. has covered all four times it has been a home underdog during the tenure of coach Pat Hill.

Play: Fresno St. (+3 1/2) for 2 units

Colorado (-4) vs. Colorado St. at Denver

Colorado will be fired up heading into Denver for their annual neutral site showdown against rival Colorado St. Not only will they be looking to make amends for last week's upset at the hands of Fresno St., they will also be seeking double-revenge against the Rams who've beaten them in Denver twice in a row. Colorado was filled with freshmen and sophomores the last two years, but is a team now full of upper-classmen who are hungry for their first-ever defeat of Colorado St. The Buffs should improve with each and every game this season, and now need a win to avoid starting 0-2. Rams quarterback Matt Newton (2,563 yards, 19 TDs last year) is gone, and his replacements, either D.J. Busch or Bradlee Van Pelt, should have a load of trouble filling his shoes. Colorado was on its way to a fourth quarter comeback last week against a quality Fresno St. team last week until quarterback Craig Ochs threw an interception in the endzone to effectively end the game. Ochs and the Buffaloes should benefit from having a game under their belts, and are more likely to run like a well-oiled machine this week. The Rams meanwhile, may have some rust and still need to break in a new quarterback.

Play: Colorado (-4) for 1 unit

UTEP at New Mexico (-3)

Last season, UTEP was very easy to handicap. Basically, they covered on artificial turf (6-0-1 against the spread) and failed to cover on grass (1-4 against the spread). This game is on artificial turf which certainly does not bode well for the Miners' chances. UTEP improved dramatically last year to go 8-3 in the regular season, but finally came back down to Earth with its 38-23 Humanitarian Bowl loss to Boise St. The engine that drove that team, quarterback Rocky Perez, is departed, however, and the Miners will no longer be sneaking up on anybody after going to a bowl game last year. Perez's replacement at quarterback, Wesley Phillips, threw only 12 passes all last year. New Mexico covered seven of 11 games in 2000, and should have a similar look this year, especially on offense with junior quarterback Rudy Caamano returning to lead the Lobos' grind-it-out offense which relies heavily on the ground game. Four starters return on New Mexico's offensive line, and they are likely to control possession here with the help of rushers Holmon Wiggins, Jarrod Baxter, and Caamano who combined for 1672 yards last year.

Play: New Mexico (-3) for 1 unit

Oklahoma St. at Southern Miss (-10 1/2)

Southern Miss has built its reputation as a perennial bowl team with defense, but this year should be all about offense in Hattiesburg. More offense means less of a problem covering the spread against bottom-rung teams like Oklahoma St., which will begin breaking in new head coach Les Miles. Les might be more than former head coach Bob Simmons, but Miles will have his work cut out for him with this Cowboys squad that won and covered only three games last season. Quarterback Aso Pogi is a bright spot for Oklahoma St., but he'll have to score a lot of points to keep his team within striking distance of the Golden Eagles, who return nine starters on offense including quarterback Jeff Kelly (2540 yards, 18 TDs) and four offensive linemen. It also won't help Oklahoma State's chances that this game will be played on grass. The Cowboys went 0-3 against the spread on grass last season and are now 0-6-1 against the spread on that surface dating back to 1999.

Play: Southern Miss (-10 1/2) for 1 unit

Last week: 1-5 (-6 units)