09/18/2003 12:00AM

Georgia superior to LSU - and gets a point. I'm there.


Handicapping football games the first couple weeks of the season is kind of like handicapping maiden races.

A lot is based on a school's tradition (pedigree handicapping), the sketchy reports that come out of practice sessions (the equivalent of morning workouts) or if a coach has a history of winning right out of the gate (first-timer starters). We do our best to try to come up with logical reasons for making a wager, but there's also a high degree of guesswork.

Well, that can't be used as an excuse anymore. With few exceptions, every team has had a few races over the track, so to speak. This is when the real handicapping begins.

Georgia (+1) at LSU

Neither of these two undefeated teams has been tested, though Georgia has faced the supposedly tougher competition in Clemson and South Carolina. LSU has beaten up on Louisiana-Monroe, Arizona, and Division I-AA Western Illinois. The added seasoning should help Georgia in its journey into Bayou Country. Besides, Georgia has played better on the road in recent years anyway, going 8-0 straight up and against the spread the first two years under head coach Mark Richt (11-2 if you include neutral site and bowl games). Georgia will be without star receiver Fred Gibson, but Reggie Brown has picked up the slack, and quarterback David Greene is proficient at spreading the ball around. Based on its competition, Georgia also has the better defense, led by All-American David Pollack, who always seems to make the big play in big games. In fact, you can tell Georgia is the better overall team simply by the fact that this game is close to pick-'em despite the fact that oddsmakers generally give SEC teams much credit for home-field advantage.

PLAY: Georgia for 1 unit.

Kentucky (-8 1/2) at Indiana

Both these teams are 1-2 with wins over inferior I-AA teams: Kentucky defeated Murray St. 37-6 two weeks ago while Indiana beat Indiana St. 33-3 last week. The difference is that Kentucky has at least been halfway competitive in losses to Louisville and Alabama while Indiana has been totally outclassed by Connecticut and Washington. Kentucky is led by quarterback Jared Lorenzen, who should get his offense back on track vs. an Indiana defense that is allowing an average of 25 points a game even after that near shutout of Indiana St. While being outclassed by Alabama, Kentucky's defense still showed something by stepping up to hold the Tide to 4 of 13 on third-down conversions. The Wildcats should be able to stop Indiana from consistently mounting long drives and secure a double-digit win in the process.

PLAY: Kentucky for 1 unit.

Arizona St. (+8) at Iowa

When looking at a running team against a passing team, the first impulse is to go with the strong ground game. I'm making an exception in this case, however, because the team with the air arsenal (Arizona St.) also has a strong run defense that can negate the edge that must be given to Iowa's running attack, which features Fred Russell. ASU is allowing only 61 rushing yards per game and will be keying on Russell, forcing Iowa QB Nathan Chandler (who hasn't been very effective replacing last year's Heisman runner-up Fred Banks) to beat them with the pass. I'm not sure he's up to the task. When ASU has the ball, don't expect them to even bother running on Iowa's strong defensive front. Quarterback Andrew Walter will just pass over it and pick on the Hawkeyes' secondary. Arizona St. will feel at home in a shootout, but I'm also comfortable with a defensive battle with the head start in excess of a touchdown.

PLAY: Arizona St. for 1 unit.

Stanford (+7) at BYU

Let's end this week's college picks with another horse racing analogy. Stanford won its maiden two weeks ago in the season opener vs. San Jose St. while BYU is already showing the wear and tear of having been to the post three times. Stanford is taking a step up in class off its 31-10 victory, but the Cardinal showed promising signs in its first out that will hold it in good stead. Stanford was efficient on offense, converting 10 of 16 on third downs, and overcame typical first-game mistakes like 11 penalties. Redshirt freshman QB Trent Edwards replaced senior Chris Lewis and sparked the offense. Edwards is expected to start, but Lewis has always been dangerous off the bench. BYU, coming off a hard-fought 10-7 win over New Mexico, might have to win again with its defense. BYU quarterback Matt Berry is out (broken hand) and the Cougars will be going with freshman John Beck (who broke his nose in the season opener and received a concussion in the second game before missing last week's game). I'll go with the fresher horse.

PLAY: Stanford for 1 unit.

Last week: 2-1 for a net profit of 0.9 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1). Season record: 5-8 for a net loss of 3.8 units.