09/22/2004 11:00PM

Hawkeyes will rebound and play Michigan close


LAS VEGAS - Every gambler knows the secret to surviving is knowing what to throw away and knowing what to keep.

Kenny Rogers sang those words about poker, but the philosophy applies to playing the ponies or betting football.

When at the track or an an offtrack betting location, it's tempting to play every race. But everyone learns sooner or later that that's the quickest way to losing your bankroll. It's the same thing when going over the weekend's football schedule. Any number of games might seem appealing, but you have a much better chance of survival betting more on your strongest plays.

Each week, I try to narrow my published bankroll plays to four or five each in the colleges and pros. Sometimes it's easier than others. Last week, for example, I was coming off a 4-0 week, feeling in the zone, and really liked a lot of games. I resisted the temptation and just went with what I felt were my four strongest plays. Unfortunately, my record on those games was 1-3.

Now, it would be easy to point out that in my column last week, I mentioned I was leaning toward taking Arizona St. -1 vs. Iowa (and, believe me, I wish I had used that instead of one of my losers), but the truth is that if I had used all 10 games I originally liked, I would have gone 4-6.

At first glance, that 40 percent winning rate looks better than the 25 percent I ended up with, but in the world of 10 percent vig, that would have been a net loss of 2.6 units instead of the 2.3-unit loss I recorded. Neither is anything to brag about, but it shows that you can get nickel-and-dimed to death if you play too many games over the long haul.

(For the morbidly curious, my discard pile this week included Penn St. +3 vs. Wisconsin, Memphis -2 1/2 vs. UAB, Alabama +5 1/2 vs. Arkansas, and Utah St. +12 1/2 vs. UNLV).

Iowa (+13) at Michigan

This is the Big 10 opener for both teams, and the game they have been looking forward to, so I can't believe that Michigan is favored by so many points. The only reason this line is so high is because Iowa got whipped 44-7 at Arizona St. last week, but I'm willing to throw out that game, as Iowa ran into a juggernaut. ASU's pass offense shredded Iowa early and the momentum snowballed. Michigan's offense isn't as potent and plays into the strength of the Hawkeyes' run defense. Granted, Iowa had a better team two years ago when it went into Ann Arbor and pulled off a 34-9 upset, but the Hawkeyes have covered the last six vs. the Wolverines and seem to have their number. Just like Michigan's 24-21 win over San Diego St. last week, this should come down to the wire, so I can't pass up the points.

PLAY: Iowa for 1 unit.

North Carolina St. (+9) at Virginia Tech

This line opened at Virginia Tech -7 and has been bet up to -9. Part of the reason is that the whole world was seemingly on N.C. St. last week vs. Ohio St - the line opened Ohio St. -4 and the flood of money closed N.C. St. -3 - and they're probably steaming mad and going against the Wolfpack after their 22-14 loss. But the score is misleading as N.C. St. beat itself with five turnovers and 14 penalties, and I'm looking for it to bounce back in its ACC opener. Running back T.A. McClendon looks back in form, and quarterback Jay Davis should benefit from his first big-game experience. Virginia Tech exceeded expectations by playing USC close in its opener, but I think that has just led people to overrate the Hokies a little.

PLAY: North Carolina St. for 1 unit.

Oregon St. at Arizona St. (-7 1/2)

Arizona St. has the look of a team that oddsmakers are having trouble gauging. This game opened ASU -5 1/2 and has been bet up to -7 1/2. I generally don't like laying more than a touchdown with anyone (and I'll be kicking myself for doing it if ASU fails to cover), but if the Sun Devils do to the Beavers what I think they're going to do, this shouldn't be close, and ASU will likely be double-digit favorites the rest of the season, with the exception of its game at USC in three weeks. Oregon St. played its heart out in the opener vs. LSU but wasn't able to carry that momentum into its loss at Boise St. on national television, and then finally entered the win column with a non-covering 17-7 victory over New Mexico. I just can't see OSU's inconsistent offense keeping up with ASU quarterback Andrew Walter & Co., especially against the Sun Devils' improving defense.

PLAY: Arizona St. for 1 unit.

New Mexico at New Mexico St. (+7)

New Mexico St. was blown out 63-13 by Arkansas and 41-14 by California, but when it dropped in class last week it was able to upset Troy St. 22-18. Now, Troy has proven to be no slouch, as it has already beaten Marshall and Missouri this year, so that was a huge confidence-booster for New Mexico St. heading into its big in-state rivalry game this Saturday. The Aggies usually play their rivals tough, especially as underdogs. That was true last year, when they outgained the Lobos by more than 100 yards, even though five turnovers led to a 24-17 loss as 9 1/2-point underdogs. They will try and turn that around at home and get their revenge. In its game vs. Oregon St., New Mexico's only score was a 70-yard fumble return, so the offense was nonexistent, and the Lobos might have to play without starting quarterback Kole McKarney, who suffered a concussion last week. NMSU's offense won't put up a ton of points, but its short passing game should be able to have success against New Mexico's pass rush and do just enough to outscore the Lobos or at least keep it close late into the contest.

PLAY: New Mexico St. for 1 unit.

Last week: 1-3 for a net loss of 2.3 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1). College season record: 6-4 for a net profit of 1.6 units.