12/05/2002 1:00AM

Hurricanes won't have it easy


LAS VEGAS - The pressure is on the No. 1 ranked Miami Hurricanes to defeat Virginia Tech Saturday and earn a berth in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio St.

A lot of people will be cheering for a Canes victory to guarantee a matchup between the only two undefeated teams in major college football. Nevertheless, proponents of a playoff system are hoping for a Miami loss and the ensuing controversy. Would Iowa get a shot at Ohio St. in the Fiesta Bowl? Or would it be Georgia? Or will Miami manage to still be ranked No. 2 in the BCS rankings and back into the Fiesta Bowl?

The feeling here is that the Hurricanes will prevail Saturday . . . but it won't be easy.

Virginia Tech (+17 1/2) at Miami

Virginia Tech will be able to move the ball on the ground with Lee Suggs and Kevin Jones. Tech quarterback Bryan Randall is also a threat with his legs. All those running plays will help shorten the game and keep Virginia Tech close. One of the Hurricanes' weakest links has been punter Freddie Capshaw. He has had four punts blocked this year and shanked several others. Tech coach Frank Beamer's teams excel at special teams, having blocked five punts this year and 23 in the last five years. A key special teams play might keep the Hokies in the game. Miami's Heisman Trophy hopefuls Ken Dorsey and Willis McGahee will undoubtedly have success against a Tech defense that hasn't lived up to expectations, but when you add in the fact that Miami doesn't need to impress pollsters or computers anymore, there's no incentive for the Canes to run up the score.

PLAY: Virginia Tech for 1 unit.

Arkansas (+8 1/2) vs. Georgia

This play is partly based on the assumption that Miami beats Virginia Tech in the earlier game and spoils Georgia's hopes of earning a Fiesta Bowl spot. But that's not my only reason for feeling Arkansas will cover. The Razorbacks showed heart in rallying to beat LSU 21-20 on a 31-yard TD pass with nine seconds to play. The Razorbacks have the running game to control the clock and keep the ball out of the hands of Georgia quarterback David Greene, who will have to win this for the Bulldogs since they're not likely to run the ball much on the Arkansas defense (second in the SEC in run defense, 18th in the nation). The Georgia defense is also strong, so this should be a relatively low-scoring game - in the range of 23-20 or 27-20 - which should help the underdog Razorbacks stay within the spread.

PLAY: Arkansas for 1 unit.

Washington St. at UCLA (+3)

Coach Mike Price has called star quarterback Jason Geeser the most valuable quarterback to ever play at Washington St. (alma mater of Jack Thompson, Ryan Leaf, and Drew Bledsoe) and the team proved it by folding against Washington two weeks ago after Geeser injured his right ankle and knee. UCLA also got beaten up by its archrival, USC, two weeks ago, so both teams are out for atonement. Many handicappers are pointing to the fact that Washington St. can still play in the Rose Bowl and that UCLA will likely get a better bowl if it loses (the Holiday Bowl, with $2 million payout per team) than if it wins. But I really can't believe the Bruins will swallow their pride and roll over. UCLA running back Tyler Ebell has been coming on lately, except against USC, which took a 28-7 halftime lead and effectively took him out of the game. That won't happen here, as he'll be a factor as the Bruins take the Cougars to the wire.

PLAY: UCLA for 1 unit.

Season record: 27-28 for a net loss of 4 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1).