09/27/2006 11:00PM

It's time to switch to the 'over' side


LAS VEGAS - As a football handicapper - or in any gambling endeavor, for that matter - the goal is winning. It shouldn't matter if you're picking favorites or underdogs, overs or unders, first halves, second halves, prop bets, future bets, whatever. Looking over the weekend's card should be an exercise in finding value wherever it is.

There are exceptions, however. Sometimes it's beneficial to focus on one area when the opportunities are there. That was the case at the start of this college football season with the rule changes that helped shorten the games and reduced the number of plays. Oddsmakers didn't adjust enough and unders have come in at a 57-percent clip over the first four weeks. I hit my first 10 published under plays in addition to many more personal plays, though certainly not at that high of a percentage.

It was a similar run to the one and only XFL season in 2001 when the year started with games taking too long for NBC executives. The league changed its rules before Week 3 to re-start the game clock after the ball was spotted following incomplete passes. The oddsmakers didn't adjust enough and I did very well with the unders by being ahead of the trend. I went 5-0-1 with published picks and was playing unders across the board (unfortunately, there were only four games a week in the eight-team league) before the odds were adjusted accordingly.

Now, unders did go 26-14 last week, but in handicapping this week's games I found it even harder to find value on the unders and it has led me to the conclusion that the value is probably more with the overs now. I would rather be ahead of the curve than behind it, so this week I'm looking at more overs. Also, after passing on bankroll plays on sides the past two weeks, I've got a few point-spread plays so that my investment portfolio looks a little more balanced. I will start with a game in which I like both the side and the total.

Toledo (+16) at Pittsburgh (o/u 49 1/2)

Both teams have good offenses and should find success against the opposing defenses. My confidence in Toledo skyrockets if quarterback Clint Cochran or running back Scooter McDougle are able to play. But even if one or both aren't able to go, these are good plays. With the spread this high and the total relatively low, I just need Toledo to score 17 points and I can't lose both (for the math-challenged, that would mean Pitt would have to score 33 for a push on the side, which would make the over a winner; and if Pitt scored 34 and covered the spread, that would put it over). I think the Rockets can put up at least that much and very likely much more.

PLAY: Toledo for 1 unit, plus over 49 1/2 points for 1 unit.

Bowling Green at Ohio (o/u 46)

Ohio's offense broke from the gate with a 29-3 win over Division I-AA Tennessee-Martin and a 35-23 upset of Northern Illinois. The Bobcats have been shut down in their past two games vs. Missouri and Rutgers, but they take a step down in class this week against Bowling Green, which is allowing 35 points per game. That should cure their offensive ills. Bowling Green's offense hasn't been too consistent, but against Ohio it should do just enough to push this over the total.

PLAY: Over 46 points for 1 unit.

New Mexico St. (+16 1/2) at UTEP

There's a lot going for this play. UTEP's quarterback is Jordan Palmer, who is the brother of the Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer. But while he's the second-best quarterback in his family, he might also be the second-best quarterback in this game. Chase Holbrook leads the nation's No. 1 passing attack, averaging 402 yards per game for New Mexico State. UTEP is No. 105 in the nation against the pass, allowing 249 yards per game, so this is a juicy spot to take this many points. If you like results vs. common opponents, this game has that, too. Both lost to New Mexico, with New Mexico State losing 34-28 and UTEP getting blown out 26-13 last week in a game that was 26-3 at one point and not as close as the score indicates. Even if the Aggies aren't able to keep pace with UTEP, the back door should be wide open. As of noon Thursday, I hadn't seen a total available anywhere on this game, but the over would be the only way to look here, too.

PLAY: New Mexico State for 1 unit.

Oregon (+1) at Arizona St.

I'm not so sure the right team is favored here and, in fact, oddsmakers opened Oregon as the favorite and it has been bet the other way. I'm not sure if that's because bettors are discounting Oregon's controversial win over Oklahoma, but I will gladly take the short dog here. In my eyes, Arizona State was exposed in its 49-21 loss to California. Oregon has more talent and speed on both sides of the ball and just has to prove it can win away from home and without its replay official.

PLAY: Oregon for 1 unit.

Ohio St. at Iowa (o/u 43)

I've been going under in marquee games this year, partly because of the rule changes and also because the higher-quality programs tend to play more at the pace of an NFL game, but this one looks like it should fly over. Even though I like the Iowa defensive unit ever since its goal-line stand vs. Syracuse (and that's a big part of the reason I've made a point-spread wager on Iowa, though I'm not making it an official bankroll selection here), the Ohio State offense is pretty impressive with Troy Smith, Antonio Pittman, and Ted Ginn Jr. The Hawkeyes won't be able to shut them down completely, but they also have an offense led by Drew Tate that can light up the scoreboard as well, especially at home. This should be a highly entertaining game and I look for the score to be well into the 50's.

PLAY: Over 43 points for 1 unit.

Last week: 2-3 for a net loss of 1.3 units (based on risking 1.1 units to win 1). College season record: 13-7, including 12-4 on totals and 1-3 on sides, for a net profit of 5.3 units.