10/14/2004 12:00AM

Knowledge can help . . . or it can easily backfire

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LAS VEGAS - Familiarity breeds contempt?

Nah! In the world of sports betting, familiarity should breed confidence. The more you know about a team, the better you should be able to analyze its strengths and weaknesses. It also helps to know if a team might be focusing on this week's opponent, such as with a bitter rivalry, if a team is seeking revenge for a loss last year, or if a team is looking ahead to a more important game.

Of course, this is all in theory. Many cases can be made that the fans of a hometown team are the worst judges of a team's true ability, since they are often overly optimistic and read into the local press clippings. Believe me, I know the dangers. My sports betting career would have been very short-lived if I hadn't learn quickly not to bet blindly on my Cubs and Bears.

This kind of stuff is on my mind because this Saturday finds me backing four college football teams I've been following closely this year. In all cases, I've seen most of their games, and it's no coincidence that these are the teams on which I've had the most success playing, or, in the case of the first game, playing against.

Ohio St. at Iowa (+1 1/2)

Last week, my lone winning bankroll play was on Wisconsin +3 1/2 vs. Ohio St., as the Badgers pulled the outright upset. Overall, I'm 2-1 this season in plays against the Buckeyes. In this matchup, Iowa is without starting running back Jermelle Lewis (torn ACL). The Hawkeyes only average 92.8 rushing yards per game, however, and they weren't going to run over the Ohio St. defense even if they were healthy. Instead, they'll rely on emerging quarterback Drew Tate. Meanwhile, Ohio St. needs to move the ball on the ground, and that plays to Iowa's strength on defense. For the past few years, the Buckeyes usually failed to cover while winning the close games, but now they're not even getting the wins as often and have back-to-back losses to Northwestern and Wisconsin. Iowa is also seeking revenge for a 19-10 loss last year at Columbus, a game in which the Hawkeyes outplayed Ohio St. on both sides of the ball but gave up two special teams touchdowns.

PLAY: Iowa for 1 unit.

Arizona St. (+11) at Southern Cal

Three of my 12 bankroll wins this season in college football have been on Arizona St., so I can't pass up getting 11 points in this spot as the oddsmakers and public continue to underrate the Sun Devils. Also, despite being ranked No. 1 and undefeated, USC hasn't been a money-making machine for bettors. The Trojans have failed to cover the past two weeks in wins over Stanford and California and are 2-3 against the spread on the season. Just like in the Iowa game, I'm not concerned with ASU's lack of a ground game, because not many people can run past USC's run defense. The better route is to pass over the defense as Cal's Aaron Rodgers did last week, when he completed 23 straight passes and 29 of 31 overall as the Bears outgained the Trojans, 424-205. The Sun Devils can do the same with quarterback Andrew Walter, who has thrown for 1,249 yards this season, with 15 touchdowns and only one interception. On defense, the Sun Devils have recorded 19 sacks this season and could pressure Matt Leinart into mistakes. In addition, ASU is coming off a bye week to prepare for this game, whereas USC is coming off that tough game vs. Cal and has some key injuries, including at receiver and in the defensive secondary, which it can ill-afford if gets into a shoot-out with Walter & Co.

PLAY: Arizona St. for 1 unit.

North Carolina St. (+3) at Maryland

The Wolfpack haven't been as good to me as some of the other teams here. I'm 1-1 with bets on them this season, though I still think I was on the right side in the loss to Ohio St., which went up in flames when the Wolfpack committed five turnovers and 14 penalties. NC State has also failed to cover as double-digit favorites the past two weeks, including a straight-up loss to North Carolina last week, but I see it getting back on track as a road dog at Maryland. Both teams are 3-2, but NC State's schedule has been tougher, including wins over Virginia Tech and Wake Forest. Maryland's wins are over 1-5 Temple and 1-4 Duke and a non-covering win vs. Northern Illinois. Maryland is allowing 142 rushing yards a game (again, against weaker competition), and T.A. McClendon is back to his former self for NC State, averaging five yards a carry with five touchdowns, so he could have a field day. In addition, the Wolfpack is 7-0 as a road underdog over the past four seasons under coach Chuck Amato.

PLAY: North Carolina St. for 1 unit.

Wisconsin at Purdue (-7)

I'm 1-0 with both of these teams this year, but the difference is I was betting on Purdue vs. Notre Dame two weeks ago and against Ohio St. with Wisconsin last week. But I don't think Wisconsin matches up as well with Purdue. Wisconsin wins with defense, but that has usually involved shutting down running teams, and the Badgers haven't faced a prolific passing attack like they will this Saturday in the Boilermakers. Heisman Trophy candidate Kyle Orton, all-time Big Ten receptions leader Taylor Stubblefield, and the rest of the offense continue to click for Purdue and should score enough to win comfortably against a Wisconsin offense that hasn't put up more than 24 points since its season-opening win over Central Florida.

PLAY: Purdue for 1 unit.

Last week: 1-3 for a net loss of 2.3 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1). Season college record: 12-9 for a net profit of 2.1 units.