10/09/2002 11:00PM

Little-respected Cal to take USC to school

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LAS VEGAS - Saturday's college football schedule is the best so far this season.

Florida St. at Miami-Fla. Oklahoma at Texas. Tennessee at Georgia. Oregon at UCLA. Penn St. at Michigan. LSU at Florida. Conference races and the national title chase will come into clearer focus. It should be great viewing.

But while I'll be watching those games as a sports fan, I won't be involved as a betting man. Keeping with my resolution to stay away from marquee games just because they're on TV (and because the bankroll has been a combined 6-2 the last two weeks), I'll instead be going with other major conference games where I find more value in the lines.

California (+12 1/2) at USC

Cal gets so little respect from oddsmakers and bettors that Rodney Dangerfield's 1986 movie "Back to School" should have been set in Berkeley. Cal is coming off a 34-27 win at Washington as a 13-point underdog. The Golden Bears have also traveled to Michigan State and won 46-22 as a 13 1/2-point dog, yet they're getting double-digit points again for a much shorter trip and against a bitter rival. USC has a strong defense, but Cal QB Kyle Boller is having a great season, including tossing five TD passes versus Washington last week, and is capable of pulling another outright upset.

PLAY: California for 2 units.

Washington St. (-7) at Stanford

Staying in the Pac-10, I'll take the team that beat USC last week, Washington St. The Cougars racked up 516 yards last week against a USC defense that at one time was ranked No. 1 in the country. They'll be able to name their score against Stanford, which lost 31-7 to Notre Dame. Washington St. can also shut down the Stanford running attack Laying only a touchdown is a bargain.

PLAY: Washington St. for 2 units.

Pittsburgh (+7 1/2) at Notre Dame

Notre Dame is the story of the college football season. The luck of the Irish has helped every bounce go their way. The offense has been mediocre at best - the uncertainty of QB Carlyle Holliday's shoulder doesn't help the offense get in sync - while the defense has carried the load by scoring six touchdowns and setting up three more. Obviously, they've been making their own luck, but the luck stops here. Pitt has won 11 of its last 12 games, including a 42-28 win last week at Syracuse, where the Panthers hadn't won since 1982. QB Rod Rutherford is no Dan Marino (the Pitt QB in 1982), but he's come into his own and has amassed more than 300 yards in total offense in three of the last four games. The only fear against the opportunistic Notre Dame defense is his seven interceptions. But if Rutherford takes care of the ball, Pitt could win.

PLAY: Pittsburgh for 2 units.

Oklahoma St. at Kansas St. (-14)

It's not often that I find value in laying two touchdowns, but Kansas St. should roll in this game. After having its hopes for an undefeated season dashed last week in a 35-31 loss at Colorado, Kansas St. needs to get back on the winning track at home against this unranked opponent. The Jayhawks know they can't take Oklahoma St. lightly - especially considering the Cowboys nearly forced overtime in a 17-15 loss to Texas last week - or they'll be 0-2 in the Big 12 heading into next week's game versus Texas. So, with very little chance of overconfidence coming into play, talent should win out - and Kansas St. is far superior to Oklahoma St. on both sides of the ball.

PLAY: Kansas St. for 1 unit.

Season record: 11-12, including 5-5 on best bets, for a net loss of 1.7 units.