08/26/2001 11:00PM

A lost weekend for the chalk as college favorites stumble


LAS VEGAS - If the opening weekend of the college football season is a portent of things to come, a lot of bettors might wish that college wagering had been banned in Nevada.

The public, especially chalk-players, had a rough opening weekend as the first six favorites failed to cover the spread. As a rule of thumb, bookmakers love it when favorites fail to cover, and they won even more this weekend when you consider all the parlays (and teasers) that were killed.

Georgia Tech opened as a 10-point favorite over Syracuse, and the line moved to 6 1/2 before favorite players bet it back up to 8 by kickoff Sunday.

Georgia Tech led by 13-7 late in the game. On its last possession, Georgia Tech started moving the ball into scoring range and bookmakers were worried about a field goal (which would have caused a "middle" at 9 points in which most of the bettors on both sides would have cashed). With under a minute to play, Tech got the ball down to the 1-yard line, and the runner was ruled down before he could push the ball over the goal line. Tech bettors were agonizing. Georgia Tech ran one more play but was stopped for no gain and time expired.

Bookmakers did get middled in the Virginia-Wisconsin game on Saturday, but action on that matchup was smaller than many other games. Wisconsin opened between an 8- and 9-point favorite around town and were bet up to 10 points. Badger backers cashed if they laid 8 or 8 1/2 points in Wisconsin's 26-17 victory while late Virginia bettors who took the 10 points were also winners.

Bettors also fared well on Fresno State's 24-22 upset of Colorado on Sunday, but those wins were overwhelmed by the failures.

The books got off to a great start when Nebraska struggled to beat TCU 21-7 in Saturday's first game.

Nebraska had opened as a 26 1/ 2-point favorite and the wise guys and the public bet heavily on them. The Cornhuskers usually romp in early-season home games, and TCU lost running back LaDainian Tomlinson and several other starters from last year's 10-2 team. The number got bet all the way to 31 at some books before some TCU money trickled in. The spread was never in jeopardy.

What made it worse is that a lot of bettors like to tease these type of favorites (laying "only" 20 1/2 to 25 points depending on where and when they bet), and those bets lost too.

Oklahoma was another team that failed to cover. The Sooners were a 21-point choice over North Carolina and only won 41-27. This could be chalked up as another bad beat for favorite bettors as Oklahoma jumped out to a 31-7 lead and was up 41-14 at the half, but didn't score the rest of the way as North Carolina got the backdoor cover.

BYU was the only favorite to cover on the weekend (unless you got Wisconsin early), beating Tulane 70-35 as an 11-point favorite (the line opened at 12, so the house won this decision, too). Considering BYU's legacy, you would think they won with an aerial attack, but most of the damage was actually done on the ground. BYU rushed for 437 yards and seven touchdowns in coach Gary Crowton's first game replacing Lavell Edwards.

Yep, it was a weekend of surprises. And there are sure to be more to come.

NFL scoring picks up

The under in NFL preseason games was 25-8 heading into this weekend, but the market had a correction as the over was 8-6 heading into Monday night's Raiders-Cowboys game.

The trend toward underdogs (26-10-2 against the spread heading into the weekend) continued strong, as 10 of 14 dogs covered. Perhaps bettors are catching on. In five games in which the spread moved more than a point, bettors were on the right side of the move four times.

The Titans, who were bet from a 4 1/2- to a 6-point favorite in their game against the Eagles, were the only team to fail the bettors. And that result might have been different if Steve McNair hadn't lost control of the ball when it was looking like his team was going to take a 14-3 or at least a 10-3 halftime lead. Instead, the Eagles recovered and went the other way for a touchdown to give them a 10-7 lead. The Eagles went on to win 20-14 after that 10-point swing.

Woods rewards the patient

Golf fans who have been betting on Tiger Woods, waiting for him to break out of his relative slump, were finally able to cash a ticket Sunday.

Woods, who hadn't won since the Memorial Tournament in early June, was the 2-1 favorite to win this past weekend's NEC Invitational in Akron, Ohio, but it wasn't easy. Woods trailed Jim Furyk by two strokes heading into Sunday's final round and caught him to force a playoff. Just like the sweat-drenched players playing in high humidity, bettors holding tickets on Woods had to sweat through a seven-round playoff (the third longest in PGA history) before Woods finally prevailed.