11/22/2001 1:00AM

Miami-Washington: Underdog Huskies to beat the spread

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LAS VEGAS - This Saturday I will look at a recent rivalry and two traditional battles.

Washington (+26) at Miami

These teams have met only twice (with Washington winning both times), but the series has all the makings of a rivalry. Last year, Miami lost at Washington early in the season, and the loss has stuck in the 'Canes' craw ever since, as evidenced by Miami QB Ken Dorsey's complaints of cheap shots in that game. The 'Canes missed out on the national championship game because of that one loss.

This rematch was originally scheduled for Sept. 15, so the coaching staffs this past week were looking at game films of the opponents for the second time. Familiarity should lead to a close game. I know that Miami is awesome and vying for the national championship, and it has the revenge factor, but Washington is no slouch and 26 points is a lot.

Even if Washington doesn't stay very close (which I certainly think can happen), there are many scenarios that make it likely Washington can beat the spread. For one, Miami needs only to keep winning to get the national title, and a two- or three-touchdown victory works as well as a rout. In addition, Miami has another big game against Virginia Tech next week and can't afford injuries to its starters. And finally, if the 'Canes do get up by 30, Washington QB Cody Pickett is certainly capable of getting the backdoor cover.

Play: Washington for 11 units

Michigan (-9) at Ohio State

I would normally look to the dog in this spot, especially with Michigan trying to wrap up the Big 10 title and a BCS bowl bid. But Ohio State is limping to the finish line, and the Steve Bellisari will-he-play-or-not situation isn't helping. The Buckeyes were manhandled by Illinois last week, and Michigan is better than Illinois on both sides of the ball. In addition, Michigan survived an upset scare last week at Wisconsin and should avoid a similar letdown at home.

Play: Michigan for 11 units

W. Virginia at Pittsburgh (-3 1/2)

Pitt is playing its best football of the season heading into its annual Backyard Brawl with West Virginia. Both team have lost to Miami, Notre Dame, Syracuse, and Boston College, and both have blown out Rutgers.

But two differences emerge: Pitt defeated Virginia Tech (ranked No. 12 at the time) and Temple - and West Virginia lost to both of them. In fact, West Virginia's only wins this year are against Ohio, Kent, and Rutgers. Those teams have a combined record of 8-22, and one of those wins was Kent beating Ohio. None of the trio's wins was against a team with a winning record. Pitt QB David Priestley has played well against better competition, and that should benefit him here as he tries to lead the Panthers to a minor bowl bid with wins in their last two games.

Play: Pitt for 11 units

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