12/22/2005 12:00AM

NCAA Analysis: Picking spots the key

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LAS VEGAS - It's certainly tempting, with most bowls getting their own TV airtime, to bet each game just because it's on TV and the only game at the time, but the key is isolating situations throughout the bowl season when you really feel you have the best of it.

Well, I did misfire with my first bowl play Wednesday with UTEP +3 vs. Toledo as the Rockets won 45-13, but hopefully I fare better over the next week with these four plays which include three short favorites and one big underdog.

Poinsettia Bowl (Thursday)
Navy (-2 1/2) vs. Colorado St.

This game opened at pick-em, but there's still betting value at anything less than a field goal. Navy led the nation in rushing offense at 306 yards per game, while Colorado St. was 104th against the rush at 201 yards per game and gave up 4.6 yards per rushing play. That should be enough to give the victory to Navy, especially as Colorado St. hasn't done much on offense to keep up. In addition, with the bases around San Diego, the crowd should be in favor of the Midshipmen as the naval academy has sold out its allotment of 20,000 tickets. I can't see Colorado St. getting much support.

PLAY: Navy for 1 unit.

Fort Worth Bowl (Friday)
Kansas (-3) vs. Houston

Both teams had to win their final games to barely became bowl-eligible at 6-5. Even though the Big 12 was down from recent years, I still think Kansas is stepping down in class a little bit, especially after upsetting a solid Iowa St. team - which is playing in the Houston Bowl, ironically enough, on Dec. 31. Kansas has the far better defense and should be able to shut down or at least contain Houston's offense. Houston is more of a running team (averaging 179 yards per game) but that's the strength of Kansas's defense (allowing just 88 yards per contest). Houston has also had success passing the ball, but that should be minimized if the Cougars aren't able to establish the run and keep Nick Reid, the Big 12 defensive player of the year, and Charlton Keith (a school record 21 tackles for loss) out of the backfield. Kansas doesn't have much of an offense, but Houston isn't anything to write home about on defense so the Jayhawks should be able to score enough to win and cover.

PLAY: Kansas for 1 unit.

Hawaii Bowl (Saturday)
Nevada (-2 1/2) vs. Central Florida

Nevada has had a great season with the big blemish on its record being a 49-14 loss at Boise St., but Nevada certainly made up for that with its upset of Fresno St. The Wolf Pack has the edge on both sides of the ball with Jeff Rowe throwing and B.J. Mitchell running on offense and the defense getting the return of its best defensive back, Nick Hawthorne. Even though the weather might be closer to what Central Florida is used to as opposed to Nevada (in the northern part of the state), the Wolf Pack is used to this trip the the islands and shouldn't be as in awe of the atmosphere, especially as this is CFU's first bowl game ever.

PLAY: Nevada for 1 unit.

Insight Bowl (Tuesday)
Rutgers (+11) vs. Arizona St.

Arizona St. has the better overall talent, but the Sun Devils weren't the same team down the stretch after failing to know off Southern Cal and there is a big question about whether they'll really be inspired to play this game after having much higher expectations this season. For that reason, I think Rutgers can at least stay within the number. The Scarlet Knights rebounded from back-to-back losses to bowl-bound teams South Florida and Louisville to close the regular season on a strong note with a 44-9 drubbing of Cincinnati. In cases like this, I'll take the motivated dog over the complacent favorite.

PLAY: Rutgers for 1 unit.

COLLEGE BOWL GAMES

DATEBOWLGAMEPICK
Dec. 20New Orleans Arkansas St vs. Southern Miss (-17) Arkansas St.
Dec. 21GMACUTEP vs. Toledo (-3) UTEP
Dec. 22Las VegasBYU vs. California (-7) BYU
Dec. 22Poinsettia Navy (-3) vs. Colorado St. Navy
Dec. 23Fort WorthHouston vs. Kansas (-3) Kansas
Dec. 24Hawaii Nevada (-2.5) vs. Central Florida Nevada
Dec. 26Motor CityMemphis (-5.5) vs. Akron Memphis
Dec. 27Champ SportsColorado vs. Clemson (-7) Clemson
Dec. 27 Insight Rutgers vs. Arizona St. (-11.5) Rutgers
Dec. 28Alamo Nebraska vs. Michigan (-11.5) Nebraska
Dec. 28MPC ComputersBoston College (-1) vs. Boise St Boise St.
Dec. 29Emerald Utah vs. Georgia Tech (-8) Georgia Tech
Dec. 29HolidayOklahoma vs. Oregon (-3) Oregon
Dec. 30Music CityVirginia vs. Minnesota (-3) Minnesota
Dec. 30SunNorthwestern vs. UCLA (-3) Northwestern
Dec. 30IndependenceMissouri vs. South Carolina (-3.5) Missouri
Dec. 30Peach LSU vs. Miami-Fla. (-3) LSU
Dec. 31Meineke Car Care South Florida vs. NC St. (-5.5) South Florida
Dec. 31Liberty Tulsa vs. Fresno St. (-7) Fresno St.
Dec. 31Houston Iowa St. vs. TCU (-4) TCU
Jan. 2 Cotton Alabama vs. Texas Tech (-2.5) Texas Tech
Jan. 2Outback Iowa vs. Florida (-3) Iowa
Jan. 2 Gator Louisville vs. Virginia Tech (-7.5) Virginia Tech
Jan. 2 Capital One Wisconsin vs. Auburn (-11) Auburn
Jan. 2 Fiesta Notre Dame vs. Ohio St. (-4) Notre Dame
Jan. 2 Sugar West Virginia vs. Georgia (-7.5) West Virginia
Jan. 3 Orange Florida St. vs. Penn St. (-8) Penn St.
Jan. 4 Rose Texas vs. USC (-7) USC