10/05/2005 11:00PM

NHL opening-night totals a bettor's dream


The window of opportunity for really profitable plays in sports betting usually isn't open too long.

One such opportunity knocked in 2001 during the one and only season of the XFL. I had been following the league closely, and oddsmakers in Las Vegas didn't put up totals on the opening weekend because of the uncertainty of how the games would be played, especially with some rules that were different than the NFL's (bump-and-run allowed for defensive backs, no fair catches).

Totals were put up for the second week, but the TV networks complained that games were running too long and the league adopted a rule to start the clock after the ball was spotted after incomplete passes. When oddsmakers didn't adjust, sharp bettors jumped in on the under and in the first two weeks of the new rule change, all eight games went under. I went 5-0 with totals bets in the pages of Daily Racing Form and also bet the other games and even parlayed some of them.

These opportunities pop up from time to time, and I missed out on one Wednesday.

The NHL opened its season with 15 games after a one-season hiatus and with a revamping of its rules to create more scoring (two-line passes allowed, smaller goalie pads, shootouts to break all ties). Oddsmakers adjusted totals upward, with totals typically at 5 1/2 or 6 goals, whereas in the past they would be between 4 1/2 and 5 1/2. While not as extreme as the XFL scenario, there was money to be made with no handicapping at all as 9 of the 15 games (60 percent) went over the total.

The feeling here is that the oddsmakers caught a break that it wasn't more lopsided, as all but two games had at least four goals scored. Maybe it was a one-day aberration, but when lines came out for Thursday's three games, all had totals of 6, and I would expect that to be the norm. Over bettors will be cheering for a lot of games to be tied 3-3 at the end of regulation.

So, the lesson to be learned is to keep an eye out for these windows of opportunity and jump through them before the oddsmakers slam the window shut. The question now is if the teams will adjust to the new rules and perhaps make changes on defense that could make the totals too high. It'll be an interesting thing to watch, especially on Saturday with 12 games scheduled.

Now to change the focus to the college football board.

Oklahoma (+14) vs. Texas (at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas)

If this were merely a case of analyzing the talent of these two teams and how they have performed this season, no one in his right mind would think of taking Oklahoma. Texas has dominated most of its games so far this year in going 4-0 and has been widely lauded as getting over the "big-game jinx" by beating Ohio St. in Columbus. Meanwhile, Oklahoma is 2-2, looking terrible in losses to TCU and UCLA and barely getting by Tulsa to drop out of the rankings for the first time since 1999. Now, everyone can tell that Texas is clearly the superior team, but the fact is that all that has been factored into the line. Last week, the Sooners served noticed that they shouldn't be buried yet with a 43-21 blowout of a decent Kansas St. team. Sure, stud running back Adrian Peterson might not be able to play with an ankle injury, but his backup, Kejuan Jones, is certainly capable; he scored two touchdowns last week and had the only TD in last year's win over Texas. On the other side of the ball, Texas quarterback Vince Young has been outstanding and is in the midst of the Heisman Trophy race, but I have to think Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops (whom I give a huge edge over Texas coach Mack Brown) will have a defensive game plan tailored to making Young beat his team through the air. For all his athletic skill, Young has five interceptions to go with seven touchdown passes, so like most run-first, pass-second QB's, he can be forced into poor decisions. Besides, this is still the Red River Shootout and it has been the annual big game that the Longhorns have blown the last five years, three of which when they were favored. This remains the obstacle they must hurdle, and I think the Sooners can make them stumble. Two touchdowns is too high a spread to pass up.

PLAY: Oklahoma for 1 unit.

Georgia at Tennessee (-3)

Tennessee came into the season with high expectations, some people saying the Volunteers had as much talent as USC. The Vols stumbled out of the gate with a non-covering win against Alabama-Birmingham and a loss to Florida, but now this team is greatly improved since quarterback Rick Clausen came off the bench when the team was trailing 24-0 two weeks ago at LSU. He rallied the Volunteers to a 30-27 victory. They then coasted in their win last week against Mississippi in a game that could be viewed as a prep race for this stakes matchup. Georgia is undefeated after defeating Mississippi St. last week, but the truth is that the Bulldogs haven't been tested yet this year, and this is a step up in class. While Tennessee was playing LSU, Georgia was playing Louisiana-Monroe. I'll take the more talented and battle-tested team.

PLAY: Tennessee for 1 unit.

Ohio St. at Penn St. (+3 1/2)

Ohio St. has certainly been tested, with the aforementioned loss to Texas, a game the Buckeyes very well could have won. But they haven't had to go on the road, where they have had trouble in recent years, going 3-7 against the spread over the past three seasons. Ohio St. again relies on the run, but Penn St. showed last week that it can hold the line, allowing a potent Minnesota running game only 113 yards. The Nittany Lions are playing inspired football for coach Joe Paterno, and the home field is certainly a factor. This should be a low-scoring, three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust type of Big 10 battle, so getting a field goal head start is huge.

PLAY: Penn St. for 1 unit.

Last week: 0-4 for a net loss of 4.4 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1). Season record: 8-8 for a net loss of 0.8 units.