10/18/2005 12:00AM

For oddsmakers, .500 a winning record


LAS VEGAS - Before the season, many people were talking about how USC was one of the best college football teams of all time.

Oddsmakers struggled over how high to set the lines in the Trojans' games; many bettors seemed to feel that no number was too high. In the first three games of the season, USC did nothing to dispel those thoughts. In the season opener, the Trojans were made 35-point favorites over Hawaii and romped 63-17. Then they were 31-point favorites over Arkansas and won 70-17. Then they were 21-point favorites over Oregon and, despite showing a chink in their armor by falling behind 13-0 early in the second quarter, still won easily, 45-13. Three games as favorites of three touchdowns or more, and three easy point-spread covers. Of course, if any team could be expected to cover that much wood, it was the Trojans.

Ken White of Las Vegas Sports Consultants said he would continue to overprice USC until the vaunted team stopped covering. And it worked. Three weeks ago, USC was a 14 1/2-point favorite at Arizona St. and won 38-28 but did not cover. Two weeks ago, the Trojans were favored by 37 over Arizona and easily won 42-21, but again did not cover. And last Saturday, they were 12-point favorites at Notre Dame, won 34-31 (barely), and again did not cover.

It just goes to show how hard it is for a team, no matter how great, to continue to cover the spread week after week. The oddsmakers strive to level the playing field so they can get every team around the .500 mark vs. the spread to make it as hard as possible on bettors.

While USC is 6-0 on the field, it is only 3-3 against the spread. This isn't to say that oddsmakers are able to do this all the time. In fact, you don't have to look any further than No. 2 Texas to find a team that the oddsmakers still haven't been able to catch up with.

The Longhorns are 6-0 both straight up and against the spread this season. Last Saturday, the Longhorns beat Colorado 42-17 as a 15 1/2-point favorite (and they even covered the opening number, which was as high as 19 1/2). In addition, Texas is 6-0 with the over. Don't you wish you had been betting two-team parlays with Texas/over every week this season? This week, Texas is a 16-point favorite over Texas Tech with a total of 70 1/2 (oddsmakers also try to end hot streaks on totals).

If you had thought about it long enough, you probably could have guessed that Texas was unbeaten against the spread, but has any other team gone unbeaten against the spread? Indiana is 3-0-2. Other top performers, at 5-1, include Wisconsin (actually 5-1-1), Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, Oregon, and East Carolina.

On the other hand, there are teams on the losing end of the ledger that oddsmakers haven't been able to catch up with. Utah, coming off its unbeaten season, is 0-7 against the spread. Other poor-performing squads are Duke (0-6), Purdue (0-5-1), Rice (0-5), Ohio (1-5), Tennessee (1-4), and Boise St. (1-3-1).

Who's hot, who's not in the NFL

Moving to the professional ranks, the Bengals and Jaguars, two teams that pushed two weeks ago, both covered again and share the league's top spread record at 4-1-1, along with the Lions at 4-1. The Giants are 3-1-1 after pushing at Dallas on Sunday. The Colts, the league's lone remaining undefeated team, are 4-2 against the spread after rallying from a 17-point deficit vs. the Rams on Monday night to win 45-28 as a 13 1/2-point favorite. The Seahawks are also 4-2.

The Rams, meanwhile, dropped to a league-worst 1-5 against the spread. The Cardinals, who were on a bye last week, are 1-4, along with the Vikings and Texans.

* In totals wagering, the Patriots improved to 5-0-1 with the over. The Seahawks and Rams are both 5-1 and their NFC counterparts, the Cardinals and 49ers, were both on byes last week and stand at 4-1 with the over. The most appealing over play of the week would be the Cardinals-Titans with a total of 45. The Titans are 4-2 with the over.

* There are no more unbeaten teams with the under as the Colts and Buccaneers both went over in their games this past weekend. They're now both 5-1 with the under. The Vikings, Bears, Browns, Ravens, and Raiders are all 4-1. Last week, both games with top under teams (Vikings-Bears and Ravens-Browns) went under. This week, the Bears host the Ravens in a game with the very low total of 31 points.

* The conflicting game of the week is the Cowboys-Seahawks with a total of 45. The Seahawks are 4-1 with the over while the Cowboys are 4-2 with the under.

League-wide betting trends

Home teams were favored in 10 of the 14 games last weekend, and their record was 8-1-1 against the spread. Road favorites went 2-2, making the week's favorites 10-3-1 overall, skewing season-long results that were fairly even heading into last weekend. Home teams are now 48-36-3 (57 percent) and favorites, which were exactly .500 at 36-36-2, are now 46-39-3 (54 percent).

* After going 0-2 last week, underdogs of 7 points or more are still 10-7 (59 percent) against the spread. This week, the big spreads are the Texans +16 vs. the Colts, 49ers +11 vs. the Redskins and Jets +7 1/2 vs. the Falcons. With the Rams losing 45-28 as a 13 1/2-point underdog Monday night to the Colts, double-digit dogs have dropped to 2-3. An interesting aside: no underdog of 7 1/2 points or higher has pulled off an outright upset yet this season.

* Home dogs went 2-2 to drop to 13-11 (54 percent) on the year. The Texans are the lone home dog this week - that is, unless the line for the Dolphins-Chiefs game, currently the Dolphins -1, goes back to the Chiefs being favored, or the Packers-Vikings game at pick-em ends up with Green Bay favored.

* AFC teams went 2-1 against the spread in interleague play and now hold a 15-9 (63 percent) edge. This week, there are six interleague games. If you think the AFC's dominance will continue, the plays are: Chargers +4 vs. the Eagles, Browns-2 1/2 vs. the Lions, Ravens +1 vs. the Bears, Titans +3 vs. Cardinals, Broncos +2 vs. the Giants and Jets +7 1/2 vs. the Falcons.