08/26/2009 11:00PM

Oddsmakers back Gators to repeat

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LAS VEGAS - Florida is the defending BCS national champion and appears poised for a repeat.

The Gators return 17 starters, including quarterback Tim Tebow, and even though they lost three starters on the offensive line, injuries gave their replacements plenty of playing time last year.

So, it's no surprise that Florida tops everyone's preseason polls: AP Writers' Poll, ESPN/USA Today Coaches' Poll, Harris Poll, Gallup Poll (if they do one). It became unanimous when the Las Vegas Sports Consultants Oddsmakers' Top 30, which can often differ from the mainstream polls as well as public opinion, was released Wednesday with the Gators at No. 1.

While other polls show how many voters picked each team and compile points based on the votes, the Oddsmakers' poll has other points in mind: the point spread. Teams are given a power rating from the LVSC staff and it is used to show teams' relative strength. It's not uncommon as the season goes on that a team that might suffer a few losses (especially in the power conferences) will still be ranked well ahead of undefeated teams because the oddsmakers feel they would still be favored over those teams on a neutral field. We see those apparent discrepancies in the other polls as well, but it's more pronounced in the Oddsmakers' poll.

Florida has been given a preseason power rating of 121.4, with No. 2 Oklahoma, led by last year's Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford (Tebow won it in 2007), at 118.4, so that shows you that the LVSC staff feels Florida would be a 3-point favorite if those two teams were to meet on a neutral field. Florida would be about -3 1/2 vs. No. 3 Southern Cal (117.8) and No. 4 Texas (117.7), but then there's a jump to -9 vs. Ohio State (112.2).

LVSC has Florida as the 2-1 favorite to win the BCS title game, which this season will be held at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., on Jan. 7, 2010. As you would expect, Oklahoma is LVSC's second choice at 9-2, with Texas at 11-2, Southern Cal at 6-1 and Ohio State at 12-1. Those are the odds that LVSC sends out to its sports book clients. The books sometimes tweak the odds on their own, but ultimately the bettors in the marketplace pound the odds into place. Earlier this year, the Las Vegas Hilton had Florida at 5-2, Oklahoma at 5-1, and Texas at 6-1, but over the summer the public has voted with its money and while Florida has been bet down to 2-1, Texas is now the second choice at 4-1, with Oklahoma at 6-1, USC at 7-1, and Ohio State at 12-1.

Ultimately, the debate between Texas and Oklahoma will be settled on the field in their annual Big 12 meeting in Dallas. It takes place this year on Saturday, Oct. 17. The Hilton has Texas as a 1-point favorite. When the Golden Nugget put up the first line on the game back in June, it made Texas -3.

The other major clash between the top title contenders comes in just the second week of the season, Saturday, Sept. 12, when USC visits Ohio State. The Hilton has the Trojans -3.

Florida's biggest challenge (and they're not expected to face much as their over/under season win total is 11, meaning they have to go 12-0 for you to cash a bet on the over) is believed to be Oct. 10, when they travel to LSU. The Hilton has Florida as 8 1/2-point road favorites. They'll likely be laying double digits in every other game this year.

The over/under season win totals for the other top teams are also high: Texas (10 1/2), Oklahoma (10), USC (10) and Ohio State (9 1/2). One of the points made at the VegasInsider.com Football Seminar at the Red Rock Resort here in Vegas last weekend was that even though these teams all play 12 games, their seasons really come down to two or three key games. It's extremely unlikely that any of these powerhouses will go 6-6 or even 8-4.

* For those in town, the Leroy's College Challenge kicks off a week earlier this year, starting with the games of Saturday, Sept. 5. The entry fee is $250, with a limit of five per person. Contestants picks seven games against the spread each week. The deadline to sign up and put in the opening week's plays is 5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 4.

* A federal court of appeals ruled Monday that Delaware will not be allowed to go ahead with its plan to offer single-game wagering or bets on anything other than NFL parlays, which the state offered back in 1976. That means college football wagering will not be allowed in the state this season.

* My pick from the over/under season win totals is Oklahoma State over 9 (with a plus-price of +130 on the over; the Hilton has the under 9 at -150). They need to win 10 to get the over, but I still get the push on 9-3 and I don't see them going 8-4. Oklahoma State might also be worth a flier at 40-1 to win the BCS title game. The Cowboys' main obstacles are Oct. 31 when they host Texas (the Hilton has them as just 4-point home underdogs) and Nov. 28 at Oklahoma (they're currently listed as 11 1/2-point dogs, but that likely would be lower if they're still undefeated).