11/27/2006 1:00AM

Ohio State solid choice on early line


LAS VEGAS - As usual, Sunday saw football lines being posted here for upcoming games. But the one that's sure to receive the most discussion is the game that's still more than five weeks away.

After USC's convincing 44-24 victory over Notre Dame on Saturday night and the official word that the Trojans had risen to No. 2 in the BCS standings, sports books started putting up odds on the anticipated Ohio State-USC matchup in the Jan.o5 title game in Glendale, Ariz. USC just has to beat rival UCLA - and the Trojans are favored by around 13 1/2 points - this Saturday to stamp their third straight ticket to the title game.

Actually, the MGM-Mirage has had a line up since the Wednesday before the Ohio State-Michigan game when it had odds on most of the potential matchups, including then-undefeated Rutgers. Robert Walker, MGM-Mirage's race and sports book director, said at that time he had Ohio State -6 vs. USC. As of Sunday and into Monday morning, Ohio State is now favored by 5 1/2.

"This is the game everyone - except fans of the other one-loss teams - wants to see," Walker said. "Part of the excitement is that these two storied programs haven't played this year. Ohio State-Michigan would probably be a good game again, but most people don't want to see a rematch."

The Hilton put up Ohio State -6 on Sunday morning, but that is also likely to be bet down as offshore books were at 5 as of Monday morning. Also, Chuck Esposito at Caesars Palace said the Harrah's/Caesars group was looking to put the line up at either 4 1/2 or 5, and Rich Baccellieri at the Palms said he was definitely going to make the line 4o1/2.

"Southern Cal is playing well and will be staying sharper longer while Ohio State will be off for nearly two months, about 55 days," Baccellieri said. "It's also being played out West, which should favor USC."

Opinions on the total are just as varied with the Hilton posting 51 points, MGM-Mirage at 52 1/2, and the Pinnacle offshore book as high as 53 1/2.

MGM-Mirage had the lowest money line on Ohio State at -200 with the Hilton offering the highest price on USC at +190, though that was bet down to +180 by Monday morning.

This week's opening line moves

Despite the shadow cast by Ohio State-USC, there were other college football games for early bettors to tackle on Sunday evening. The first college game that moved at the Stratosphere was USC being bet from -13 to 13 1/2 in its game vs. UCLA. Offshore books were dealing -14, and that's also what the MGM-Mirage put up. High-profile games were also in bettors' crosshairs as they took Wake Forest +3 vs. Georgia Tech in the ACC title game and Arkansas +3 vs. Florida in the SEC title game, both of which will be played Saturday.

There was much more movement on the NFL board. The Stratosphere opened the Bears -9 vs. the Vikings and the Hilton had it at 10, so those got bet toward each other. Both books opened the Rams -6 vs. the Cardinals and they both got bet to -7.

Last week at the Hilton, I bet the Chiefs -2 1/2 vs. the Browns, so I was happy to see the Strat open the game at -3 1/2 and the Hilton adjust to -4. Those then both got bet to -5.

Last week in those early lines at the Hilton, the Cowboys were listed as a 1-point favorite over the Giants in their key NFC East battle this Sunday. After the Cowboys' rout of the Buccaneers on Sunday and the Giants' fourth-quarter collapse vs. the Titans on Sunday, the Hilton adjusted that line to -3 1/2 and it still got bet to 4.

Kansas-Florida lives up to billing

Last Wednesday, I wrote about the crowd at the Manny Pacquiao-Erik Morales fight and how it was "the most enthusiastic crowd I had ever seen." At the time, I had no idea I would be blown away by another crowd just a week later.

The Las Vegas Invitational, a college basketball tournament, was held at the Orleans Arena this past weekend, with the marquee game Saturday night between defending national champion and No. 1-ranked Florida vs. Kansas. For the past month, I had heard that Kansas was supposed to be bringing a large contingent of fans, with some estimates as high as 5,000, but it didn't really sink in until I walked into the Orleans casino before the game.

It was a sea of blue shirts throughout the casino and concentrated in the sports book, as many were watching the USC-Notre Dame game before heading to the basketball arena. It was a peaceful crowd until some Florida fans started a chant of "Oral Roberts . . . Oral Roberts," a biting reference to Kansas's upset at the hands of the small religious private college just a week prior. But those chants were quickly drowned out by the Jayhawk fans' own cheers and jeers.

The cheering and taunting moved to the arena, which was sold out with an estimated 8,500 people in attendance for the game to be nationally televised on ESPN2. The 5,000 figure is probably very close to the number of people wearing Jayhawk colors, with more than 6,000 cheering for Kansas. Forget the "sea of blue" reference, it looked like a large aquarium with a few goldfish here and there representing the orange-clad Gator fans.

The frenzy was fed as Kansas jumped out to a 9-2 lead in the first two minutes before the first timeout called by Florida coach Billy Donovan. It was an unbelievable sight.

From there, the game was played with an intensity that seemed more like late March than late November. Florida fought back, and then every time that the defending champs seemed like they were going to take control, Kansas made the clutch baskets to regain the advantage. It looked like Kansas, a 6-point underdog, was going to hold on with a 70-66 lead with 16.9 seconds remaining and that it would go under the total of 146 1/2 points, but Florida's Corey Brewer made a layup and was inexplicably fouled on the play. He missed the free throw, but Brewer got the rebound and All-American Joakim Noah got a tip-in high above a crowd to tie it at 70-70 and force overtime.

But even with the extra session, Florida wasn't able to shake the upset-minded Jayhawks, who brought their loyal fans an 82-80 victory.