11/24/2005 12:00AM

Oklahoma St. can cover big spread

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LAS VEGAS - You know how sometimes you think you have a horse racing card all figured out and then go zero for the day? Or, you think a card is really difficult and end up having a banner day?

The same thing happens with sports betting. There are some days when the plays look waaaay too easy and then days like this Saturday when I didn't like anything at first glance.

But a funny thing happened when going over the games a second time - I started falling in love with a lot of plays. The question now becomes if I came upon these plays after really digging deeper and solving the puzzles, or if I only started finding plays out of fear of being unable to fill this column.

Oklahoma St. (+19 1/2) at Oklahoma

Oklahoma is clearly one of the biggest underachieving teams in the nation this year, opening the year ranked in the top 10 and now sitting at 6-4. The Sooners have been playing better of late, having won four in a row before last week's controversial 23-21 loss to Texas Tech, but I don't see why they're favored by nearly three touchdowns in this bitter rivalry, at least not this year. Oklahoma State has had a rough year itself, but the highlight was a 24-17 upset of Texas Tech. That common result alone tells me this line should be a lot lower. Throw in the fact the Cowboys have covered 4 of the last 5 and 5 of the last 7 games in this series - all against better teams than the Sooners now have - and I have to take the points.

PLAY: Oklahoma State for 1 unit.

Mississippi at Mississippi St. (+3)

In this annual Egg Bowl rivalry, both teams have decent defenses (Mississippi allows just 21 points per game, while Mississippi State gives up 24.5) and pretty much non-existent offenses (Ole Miss averages 13 points and State averages 12). As a result, they are 6-3 and 7-2, respectively, with the under, and this game has a total of 36 1/2, easily the lowest college total of the weekend. Getting a field goal with the home team in a pretty much even matchup that figures to be very low scoring is too much to pass up.

PLAY: Mississippi State for 1 unit.

Georgia at Georgia Tech (+3 1/2)

Both these teams have had good but not great years, though Georgia has wrapped up a spot in the SEC title game while Tech is coming off a 14-10 win at Miami-Fla. to ruin the Hurricanes' BCS title hopes. That helped put a positive spin on the Yellow Jackets' season and now they can really make it a great year with a win over their in-state rival. In what should be another defensive battle, I will again take the home dog.

PLAY: Georgia Tech for 1 unit.

UTEP (-7) at SMU

Coach Mike Price has turned around the UTEP program in a hurry and has the Miners bowl-bound for the second straight year with an 8-2 record. They are the much better team here and it's really surprising the line isn't higher. SMU has had only 14 sacks as a team this year, so UTEP quarterback Jordan Palmer - younger brother of Heisman winner Carson Palmer - should have all the time he needs to pick apart the defense. The Mustangs don't have the, er, horses to keep up in what should be a rout.

PLAY: UTEP for 1 unit.

Arkansas St. (-2 1/2) at North Texas

If you thought that game is off the beaten path, how about this one? North Texas usually gets a lot of attention at this time of year as the four-time defending Sun Belt champions who usually play the year's first bowl game, but the Mean Green is not the same team this year at 2-8, including 0-4 at home. Arkansas State, led by tailback Antonio Warren, is averaging 196 yards per game on the ground and is facing a North Texas defense that gives up 212 rushing yards per game. That should be the difference.

PLAY: Arkansas State for 1 unit.

Fresno St. at Nevada (+15)

Going against Fresno State, which almost upset No. 1 USC last week? Yep. The Bulldogs are having a great season and gave the Trojans all they could handle, but I definitely see them having a letdown playing at Nevada this Saturday. How could they possibly get up as much for this game? But they better. Nevada obviously doesn't have the offensive firepower of USC, but quarterback Jeff Rowe and running back B.J. Mitchell should be able to have some success against a defense that has to be a little beat up. Last week I lost with a play on Nevada as the Wolf Pack beat Utah State just 30-24 as 9-point favorites and that's kind of how I see this game. Fresno might still win this game, but it will probably be content with a one- or two-touchdown victory, which will get the money for Nevada backers.

PLAY: Nevada for 1 unit.

Last week: 2-3, including a 2-unit win with Vanderbilt +12 vs. Tennessee as the Commodores pulled the outright upset, for a net loss of 0.3 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1). College season record: 24-24 for a net loss of 1.4 units.