12/24/2002 12:00AM

Oklahoma State and Nebraska simply outclass bowl foes

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LAS VEGAS - The best team playing in Friday's three bowl games is Kansas St., which is taking on Arizona St. in the San Diego-based Holiday Bowl in the nightcap for TV viewers.

Unfortunately, there is no line value in the game as Kansas St. has been bet from an opening number of -15 1/2 up to -18 at some books as of Tuesday morning. The total opened at 56 1/2 and has steamed all the way up to 62 1/2.

I've looked to see if I could come up with a case for ASU or the under, but I cannot, and in this case it's more prudent not to play than to lay a bad number, so I'll pass. Here's the other two Friday games:

Houston Bowl

Oklahoma St. (-7) vs. S. Mississippi

This is a class mismatch, which you can often find in early bowl games. Southern Mississippi was 0-4 against the spread versus bowl teams this season. All of those bowl teams were from Conference USA, which is already 0-2 in bowl games - Cincinnati and Louisville being dominated, by North Texas and Marshall, respectively. Oklahoma St., on the other hand, was 3-3 against the spread versus much tougher competition in the Big 12, including upset wins over Nebraska and Oklahoma and a narrow 17-15 loss at Texas. Southern Miss was 98th in the country in total offense, and will be without its leading rusher, Derrick Nix. Oklahoma State's offense is ranked 27th in the nation - and I can't stress this enough - it faced much tougher opponents. Oklahoma State also has the best weapon on the field in receiver Rashaun Woods.

PLAY: Oklahoma St. for 2 units.

Independence Bowl

Nebraska (-6 1/2) vs. Mississippi

Nebraska, another Big 12 team, should roll in the afternoon game. Despite its disappointing season, Nebraska ranked fourth in the nation in rushing offense at 268.9 yards per game. QB Jamal Lord is more of a threat with his legs than his arm, but that shouldn't matter as Mississippi ranks 53rd in the nation against the run. Ole Miss QB Eli Manning makes bad decisions (15 interceptions), which should help Nebraska stay ahead by more than a touchdown.

PLAY: Nebraska for 1 unit.

Bowl record: 2-0 for a profit of 3 units (through Monday's Tangerine Bowl).

Season record: 30-30 for net loss of 2.2 units.