09/10/2003 11:00PM

Orange OT win has one bettor red-faced


LAS VEGAS - "Don't count your chickens before they hatch."

"Hold all tickets until the race becomes official."

"Never assume."

We've been told these types of things our entire lives, but it's human nature to assume something will or won't happen. Our horse takes the lead at the top of the stretch and we already decide what we're going to do with our winnings. Our team falls (seemingly) hopelessly behind and we curse our bad luck and give up hope.

That's what happened to me last Saturday. I had Syracuse -1 1/2 vs. North Carolina (both in the Form and with real money). I was keeping tabs on my bets while watching other televised games. North Carolina took control early and grabbed a 27-14 lead by halftime. When I saw Syracuse trailing 34-24 with 10 minutes left in the game, I put the ticket with my other losers and marked it as a loss in my Racing Form and in some handicapping contests in which I used the play.

Syracuse ended up tying the game 34-34 and eventually won 49-47 in triple overtime. Somehow, in watching games the rest of the day, I never saw the score scroll by and didn't catch it on the ESPN highlights shows. And it didn't catch my eye when I was checking other scores on the Internet that night and in the Sunday morning paper.

In fact, I counted it as a loss in my weekly wrap-up in Thursday's editions, and it wasn't until fellow Las Vegas correspondent Richard Eng sent me a congratulatory e-mail on Wednesday night that I realized what had happened.

I had made a rookie mistake, but it sure beats the heck out of assuming a win and being proven otherwise. It's a good thing I save all my tickets.

This all reminds me of the Community Chest card in the classic Monopoly board game: "Bank error in your favor. Collect $200." Although in this case it's "Bankroll error in your favor. Collect 2.1 units." (That's the difference between going from thinking you lost 1.1 units to showing a 1-unit profit.

So, that actually raises my season record to 3-7 and a net loss of 4.7 units. Certainly nothing to brag about, but every little bit helps as I attempt to overcome a slow start.

A rule reminder

With Wisconsin playing UNLV this Saturday, it's appropriate to remind everyone about the 55-minute rule. A game doesn't become official for betting purposes until it passes inside five minutes remaining in regulation - a rule that caused all wagers to be canceled in a Wisconsin blowout at UNLV last season when a power outage caused the game to be cut short with the Badgers leading 27-7.

That's another reason never to assume a game is over until it's over.

Hawaii (+21) at Southern Cal

After Southern Cal blew out highly regarded Auburn 23-0 in the season opener, a lot of people were saying USC should be ranked No. 1. That performance, however, doesn't look quite so impressive after Auburn laid another egg vs. Georgia Tech in a 17-3 loss. Meanwhile, the Trojans showed some chinks in the armor in a 35-18 win over BYU that was closer than the final score indicates. After falling behind 21-0 in the first quarter, BYU actually outplayed Southern Cal most of the game, pulling within 21-18 midway through the fourth quarter before USC scored two late TD's. Hawaii is on the same level as BYU (in fact, it's the same 21-point spread), and they can cover the number, too. If USC had trouble slowing down BYU's passing attack, they'll have fits with Hawaii, which is getting quarterback Timmy Chang back from a one-game suspension. USC will also be without starting cornerback Kevin Arbet (broken foot). Hawaii is 7-3 as a road dog under coach June Jones, who has the team to exact revenge for a 62-7 loss to USC in his first game at Hawaii in 1999. The Warriors might fall short, but give me the three-TD head start.

PLAY: Hawaii for 1 unit.

North Carolina St. (+11 1/2) at Ohio St.

Ohio St. knows how to win games - there is no denying that. The defense knows how to bend but not break, and the offense does just enough to get the victories. They did it all last year in winning the national championship and did it last week when they escaped a major upset with a 16-13 win over San Diego St. as a 32-point favorite. North Carolina St. doesn't have that knack, losing 38-24 to Wake Forest and hurting its ACC and national championship hopes. But this is still a quality team, and they should be motivated to prove themselves against the No. 2 team in the country. The Wolfpack will be without injured T.A. McClendon (knee injury), but it wasn't likely they would be running over the Ohio St. defense anyway. The passing game of Philip Rivers (433 yards and three TDs last week), who could sneak back into the Heisman race with a big game here.

PLAY: North Carolina St. for 1 unit.

Oregon (-11 1/2) at Arizona

Oregon always matches up well vs. Arizona (winning eight of the last nine meetings and 7-2 against the spread), and this isn't the "Desert Swarm" of years past. The Wildcats' defensive line has been moving players in and out, and they were throttled 59-13 by LSU last week. Oregon has shown a solid running game and the quick-strike capability to get out to a big lead against Arizona, too. The Ducks jumped out to a 28-0 lead over Mississippi St. in the opener and 24-7 over Nevada last week. The only problem with Oregon has been letting other teams back into games (the final was 42-34 vs. Mississippi St. and 31-23 vs. Nevada), but Arizona's combination of inexperienced quarterbacks and receivers doesn't make a backdoor cover as likely. In fact, the Wildcats' fourth-quarter garbage-time TD's vs. LSU were on a 1-yard fumble return and an 11-yard run against the LSU reserves in a prevent defense.

PLAY: Oregon for 1 unit.

Last week: 2-2 for a net loss of 0.2 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1). Season record: 3-7 for a net loss of 4.7 units.