09/01/2004 11:00PM

Props spice up the action


LAS VEGAS - College football is the focus of the sports-betting world this holiday weekend.

The party started with five games on the betting boards Thursday and another on Friday night. There were 35 games Saturday, and then another five on Sunday and three more slated for Monday. Even the NFL was nice enough to complete its final week of preseason games by Friday so that college football could have the spotlight Saturday.

College football bettors are making their final decisions on season over/under bets (I'm already on record taking Florida St. and Miami-Fla. under 9 1/2 wins, and Georgia over 9), but if you're really looking for a handicapping challenge with futures bets, you might want to check out the Stratosphere sports book or its sister properties at Arizona Charlie's East (Boulder Highway) and West (Decatur Boulevard).

Like most other books in Vegas, they have the odds to win the BCS title game and college over/unders, but they've also gone a step further with proposition wagers in which you bet a college team's number of wins vs. an NFL team's wins.

"These are fun bets that people can follow all year," said Robert Jaynes, race and sports book director at the Stratosphere. "It just adds another dimension with mixing the colleges and pros."

The first thing to consider is that NFL teams play 16 games, whereas college teams play 11 (with the exception of Southern Cal, Virginia Tech, and Hawaii, who play 12). In most cases, you have to lay a game or two with the NFL team, but for the most part the matchups are pretty even because the top college programs are expected to win at least eight, and most of the NFL over/unders usually fall between seven and nine.

Most of the matchups put together by Jaynes and his staff are done regionally. For instance, the Baltimore Ravens are -2 vs. the Maryland Terrapins, the Tennessee Titans are -1 1/2 games vs. the Tennessee Volunteers, the Washington Redskins are -1 vs. Virginia Tech, the Texas Longhorns are -1/2 vs. the Dallas Cowboys, the Cleveland Browns are -1 vs. the Ohio St. Buckeyes, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are -1/2 vs. the Bears, the St. Louis Rams are -1 vs. the Kansas St. Wildcats, and the Seattle Seahawks are -2 vs. the Washington St. Cougars.

The state of Florida has the most matchups. Florida St. and Miami-Fla. are both half-game favorites over the Dolphins, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are -1 vs. the Florida Gators, and Jaynes opened the Dolphins -1 1/2 vs. the Gators, though that line has been lowered to -1.

"When Ricky Williams announced his retirement, we had a bunch of guys come in here to bet against the Dolphins," Jaynes said. "The limits are low [$1,000] so we don't mind taking a few hits. We usually adjust the price on each side instead of changing the number."

For instance, the Florida St. -1/2 vs. the Dolphins opened at -110 on the Seminoles and -120 on the Dolphins, representing the 30-cent vigorish. The flood of money has now made it -165 on Florida St. with +135 available on the Dolphins plus the half-game.

But it's not just regional matches that are available. The favorites to win the respective college and pro titles are tied together with Southern Cal -1/2 vs. the New England Patriots. The Patriots are -1 1/2 vs. the LSU Tigers.

All this football talk is really getting my juices flowing, so let's get to my first selections of the 2004 football season. Again, to reflect the most accurate way of tracking my selections in the real world of 10-percent vig (if you get reduced juice with your bets, more power to you), I'll be laying 1.1 units to win 1.

Cincinnati (+15) at Ohio St.

The Buckeyes have been a great bet-against team the last few years, with a strong defense that keeps their games close and an offense that does just enough to win. Last year, they were 4-8 against the spread (5-8 if you count their bowl victory over Kansas St.), and in five of those games they won outright but failed to cover.

This is just too many points to be laying for a team that only returns nine starters and is taking on an in-state rival. Other factors in Cincinnati's favor are that they nearly knocked off Ohio St. two years ago in the Buckeyes' national championship season; quarterback Gino Guidugli, who nearly pulled that upset, is back for his senior season along with eight other starters; and Mark Dantonio is the Bearcats' new coach. For those who don't know, Dantonio used to be the defensive coordinator at Ohio St., so he knows his first opponent inside and out.

This line opened at Ohio St. -17 and has been bet down, but I still feel comfortable recommending it at anything over two touchdowns.

PLAY: Cincinnati for 1 unit.

Oregon St. (+18 1/2) at LSU

This is another big underdog, and there are many similarities to when Virginia Tech was +17 1/2 last week vs. Southern Cal. LSU shared the national championship with Southern Cal last season, so that's part of the reason for the big point spread. But just like Virginia Tech, Oregon St. is a quality program that isn't going to roll over just because they're playing a big-time opponent.

LSU lost a lot of key players from its championship team, so they could take a while to jell. Oregon St. has the edge at quarterback with Derek Anderson, assuming he plays more consistently and limits his turnovers as a senior.

Just like USC, which finally pulled away to beat Virginia Tech last week, LSU might win the game, but Oregon St. should be close well into the second half.

PLAY: Oregon St. for 1 unit.

Miami-Fla. vs. Florida St. suspended

My third selection of the weekend was going to be Miami-Fla. -1 1/ 2 vs. Florida St. on Monday night, but it was announced Thursday that the game was being suspended because of Hurricane Frances and would be played next Friday.

If you've already bet this game, keep in mind that you'll have to get a refund of your ticket and re-bet it for next Friday. I'll save a more detailed analysis for next weekend, but suffice it to say that I'll be looking for the lowest possible number when the game is put back on the board.