12/27/2006 12:00AM

Six live underdogs go bowl-ing

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LAS VEGAS - This column was going to be about all the New Year's Eve festivities in Las Vegas this weekend, and the big Ultimate Fighting Championship fight between Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz on Saturday night at Mandalay Bay. But if you don't already have tickets to the sold-out fight, prepare to fork over a couple hundred bucks to a scalper, and if you don't have a room for New Year's, you could be out of luck. And if you do find one, expect to be gouged for several hundred dollars there, too.

A better place to find details on New Year's Eve parties would be at www.vegas.com. And a better use of this space would be to go over some bowl games in the coming week.

Houston (+6) vs. South Carolina

Liberty Bowl, Dec. 29

This game, which opened at 7 1/2, has lost a little line value since I recommended it in the Dec. 16 issue, but since I listed Houston as a money-line play to win straight up, I still think it's worth taking the points. This is a minor bowl for an SEC team like South Carolina, and Houston should be much more motivated. Plus, Houston's offense should have too many weapons - quarterback Kevin Kolb and a trio of talented receivers in Vincent Marshall, Donnie Avery, and Jeron Harvey, plus Anthony Alridge and Jackie Battle hitting the holes that open up for the running game. I simply do not see the Gamecocks' inconsistent offense keeping up.

PLAY: Houston for 1 unit.

Purdue (pick-em) vs. Maryland

Champs Sports Bowl, Dec. 29

Here's another game in which I hope people bet it two weeks ago, when the line was Purdue +3. The money has steamed on Purdue, and I can see why. Purdue, the No. 6 passing team in the country, clearly has the better offense while neither defense is much to write home about, so Purdue should get its points while the Maryland offense isn't potent enough to expose the defense of the Boilermakers.

PLAY: Purdue for 1 unit.

Navy (+6) vs. Boston College

Meineke Bowl, Dec. 30

Boston College is the more talented team, but again money has shown for the underdog as this line is down from 7. Navy is the No. 1 rushing team in the country and will keep pounding away at a BC defense that doesn't back down. Navy has been a surprise this year, allowing under 20 points per game, and if the offense can again control the clock, the Middies can pull off the upset.

PLAY: Navy for 1 unit.

Iowa (+9 1/2) vs. Texas

Alamo Bowl, Dec. 30

This line opened Texas -11 and came down when it looked like quarterback Colt McCoy might be out with a pinched nerve in his neck. The line has stayed under double digits even after McCoy was cleared to play. Iowa was a huge disappointment this year, but I think the Hawkeyes catch Texas in a bad spot. The Longhorns, despite playing this game in their home state, have to be disappointed in not playing in a much bigger bowl a season after their national championship season. The key will be if Iowa can take the crowd out of it early, so a first-half bet of Iowa +6 (available as of Wednesday at the Stratosphere and Leroy's books) might actually be the stronger play, if you can get it.

PLAY: Iowa for 1 unit.

Nevada (+3 1/2) vs. Miami-Fla.

MPC Computers Bowl, Dec. 31

This line has pretty much stayed right around 3 1/2, and I still like the play. Nevada plays much more like a team while Miami-Fla. is a collection of individuals. This bowl is also being played on the blue turf at Boise St., where Nevada is used to playing and where Miami-Fla. will probably be bored out of their skulls in Boise.

PLAY: Nevada for 1 unit.

Penn St. (+4) vs. Tennessee

Outback Bowl, Jan. 1

This line is down from 4 1/2 to about where it opened. Both teams must be referred to as middle tier in the top two conferences, and many TV viewers might tune in to see perhaps how Ohio St. and Florida will measure up against each other in the BCS title game. Why? Because Penn St. was rolled 26-8 by Ohio St. earlier this season, and Tennessee lost 21-20 to Florida. I'll tip my hand in favor of Ohio St. by excusing Penn St. for its lopsided loss. The Nittany Lions have a good-enough defense, ranked No. 16 in the nation, to contain the Vols, and the Tennessee defense is ranked only 50th, which is bad for an SEC team. So Penn St. should be able to sustain some drives as long as quarterback Anthony Morelli protects the ball.

PLAY: Penn St. for 1 unit.

Georgia Tech (+10 1/2) vs. West Va.

Gator Bowl, Jan. 1

This is the lone game in which I'm getting a better line now than two weeks ago, when Georgia Tech was just +7. The reason is that Georgia Tech quarterback Reggie Ball was declared academically ineligible, so oddsmakers adjusted the line. However, I like the play even more now because I don't think Ball is worth a field goal on the line. The offense still has talent and there's no reason to think sophomore QB Taylor Bennett won't play at least as well as the inconsistent Ball. He does have weapons in All-American receiver Calvin Johnson and running back Tashard Choice, who has topped 100 yards in each of his last six game. Besides, the main reason I liked this bet in the first place was the ability of the Tech defense to stand up to the vaunted West Virginia running game. If it holds the Mountaineers in check, this should come down to the wire, which is always good when getting double digits.

PLAY: Georgia Tech for 1 unit.

Bowl record: 1-2 for a net loss of 1.2 units (based on risking 1.1 units to win 1). College season record: 40-39-1 for a net loss of 2 units.