12/30/2002 1:00AM

Story of two Big 10 teams: Bet Penn. St., go against Michigan


It's a new year, but I'm sure Big 10 bashing will still be in style.

West Coast fans and media like to talk about the East Coast bias when it comes to polls, awards voting, and hyping of star athletes (both human or equine). But that's nothing compared with how the Midwest gets it from both sides.

Oddsmakers and bettors aren't giving the Big 10 too much respect either, as six of its seven bowl teams are underdogs (Penn St. is the lone exception). As of early Monday, the Big 10 was 1-0 as Wisconsin had upset 7-point favorite Colorado, 31-28, in overtime Saturday night.

The country will see plenty of the Big 10 in the first three days of 2003 as both Penn St. and Michigan play Wednesday, Iowa takes on USC in the Orange Bowl on Thursday night, and Ohio St. plays for the national championship on Friday night.

When the bowl lines were first posted on Dec. 9, I made three wagers: Marshall -2 in the GMAC Bowl, Virginia +5 in the Continental Tire Bowl, and Georgia -2 over Florida St. in the Sugar Bowl. Marshall and Virginia, which I also used as bankroll plays, were easy winners and I was certainly planning to use Georgia. But with Florida St. QB Chris Rix suspended, the line on that game has risen to 8 and even 8 1/2 at some Las Vegas books as of Monday morning. All the value is gone from the Georgia side. If anything, for those who haven't bet the game yet, Florida St. coach Bobby Bowden is tempting to take as an 8 1/2-point dog.

That all being said, I just have two plays for New Year's Day.

Capital One Bowl

Penn St. (-6) vs. Auburn

Auburn has won a lot of its games with mirrors this season, while Penn St. has been running down people's throats, led by running back Larry Johnson, a rare 2,000-yard rusher who didn't win the Heisman Trophy. He is also an accomplished pass receiver. Both teams have good defenses, but it comes down to Penn St.'s defense matching up better with Auburn's offense, while Auburn will have a hard time containing Johnson. If they gang up on Johnson, quarterback Zach Mills (17 TD passes) can burn them deep through the air. In addition, Joe Paterno gives

Penn St. a coaching edge over Auburn's Tommy Tubberville. And even though this is a New Year's Day bowl game, it still pales in comparison to Auburn's 17-7 win over archrival Alabama.

PLAY: Penn St. for 2 units.

Outback Bowl

Florida (-1) vs. Michigan

Before getting accused of having a Big 10 bias (having grown up in the Midwest), I have to take a stand against Michigan. This is one of the most competively priced bowl games and should come down to the wire. I have to give the edge in quarterback to Florida's Rex Grossman over Michigan's John Navarre. Besides, Florida's secondary has the athletic ability to keep up with Michigan's talented receiving corps and make some big plays of its own if Navarre forces the ball into coverage.

PLAY: Florida for 1 unit.

Bowl record: 5-4 for net profit of 2.6 units (based on laying 1.1 to win 1) through Saturday's games (on Friday, won a 2-unit play on Oklahoma St. and lost 1-unit play on Nebraska, and won a 1-unit play on Virginia on Saturday); season record: 33-34 for net loss of 2.6 units.