09/03/2003 11:00PM

Syracuse, Oklahoma to cover on road

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Last Saturday was not a banner day for college football bettors, including yours truly.

After starting the season Aug. 28 with a win on BYU and a loss on Akron (and, unfortunately, passing on Northern Illinois and UNLV with two other picks I liked), my bankroll plays went 0-4 on Saturday - losses on Clemson +2 1/2 (a 30-0 loser to Georgia), Oklahoma St. +7 1/ 2 (a 17-7 loser to Nebraska), San Jose St. +25 (a 65-3 loser to Florida), and Kansas St. -38 (a non-covering 41-5 winner over Troy St.). My teams were outscored by a combined total of 107-61.

But it could have been worse.

Larry Grossman hosts a Las Vegas radio show called "You Can Bet On It" (2-3 p.m. Monday through Friday on KENO AM-1460 and at www.cardplayer.com). Grossman receives several of the top sports betting newsletters, and if multiple handicappers land on the same game, he shares the info with his listeners as the "Consensus Plays of the Week" at the end of every Friday show.

After taking Labor Day off, Grossman opened Tuesday's show by stating that the consensus went 0-4 last Saturday. The plays were Duke +15 (a 27-0 loss to Virginia), Auburn -4 (a 23-0 loss to Southern Cal), Clemson), and Mississippi St. +4 (a 42-34 loss to Oregon).

Grossman read an e-mail from a listener that read: "I found it incredible that after Oregon jumped out to a 28-0 lead over Mississippi St. in the second quarter, at that point in time, the four consensus plays had been outscored by a total of 108-0. The first three plays - Auburn, Duke, and Clemson - all got shut out by a combined 80-0."

Mississippi St. rallied to make a game of it before falling 42-34, but the consensus plays ended up losing by a combined score of 122-34.

Grossman concluded the wrapup by saying, "There's only one way to go but up. It's a long season. . . . You know, we're running a mile here, we're not sprinting."

You can say it was a case of "misery loves company," but that was the most encouraging news of the week, and a horse racing analogy, to boot. So, it's back to the betting boards.

Syracuse (-2 1/2) at North Carolina

Syracuse is playing its first game against a North Carolina team that didn't do much in a 37-0 loss to Florida St. in its opener last week. The Tar Heels were unable to stop the running game of FSU, which racked up 236 yards on the ground, and Syracuse's Walter Reyes (1,135 yards last season, with an average of 6.2 yards per carry and 17 touchdowns) should have similar success. Syracuse's defense was a disappointment last year, but the Tar Heels would have to do a complete turnaround to take full advantage. Besides, North Carolina doesn't have much of a home-field advantage, having lost its last seven games in Chapel Hill.

PLAY: Syracuse for 1 unit.

Ohio (+18 1/2) at Iowa St.

This is far from the best game on Saturday's card, but might offer the best betting value. Both teams are coming off unimpressive wins over Division I-AA opponents, but Ohio played better in its 17-3 win over Southeast Missouri St. than Iowa St. did in its 17-10 win over Northern Iowa. Iowa St., which might also get caught looking ahead to next week's game vs. Iowa, is trying to overcome the loss of seven offensive starters from last season, including quarterback Seneca Wallace, and this is just a lot of points for an inexperienced team to lay. In addition, Ohio was 5-1 against the spread last season as a double-digit underdog, and also closed the season by covering five of their last six games overall.

PLAY: Ohio for 1 unit.

Utah (+9 1/2) at Texas A&M

Utah took care of rival Utah St. 40-20 last week and showed it has the running game with Brandon Warfield (173 yards and a TD) to control the clock against anyone. First-year coach Urban Meyer was 3-0 vs. Big 12 teams when he was at Bowling Green and should have his troops prepared. Texas A&M beat Arkansas St. 26-11 for new coach Dennis Franchione, but it wasn't a dominating performance and has to give Utah hope. Texas A&M might also be looking ahead to next week's game at Virginia Tech.

PLAY: Utah for 1 unit.

Oklahoma (-8) at Alabama

Alabama struggled to a 17-17 halftime tie vs. South Florida before pulling away for a 40-17 win. However, the Tide cannot afford a similar lapse against No. 1 ranked Oklahoma. The Sooners have one of the most talented defenses in the country, one that held North Texas to only a field goal in a 37-3 opening-week victory. But it was the offense that shined brightest, behind quarterback Jason White (23-of-35, 248 yards, three TDs) and receivers Brandon Jones (10 catches, 121 yards) and JeJuan Rankins (two TDs). The Tide could get rolled.

PLAY: Oklahoma for 1 unit.

Season record: 1-5 for -4.5 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1).