09/14/2006 12:00AM

They're either underwhelmed, or overboard


LAS VEGAS - Being a public handicapper has its ups and downs.

The feedback is rarely ever neutral. When I'm going bad (like last year in the NFL), the people who call or write will unabashedly question my competence, my sanity, and my manhood. That might seem unwarranted, but it comes with the territory, and if you put yourself out there like that, you have to have thick enough skin to put up with the slings and arrows.

Conversely, I seem to get more praise than I deserve when doing well. Take the start of this college football season, for instance. I haven't done well against the spread - 1-3 entering this weekend - but I'm 5-0 with totals, as I've gone with five unders.

The pats on the back and complimentary e-mails are nice, but when readers such as Greg Gombash write in to say that I've "discovered the 21st century equivalent of penicillin" with my unders strategy, I have to keep it in perspective and get a reality check.

The reason I started looking at unders more seriously this season was because of the rule changes that were meant to shorten the games, especially with starting the clock on kickoffs and after change of possessions. However, as much as that sounded great in theory, the oddsmakers made pretty good adjustments, and the fact is that overs went 17-13 the opening weekend and were split 20-20 last week. So, since my plays have - with one exception - been under the totals by several touchdowns, it's been more a case of finding the right matchups and not any magic formula, since the rule changes haven't come into play in deciding those over/unders.

But I certainly have to strike while the iron is hot, and hopefully my handicapping methods continue to find the right situations. It's actually good news that the overall results have been mostly split, as oddmakers won't be as likely to adjust the numbers downward and take away more opportunities.

So, I'm going with six unders this week and no sides. Regular readers will recognize that several of these games involve teams I've cashed unders on already this season; I'm counting on that trend to continue.

Iowa St. at Iowa (o/u 49)

Iowa St. vs. UNLV was an easy under winner for me last week as the Cyclones won 16-10 with the total in the mid-50's. Quarterback Drew Tate returns to action for Iowa and should muster more offense than the Hawkeyes had in their 20-13 overtime win over Syracuse, but he could also show some rust. Even if he does put points on the board, I expect another strong effort from the Iowa defense, which had that impressive goal-line stand - replayed endlessly - in which they stuffed Syracuse on nine plays inside the 5-yard line.

PLAY: Under 49 points for 1 unit.

Miami-Fla. at Louisville (o/u 53)

Louisville has a high-scoring offense, but will face a very tough defense in the Hurricanes. After being stuffed by Florida St. in the opener, the 'Canes bounced back vs. Florida A&M but will have a harder time against the Louisville defense and could struggle again. I just don't see the total points going much over 40.

PLAY: Under 53 points for 1 unit.

Clemson at Florida St. (o/u 44)

The aforementioned Florida St. defense will be in force in this game and should contain Clemson. The Clemson defense has been hurt by injuries, but played better than the 34-33 double-overtime loss to Boston College would indicate, as one of BC's touchdowns was on a kick return and another in OT. FSU's offense won't light up the scoreboard, either, and the Bowden Bowl should be a game of field position.

PLAY: Under 44 points for 1 unit.

Nebraska at USC (o/u 57 1/2)

USC had last week off after quarterback Josh Booty's successful debut, but the points will be harder to come by vs. the Nebraska defense, which is ranked No. 11 in the nation - though that was helped by playing Louisiana Tech and Nicholls St. Also slowing down the Trojans' offense could be the fact that Nebraska's fans travel well and will cut into the home-field advantage. With all that in mind, I can't see USC putting up any more than 30 points. The Cornhuskers' offense, meanwhile, will also be facing a stiffer test and should put up 17 or 20 points at the most.

PLAY: Under 57 1/2 points for 1 unit.

Colorado St. at Nevada (o/u 52)

Colorado St. whipped Weber St. 30-6 and then stepped up in class to beat Colorado 14-10 last week (another easy under winner, with the total in the mid-40's). Nevada was supposed to have a high-flying offense again with quarterback Jeff Rowe, but the Wolfpack hasn't been clicking yet and will be hard-pressed to solve their problems vs. the Rams. The Colorado St. offense isn't exactly lighting up the scoreboard, either.

PLAY: Under 52 points for 1 unit.

UNLV at Hawaii (o/u 57 1/2)

Betting the under in games at Hawaii is not usually advisable with coach June Jones's run-and-shoot offense and the Warriors' traditionally soft defense. However, UNLV seems to be taking this trip seriously, and the defense played well last week at Iowa St. Whether Rocky Hinds returns from his sprained knee or the Rebels have to go with Shane Steichen, the UNLV offense isn't likely to take advantage of the Hawaii D, so going under that many points is too hard to pass up.

PLAY: Under 57 1/2 points for 1 unit.

Last week: 4-1, including 3-0 on totals and 1-1 on sides, for a net profit of 2.9 units (based on risking 1.1 units to win 1).

Season record: 6-3, including 5-0 on totals and 1-3 on sides, for a net profit of 2.7 units.