11/10/2005 12:00AM

The Tide's perfect roll ends here


LAS VEGAS - Major college football needs to have a playoff to determine a true national champion.

That statement seems as obvious as "we need air to breath." While most sports issues will foster differences of opinions, this one is near- unanimous if you pay attention to TV's talking heads, newspaper columnists, sports talk radio, or just barflys at the neighborhood saloon. Every other sport, including all other levels of college football, have playoffs, yet the university presidents keep feeding us the bowl system while annually tinkering with the BCS to try to bring the top two teams together for the "title game."

Last year, it was a travesty when Auburn went undefeated and did not make it to the title game. And it also wasn't fair that Utah went unbeaten and didn't have a chance to prove itself against the best (instead, the Utes hammered Pittsburgh, which was the best of the least in the Big East).

The problem is that, just like with baseball, no matter how much the powers that be bumble and stumble in sometimes blatant and other times unintentional ways to ruin it for everyone, the sport is so great and the fans are so loyal that all is forgiven in short order. Auburn and Utah got the shaft last year, but life goes on and fans returned to the stadiums this fall and watched on TV.

This year, Southern Cal and Texas are the clear front-runners with Virginia Tech getting knocked off last week by Miami-Fla., but Alabama is still unbeaten and likely to be left out of the BCS title game. That would be totally unfair if, for a second straight year, a team was perfect through a tough Southeast Conference schedule and didn't get a chance to play for a national title.

Seemingly, the only way to change is for these embarrassing scenarios to keep happening and for people to keep complaining. So, every fan of a true college playoff system should be cheering for Alabama to go undefeated.

With all that said, I'm not proud of my first pick on this Saturday's card:

LSU (-2 1/2) at Alabama

Yes, part of me wants to cheer for Alabama, but the feeling is that the Crimson Tide's perfect roll ends here. Both defenses in this game rank among the best in the nation. Alabama is allowing just 8.2 points per game, and LSU is giving up just 13.9. But the Tigers haven't allowed a team to score more than 17 points in six games since giving up 31 and 30 points to Arizona St. and Tennessee, respectively, in the first two games of the season. But the difference here is that LSU is much more explosive and consistent on the offensive side of the ball. Last week, Alabama's two touchdowns were scored by its defense in a 17-0 win over Mississippi St. (a team LSU beat 37-7). It seems more likely that DaMarcus Russel and the LSU offense will break through than Brodie Croyle and Alabama.

PLAY: LSU for 1 unit.

Florida (-4 1/2) at South Carolina

Staying in the SEC . . . I cashed last week with Vanderbilt +19 vs. Florida, as the Commodores nearly pulled off the upset before falling in overtime, but I'm backing the Gators this time against former Florida coach Steve Spurrier and his new team in South Carolina. The Gamecocks have won four straight, and Spurrier has them heading in the right direction - but Florida still gets more and better athletes and should prevail. South Carolina doesn't have much of a running game, and facing the Gators' defense won't help. The Florida pass rushers will be allowed to pin back their ears and pressure Blake Mitchell all afternoon. Florida's offense should have an easier time, and rack up enough points to win comfortably.

PLAY: Florida for 1 unit.

Auburn (+3) at Georgia

Going for an SEC sweep (try saying that fast three times), Auburn looks like a live underdog. With running backs Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams and quarterback Jason Campbell moving on to the NFL, coach Tommy Tubberville just plugs in more players, and the Tigers are averaging more than 200 yards both on the ground and through the air this year. The defense also has been outstanding, allowing just 12.7 points per game. Plus, starting linebacker Antarrious Williams is expected to be back from a neck injury. Georgia is supposed to get quarterback D.J. Shockley back under center after he missed the loss to Florida two weeks ago, but even if he isn't rusty, it'll be hard for Georgia to match Auburn score for score.

PLAY: Auburn for 1 unit.

Georgia Tech (+5) at Virginia

Both teams have had solid wins (Georgia Tech upsetting Auburn and Virginia upsetting Florida St.) but also disappointing losses (Tech getting blown out by Virginia Tech and losing to North Carolina St., and Virginia falling 7-5 to North Carolina). Neither can be backed with unrelenting confidence, so I'm going with the lesser of two evils. Virginia, at 5-3 and one win short of bowl eligibility, pretty much faces a must-win situation as its remaining games are against Virginia Tech and North Carolina St. But I don't see Virginia getting it done here; in fact, I'm not so sure the Cavs should be favored even at home vs. the No. 24-ranked Yellow Jackets. Georgia Tech quarterback Reggie Ball might be inconsistent, but he also will be the best athlete on the field, and he should make enough plays to get the job done while the Tech defense should be able to shut down Virginia.

PLAY: Georgia Tech for 1 unit.

Iowa at Wisconsin (-2 1/2)

Wisconsin let me down last week, but I'm coming back with the Badgers here as they play their last home game under coach Barry Alvaraz at Camp Randall Stadium on Senior Day. Iowa is coming off a heartbreaking loss at home against Northwestern, when it looked like the Hawkeyes were going to win easily. The rattled Iowa defense won't get a break this week because Wisconsin has an explosive offense, too, and I'm expecting the emotional home crowd to inspire the defense to play better than it has most of the season. I just can't see the Badgers losing this game for their coach.

PLAY: Wisconsin for 1 unit.

Last week: 4-3 for a net profit of 0.7 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1). College season record: 20-18 for a net profit of 0.2 units.