08/22/2002 12:00AM

Trash-talking season in full swing

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The football season officially started this week with some college games, but the players are in midseason form. People are claiming to be No. 1. Rivalries are brewing. Trash-talking is at an all-time high.

And I'm not talking about the players on the field.

The turf wars are really heating up, both in Las Vegas and online, involving some of the most recognizable names in the handicapping field.

Last week, Russ Culver resigned his position as director of sports analysis at Vegasinsider.com, one of the top handicapping websites. He told The Las Vegas Review-Journal that he didn't want to be associated with the "Wayne Roots of the world."

Wayne Root, who operates the publicly traded Global Sports and Entertainment (winningedge.com) and was in the process of signing a joint marketing deal with Vegas Insider, replied in Tuesday's Review-Journal, implying Culver was afraid to compete with him and challenged him to a $10,000 charity head-to-head matchup.

Culver fired back: "When Wayne Root wins the Hilton [SuperContest], I'll accept his challenge." Culver won the 1999 SuperContest, considered the top contest in town.

Mike Lee, who won the SuperContest in 1989, and handicapper Dave Malinsky also quit Vegas Insider this past week.

The SuperContest has been invoked in another controversy.

Tony Salinas, who finished second in last year's tournament, has taken out ads in gambling publications and sent out mass mailings that claim he's the champion and that he beat out the other 226 contestants. While it's true he tied for the top record of 51-31-3, he lost a tiebreaker and collected second-place money of $51,075.

In his ad, Salinas claims "the Hilton SuperBook has it on record that I went 9-1 the first two weeks, then 5-0 the third week. My 14-1 start put me so far ahead of the competition they never knocked me out of first place."

In reality, Salinas didn't move into a tie for first place until December, and didn't take over sole possession of first place until two weeks remained in the season. Salinas held a two-game lead going into the final week of the season, but was 1-4 and was caught by an entry called Bruno's Boys, which was crowned the champ because it had the best record (10-5) over the final three weeks of the season, during which Salinas was 9-6.

If you're interested in playing the SuperContest and battling Las Vegas's elite, the early-bird deadline is at 5 p.m. Sunday. Early entrants qualify for a $10,000 winner-take-all contest over the final three weeks of the season. The final deadline to enter is on Sept. 6 at 1 p.m., when the five selections for Week 1 are due. Entries cost $1,500.

Do's and don'ts

As attention turns toward the gridiron, there are a few things to remember when betting football:

* Don't bet games just because they are on TV. It's a common trap. It's tempting to bet the Texas Tech-Ohio State game on Saturday because it will be on TV, but your bankroll will last much longer if you play only games you have a strong opinion on.

* Don't bet a bad number. I bet Texas Tech +7 last week and was looking forward to making it a pick here, but the number has been bet down to 6 1/2 at most books, 6 at some offshore books, and as low as 5 1/2 at BoDog.com. People are following the steam, but that's dangerous because they will be losers if Ohio State wins by exactly 7. It happens enough that those losses can mean the difference between a profitable season and a losing one. I'm upset I didn't snatch up 7 1/2 when the line first opened, but at least I'll have a push and get a refund if my slowness costs me. If you don't get a good number, pass the game.

* Ignore the polls. Just because a team is ranked ahead of its opponent and they're the underdog, that doesn't mean you're getting value. The polls are voted on by writers and coaches who don't watch all the games, especially out of their region. Oddsmakers are more in tune with the relative strength and weaknesses of each team.

* Use trends only if they are relevant. Also be aware that oddsmakers see the same trends you do, so the line has probably already been adjusted to reflect the way they think the public will bet when they see the same trends. In early college games the past two years, the under is 7-2. This trend is legitimate; oddsmakers make the totals higher early because they know the public has been itching for football and will probably bet on the over. I think the Arizona State-Nebraska game will definitely go under the total of 55 this week. The other totals seem solid.

* The BCS rating systems are supposed to ignore margin of victory this year, but that doesn't mean you have to. A lot of people are saying that teams won't be running up the score anymore because it won't count in the ratings. But don't believe that. Since humans vote in the writers' and coaches' polls, voters will still be influenced by 50-0 scores even if the computers aren't. If you think the oddsmakers have adjusted a point spread too far down, that might be a good time to lay the points. I lean toward Florida State -22 vs. Iowa State on Saturday night.

Saturday plays: Arizona State-Nebraska under 55 points for 1 unit; Florida State -22 over Iowa State for 1 unit.

* The top website covering the offshore sports betting industry is Theprescription.com. Visitors to the site on Wednesday night were greeted by a picture of shock rocker Marilyn Manson and the cryptic message "DNA owned you." By Thursday morning, the site was back to normal. It appears the incident was caused by hackers.