11/06/2003 12:00AM

Tread lightly with marquee games

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LAS VEGAS - In all aspects of life, it's important to learn from your mistakes. Whenever I have a losing betting session (whether it's a day at the races, a day of sports wagering, a stint at the blackjack tables), I think it's important to look back and try and figure out where it all went wrong.

Did I make any knee-jerk decisions before taking all factors into consideration? Were my bets biased in any way? Was I playing when I didn't really have an edge? Or can I rest assured that everything I did was logical, that I would have a long-range positive expectation if I played the same way in the future, and I was just a victim of bad luck?

(It's equally as important to look back on winning sessions and make sure that your decisions were sound and you just didn't luck out. A false sense of security based on lucky wins can lead to many more bad decisions down the road.)

It didn't take me long to figure out what went wrong last Saturday, when I posted a 1-4 record with my college bankroll plays. In fact, before the weekend, when two friends asked what college games I was on and I mentioned Oklahoma St. vs. Oklahoma, Michigan St. vs. Michigan, Miami-Fla. vs. Virginia Tech, and Washington St. vs. Southern Cal, their responses were along the lines of: "That's a lot of marquee games."

And they were right. I didn't plan on playing that many high-profile - televised - games, and I've often advised against that since the oddsmakers have a pretty good handle on those games and the lines tend to be tighter and harder to beat. When I narrowed my selections last week, I felt at the time that those were my strongest plays, but a warning bell should have gone off in my own head. I've had a lot more success this year when handicapping the second-tier matchups. I lost all four of those marquee games lost, but I won the North Carolina St. vs. Virginia game.

Now, this isn't to say that I can't play a marquee or TV game, but it's a lesson to keep in mind to make sure all the other reasons are sound for making a wager.

Wisconsin (+8) at Minnesota

Minnesota is having one of its best seasons in school history, but some of the Golden Gophers' stats have to be taken with a grain of salt. Troy St. (5-4) is the only team with a winning record that the Gophers have beaten this season. Their two real tests were against Michigan and Michigan State, and the Gophers lost both in the Metrodome. Since those losses, Minnesota has beaten up on Illinois and Indiana. Wisconsin has lost two straight since its upset of Ohio St., falling to Purdue and Northwestern. That latest setback is probably why I'm getting more than a touchdown here. In fact, the line climbed to 8 earlier this week with the news that Wisconsin running back Anthony Davis is out with a nagging ankle injury. Dwayne Smith and Booker Stanley have been filling in just fine for Davis all season, however, and Davis's absence shouldn't slow down the running attack at all. All it does is give me even more line value. Both teams rely on the ground game, but Wisconsin has the better run defense (allowing 113 yards per game) and that should be enough to keep this game close. Wisconsin is also worth a look on the money line to win this outright.

PLAY: Wisconsin for 1 unit.

Wake Forest (-8 1/2) at North Carolina

Results against common opponents don't always tell the tale, but I'll let them do the talking in this ACC matchup. Wake Forest and North Carolina have faced four common opponents: Both beat East Carolina, but Wake won more convincingly; both lost to Florida St., but Wake was much more competitive; and Wake beat North Carolina State and Clemson, while North Carolina lost to both. Wake Forest outscored the four common opponents by an average of 35-26 - the 9 points I need them to win by this week - which is especially telling when you consider the Tar Heels are weaker than three of those teams. North Carolina has been outscored by an average of 40-21 (again, pretty bad, considering the Demon Deacons beat three of those teams). The 40-21 margin looks much more likely in this case since Wake Forest averages 193 rushing yards a game while North Carolina allows over 200 per game.

PLAY: Wake Forest for 1 unit.

Tennessee (+12 1/2) at Miami-Fla.

Although this game lost some of its luster after Miami's 17-6 loss to Virginia Tech last week, this could still be considered a marquee matchup. Still, I can't pass up getting double-digit points with a Tennessee team that has the talent to match up with anybody. Granted, the Vols have underachieved this year, but there's no way they shouldn't put forth their top effort in their most important non-SEC game on their schedule. Miami's defense hasn't been as dominant as in year's past, and Tennessee's offense is well-balanced, with quarterback Casey Clausen leading the attack and Cedric Houston and Jabari Davis leading the running game. Miami's Brock Berlin has been inconsistent (in fact, he was benched for Derrick Crudup in the loss to Virginia Tech) and things won't get any easier against Tennessee's pass defense, which allows only 195 yards per game. Miami could win its 27th straight home game in the Orange Bowl, but it won't be easy and Tennessee just needs to stay within two scores.

PLAY: Tennessee for 1 unit.

California at Oregon (+1 1/2)

These teams have shown flashes of brilliance, but have also fallen on their faces. Cal beat Southern Cal, but lost at home to Oregon State the week after; Oregon beat Michigan, but has been blown out in road games against Arizona State and Washington. It's rare to see Oregon as a home underdog (before the Michigan game, the last time was in 1997), so it's hard to pass up any points. Even though it got run over by Washington last week, Oregon usually fares better against running teams and the Ducks should step up in front of the home crowd vs. Cal running back Adimchinobe Echemandu. Oregon's sporadic offense should also get a boost from the home cooking.

PLAY: Oregon for 1 unit.

Last week: 1-4 for a net loss of 3.4 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1).

Season record: 24-23 for a net loss of 1.3 units.