08/25/2004 11:00PM

Trojans-Hokies get college ball rolling

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LAS VEGAS - We finally have a football game that counts in the standings this Saturday night when No. 1-ranked Southern Cal plays Virginia Tech in the BCA Classic in Landover, Md.

Since it's the first college game of the year, as well as the only football game on the schedule, there has been no shortage of wagering action both here in Nevada and in cyberspace.

USC opened as a 17 1/2-point favorite a few weeks back and was steadily bet up to 18 1/2 all over Las Vegas, and went to 19 1/2 at the tourist-heavy MGM Mirage and Caesars properties on the Strip (and even to 20 at the Imperial Palace for a little over an hour last Sunday). As of noon Thursday, the line has come back down a little, with most books at 18 1/2, while MGM Mirage and the Leroy's books are still at 19. The Palms had the lowest line at 18.

The total has been even more volatile, especially outside Las Vegas. The Olympic offshore book (thegreek.com) opened the total at 59 1/2 on Tuesday morning and saw it get pounded down to 55 by midday. Most Vegas books held off on the total, and as the number continued to drop offshore, the Caesars books put the line up at 50 on Wednesday morning. As of noon Thursday, Olympic had the over/under at 48 (creating a juicy middle opportunity for those lucky early bettors) and Caesars was down to 48 1/2.

While USC is certainly loaded, I might bet Virginia Tech if the line goes back up to 20 or higher. Even though the Hokies don't appear as talented as in years past, coach Frank Beemer always has his team prepared and could come up with a big play on special teams. In addition, both teams should be running the ball a lot and that should help keep the score down. I'm not making it an official bankroll play, however, because this is a high-profile game and there should be much softer lines with a full slate of games next weekend.

College over/under season win totals

Time is running out for bettors who want to make their over/under season win totals bets. Southern Cal and Virginia Tech will be taken off the betting boards after Saturday's game kicks off, and then most of the other bets will come down on Sept. 4, when the college season really gets under way.

I've come up with a theory that I haven't seen elsewhere. I'll call it the "someone's gotta lose correlated over/under bet" theorem. In general, the under is the way to bet over/ under season win totals because a lot of the numbers are shaded high because the oddsmakers know that most casual fans want to bet their favorite team and cheer for the over.

If you've seen the NFL over/ unders, the totals for the top teams fall between 9 and 10 1/2. That's for a 16-game season.

For the colleges, except for USC, which is playing 12 regular-season games, the rest of the national championship contenders will play 11 games yet their totals also fall between 9 (Texas and Georgia) and 11 (USC). It seems to me that there's some value in betting the under on a lot of these teams, especially since a lot of them play each other and "someone's gotta lose."

For instance, Miami-Fla. and Florida St. - both of which have over/unders of 9 1/2 wins - open the season on Labor Day, Sept. 6. After that game, the loser will have to run the table in its last 10 games in order to get the over. The winner will still have to go 9-1, and with parity the way it is, that's no easy task anymore either. So put me down for unders on both Miami-Fla. and Florida St., and we'll see later in the year how this fares.

The only over bet I have considered making is on Georgia, a team that has 17 starters back and who many pick to with the SEC, yet its total is only 9. As with most SEC teams, the Bulldogs have a tough schedule, but at least they get LSU and Tennessee, arguably their two toughest opponents, at home.

Cardinals a reluctant choice

I've only given out one game this preseason (the Bears +4 vs. the Rams two weeks ago, and the Bears rallied to win 13-10 in overtime).

One preseason trend that has worked in year's past is to go with teams that are winless in the preseason with the thought that they'll be trying hard to get at least one win under their belt. The teams this year are the Rams, 49ers, and Cardinals (all are in the NFC West).

The Rams and 49ers were to play Friday night, so we can see how they fared, but I'll risk my unblemished record by taking the Cardinals +3 vs. the Raiders on Saturday night. The Raiders have looked pretty good this preseason and won't have as much incentive to go all out in this game, while the Cardinals could really use a win for new coach Dennis Green and also hope to sell some season tickets.

Super deadline approaching

Sunday at 5 p.m. is the early-bird deadline for the Las Vegas Hilton SuperContest. Entrants who pay their $1,500 entry fee by then will be eligible for the $10,000 mini-contest held over the final three weeks of the season. I certainly recommend getting in early, as I was out of the running last year but went 12-3 over the final three weeks to finish in a four-way tie in the mini-contest and collected $2,500 to get back my entry fee and then some.

Last year, a record 214 people signed up by the early-bird deadline on the way to setting a record of 346 contestants overall. As of Wednesday night, there were already 180 entries, with a lot of people expected to hold onto their $1,500 until Sunday. Both records are in jeopardy.

Higher education at UNLV

One criticism of our nation's education system is that kids aren't taught things in school that can help them in the real world. Well, the University of Nevada Las Vegas is offering a class this fall called "Sports Betting: How to Win Betting on Football."

The $99 non-credit class, taught by sports betting writer Stephen Nover, is held 7-8 p.m. on Wednesday nights, which is a non-football night (by no small coincidence, I'm sure), and runs from Sept. 29 through Nov. 3.