09/04/2002 11:00PM

Two-game head start will help underdog Colorado St.


LAS VEGAS - With 48 college games on the betting boards this week - compared to only 30 last week and seven the week before - it should be getting easier to find solid plays. Of course, the oddsmakers are getting a better feel for the teams and hanging tougher numbers. The battle rages on.

Colorado State (+7) at UCLA

An old handicapping axiom says to bet against a team in its season opener when facing a team that has already played a game. But what about a team playing a team that has already played two games? I don't have the stats to back this up (it has to be a pretty small sample), but it has to be even more daunting. That's the task facing UCLA, which opens its season Saturday against Colorado State, which is 2-0. CSU coach Sonny Lubick has his team believing they are this year's Fresno State, with more staying power. Colorado State lived up to the adage that a team improves the most between its first and second game by following up a 35-29 victory - a game in which Virginia was one yard away from a potential game-tying touchdown - with a great performance in upsetting No. 6 Colorado, 19-14. Now it faces a UCLA team that has plenty of talent (though QB Cory Paus has never lived up to expectations), but not nearly as much as Colorado possesses, so it's conceivable that Colorado should be able to stay within a touchdown, even if they don't pull the outright upset.

Play: Colorado State for 2 units.

West Virginia (+11) at Wisconsin

West Virginia beat up on Division I-AA Chattanooga, 56-7, last week. While the opponent didn't put up too much of a fight, the WVU offense clicked with QB Rasheed Marshall spreading the ball around to nine different receivers in his first collegiate start and senior RB Avon Coubourne, a three-time 1,000-yard rusher, notching his 19th career 100-yard game. WVU's defense just needs to avoid giving up the big play to a conservative Wisconsin offense. It will be tough to pull an outright upset at Camp Randall Stadium, but the visitors should be in it until the end.

Play: West Virginia for 1 unit.

Rice at Michigan State (-27)

Rice was routed as a favorite against Houston and should be dominated on both sides of the line by Michigan State. This should be a halftime line, as Michigan State's balanced attack should be able to run over (and pass over) Rice and name its score. The only fear is a second-half backdoor cover.

Play: Michigan State for 1 unit.

Last week: 0-1, with Maryland +2 1/2 vs. Notre Dame. I needed to be getting 22 1/ 2 points as the Irish won 22-0. My other wagers were canceled when the Wisconsin-UNLV was halted short of the 55-minute mark with the Badgers leading 27-7. I had Wisconsin -4 and over 54, which means I actually saved losing the vig.

Season record: 1-3 (-2.3 units, based on laying 1.1 units to win 1).