12/29/2005 12:00AM

Underachieving Raiders can play spoiler to Giants


LAS VEGAS - Three college bowls plus two NFL games on New Year's Eve, 14 NFL games on New Year's Day, plus another six bowl games on Monday. I can't think of a better way to ring in the new year than with wall-to-wall football.

Before getting to the last of my college bowl bankroll plays, I will look at one NFL game on Saturday.

Giants at Raiders (+8 1/2)

After buying into the preseason hype, I got off the Raiders' bandwagon long ago, thankfully. In recent weeks, however, I've been tempted to take them as 3-point favorites vs. the Browns (a 9-7 loss) and last week as 13-point dogs vs. the Broncos (a 22-3 loss), so it was a good thing in both cases that I talked myself out of it and passed. This week, when I had that same nagging feeling, I thought that would pass, too, but the more I looked at the matchup the more I couldn't resist. The Giants are not very trustworthy on the road, going 2-4 away from home (their other "road" game on the schedule was vs. the Saints at The Meadowlands) and those wins were over the 49ers and Eagles. Last week, the Giants' secondary was toasted by the Redskins' receivers and I can't help but think that the Raiders' offense - with LaMont Jordan to go to on the ground - will air it out with some success and be able to keep up with the Giants if not totally ruin their NFC East divisional title hopes.

PLAY: Raiders for 1 unit.

Last week: 2-3, including a 2-unit win on the Bills +14 vs. the Bengals, for a net loss of 0.3 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1).

Liberty Bowl (Saturday)
Fresno St. (-7) vs. Tulsa

Tulsa backers will obviously point to the fact that the Golden Hurricane blew out Central Florida in the Conference USA title game and that Central Florida took Nevada, which had beaten Fresno State, to overtime in the Hawaii Bowl. But remember that Fresno's loss to Nevada came a week after its near-upset of USC. Frankly, I think that effort took a lot out of the Bulldogs both emotionally and physically and they weren't the same team even the following week in their loss to Louisiana Tech. But now with three weeks to prepare, I think coach Pat Hill gets his team re-motivated. Fresno should control the lines of scrimmage and coast to an easy victory.

PLAY: Fresno St. for 1 unit.

Outback Bowl (Monday)
Iowa (+2) vs. Florida

Both these teams lost early in the season to take themselves out of the national title picture and kind of flew under the radar, but they put together decent seasons. Their team stats are pretty similar and it's pretty much assumed that the only reason Florida is favored is because this game is being played in Tampa. But I think Iowa is the slightly better team at this point with Drew Tate at quarterback (19 touchdown passes, only six interceptions) and unheralded running back Albert Young (1,300 yards, eight touchdowns). The Iowa defense isn't as statistically strong as Florida's, but five of the nation's top 14 scoring defenses are from the SEC (Florida is No. 14) and I think that's a case of offense being down in the conference, and that won't be the case with Iowa.

PLAY: Iowa for 1 unit.

Fiesta Bowl (Monday)
Notre Dame (+4 1/2) vs. Ohio St.

Charlie Weis has done a great job in his first year at Notre Dame and I'm a believer. Ohio State is among the most talented teams in the country, but if Notre Dame could nearly beat USC, it can clearly play with Ohio State. In addition, each time Weis has had extra time to prepare for an opponent (Pitt in the season opener, a 41-21 rout; USC in a 34-31 near upset; Tennessee in a 41-21 rout), the Irish have come out ultra-prepared and ready to play. I see no reason that should change here. The Irish defense will come with its usual team effort to contain the Buckeyes' weapons and the offense will spread the ball around with Brady Quinn running the game plan just like Tom Brady did for all those years under Weis with the Patriots.

PLAY: Notre Dame for 1 unit.

Sugar Bowl (Monday)
West Virginia (+7) vs. Georgia

With the earlier play against Florida, I guess you can say this play also has an anti-SEC slant. Georgia was No. 4 in the nation by allowing just 14.6 points per game, but that's not too surprising while playing in the offensively challenged SEC. Georgia has the most exciting player on the field in quarterback D.J. Shockley, but West Virginia averages 262 rushing yards per game and is more consistent.

PLAY: West Virginia for 1 unit.

Bowl bankroll record: 4-3 for a net profit of 0.7 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1) after splitting Wednesday with a loss on Boise State in the MPC Computers Bowl and a win on Nebraska in the Alamo Bowl.