11/30/2006 1:00AM

USC will have tough time covering

Email

The "First Saturday in December" doesn't have the same ring to it as the "First Saturday in May," but it's fast becoming one of my favorite days of the year.

Well, it ranks behind a lot of holidays, and family birthdays, anniversaries, and other big sporting days, but it's still in my top 50.

A decade ago, that certainly wouldn't have been the case because the main things going on were the Army-Navy game and maybe one more big college football game such as USC-UCLA. But nowadays, it is an all-day sports extravaganza. In addition to the Army-Navy game and a USC-UCLA game that takes on even greater significance this year, we also have the ACC championship game between Wake Forest and Georgia Tech, the SEC championship game between Arkansas and Florida, and the Big 12 championship between Nebraska and Oklahoma. We also have the added attraction of an intriguing Rutgers-West Virginia matchup, plus eight more games on the betting boards.

I will pass on most on the games - even though I would love to take Army +20 1/2 points in such a big rivalry game, but it's very unlikely the Cadets can slow down the Navy running game - but there's more than enough to choose from to try and bounce back from last week's disaster.

USC at UCLA (+13 1/2)

I lost by going against USC last week, though it looked like Notre Dame might be able to sneak in the back door until USC ran back an onside kick for a touchdown, but I have to fade them again. What I've been hearing a lot this week is, "There's no way USC will stub its toe and miss its chance to get in the BCS title game." But I reply, "Why not?" Teams who control their own destiny deliver subpar performances all the time, and the Trojans are certainly capable of doing the same. I have a nearly two-touchdown comfort zone in which they can still win and make their date with Ohio State yet not cover the spread. You can't tell me this game isn't as big for UCLA - the Bruins know everyone will be watching and this is their chance to make their season, and it hasn't been too shabby of a season. I can make the argument that the UCLA defense did a much better job than USC of shutting down Notre Dame in its 20-17 loss to the Irish - and note that the Bruins did it in South Bend while USC gave up 404 yards in their 44-24 win against Notre Dame at home. The Bruins are playing even better on defense now after a 25-7 win over Oregon State and 24-12 over Arizona State. Also note that Oregon State is the team that beat USC and you can see how this line is inflated. If the line was closer to one touchdown, I would probably pass, but at anything in double digits. UCLA is also worth a flier at 4-1 or higher.

PLAY: UCLA for 2 units.

La. Tech at New Mexico St. (o/u 64)

One of my rare wins last weekend was on the over 55 points in the New Mexico State-Utah State as NMSU won 42-20. The Aggies are the No. 2 passing team in the nation at 388 yards per game and continue to light up the scoreboard while having a sieve-like defense that can't stop anybody (the 20 points was the lowest they have allowed vs. a Division I foe). New Mexico State is 6-3 with the over in games on the betting boards here in Vegas and it should go over again as Louisiana Tech is next-to last in scoring defense in the NCAA at 41 points per game - NMSU is 107th at 31.5 - and Tech should also contribute more to the score than Utah State did.

PLAY: Over 64 points for 1 unit.

Rutgers at West Virginia (o/u 50)

I will go the other way in this game as these teams should duke it out on the ground, especially since West Virginia could be slowed down by an injury to quarterback Pat White. Both teams are disappointed this game didn't have more on the line after Rutgers lost to Cincinnati and then West Virginia lost to South Florida as a 21-point favorite last week, but they should still battle hard. I can't see it being a shootout as both defenses should step up to try and stop the other's running games and turn it into more of a field-position game than either team has been forced to play this year.

PLAY: Under 50 points for 1 unit.

Arkansas at Florida (-2 1/2)

This is more of a hunch play than anything else. Florida coach Urban Meyer is trying to keep his team focused on the SEC title game even though his players know they will have no shot at the national championship if USC beats UCLA. But I think the Gators will get an extra little adrenaline boost if my top play comes to fruition as the USC-UCLA game will be going to halftime right around the time this kicks off. You know that as much as the coaches will try to keep the players from scoreboard-watching, the fans will let the Gators know if they have more to play for. Of course, Florida might still lay an egg and Arkansas is certainly capable of keeping up with the Gators (the Razorbacks won at Auburn, which is the only team to beat Florida), but I think a correlated UCLA/Florida parlay might be in order.

PLAY: Florida for 1 unit.

Last week: 3-7 for a net loss of 4.7 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1). College season record: 36-36-1, including 1-1 on 2-units plays, for a net loss of 3.7 units.