12/21/2001 1:00AM

Utah's line too good for USC in Vegas Bowl


The bowl season started off great for the college bankroll last week as Colorado State blew out North Texas 45-20 Tuesday in the New Orleans Bowl, Marshall rallied to beat East Carolina 64-61 Wednesday in the GMAC Bowl, and Pittsburgh beat North Carolina St. 34-19 Thursday in the Tangerine Bowl.

Okay, I'll admit I got lucky with Marshall. The Herd was more blundering than thundering in falling behind 38-8 by halftime. Actually, I turned the game off at halftime and wrapped some presents. When I turned the game back on two hours later I got a "gift" myself with Marshall pulling the game out in overtime.

But a win is a win. Bookies keep your money when you suffer a bad beat, so there's no reason to apologize for a lucky win. Hopefully we're clearly on the right side with the next bowl game, the Las Vegas Bowl on Christmas Day.

Utah (+3 1/2) vs. USC

The Las Vegas Bowl has moved to Christmas Day this year, replacing the Aloha and Oahu bowls on the TV schedule. It's assumed ABC will not be showing too many "crowd shots" as fewer than 20,000 spectators are expected to attend after both schools were unable to sell their allotted tickets. Locals also haven't supported this game, which pits a down USC program and Utah, coming in off a loss to Air Force.

As for the matchup, Utah should control the line of scrimmage on both offense and defense. Utah's defense contained BYU for better than three quarters before losing, and will have an easier time against Southern Cal QB Carson Palmer.

Another thing I like about Utah is its coach, Ron McBride. Not only is he underrated, but also he has been the biggest booster for the Las Vegas Bowl.

He came to town for a press conference and was bubbling with excitement. I can't help but think he's injected that same level of enthusiasm in his team. I've seen no signs that USC is motivated at all.

Play: Utah for 11 units.

Starting bankroll: 1,000 units.

Bankroll entering bowl season: 963 units.

Bowl record: 3-0, for a net profit of 30 units.

Current bankroll: 993 units.