Sooner or later?

Dec 14, 2004 6:08 AM

BY MARK MAYER

The college bowl season is finally here and, typically, the match-ups are on the minds of bettors who are looking for an early edge in the action.

They don’t have to look further than the national championship game, which finds Âí­Oklahoma matched up with USC in the Orange Bowl.

In early action, bettors apparently joined fans and pollsters who are equally divided over the top two teams in the country. The opening line of USC minus 3 remains unmoved.

Top-ranked USC (11-0), which completed its regular season with a lackluster win over UCLA last week, finished first in the BCS poll and will try to win the title it shared last season with LSU.

Oklahoma stayed in the number two spot for most the year, even though Auburn also finished undefeated. But because the Sooners started the year at a higher poll ranking, the Tigers weren’t able to leap-frog past them.

Once again, an undefeated BCS school, Auburn, has been shut out of the title race. No doubt the talking heads will debate this one all winter and spring.

But for now the focus is on the next three weeks, when 28 bowl games will be contested. With so many teams players get to choose or snooze.

The New Orleans Bowl kicks off the festivities in what will probably resemble a private function if 40,000 or so empty seats in the Louisiana Superdome isn’t proof enough.

Action starts to cook a bit the following week before the major bowl action and interest begins in the week before and after New Years. We’ll offer a pick on the first and some tidbits to digest.

Tuesday, Dec. 14

New Orleans Bowl, Superdome

So. Miss -5½ at N. Texas (53½): This is the seventh bowl in the last eight years for Southern Miss, which stands 3-3 both SU and ATS in those efforts. North Texas is making its fourth consecutive New Orleans Bowl trip, going 1-2 both SU and ATS previously. The Eagles covered their last seven games against the likes of Utah State, Idaho and Arkansas St. Golden Eagles gave Cal a scare. USM 26-11, UNDER.

Tuesday, Dec. 21

Florida Citrus Bowl, Orlando

Syracuse +4½ vs Ga. Tech (43½): The Cuse is 8-3 ATS, finishing a strong 3-1 in the last four games. The Orange has had just one losing season under 14-year coach Paul Pasqualoni (107-58-1), but are just 16-19 SU since 2002. Tech is an unimpressive 17-19 ATS in three seasons under former Dallas Cowboys HC Chan Gailey. The "under" was 7-2 in GT games when a total was posted.

Wednesday, Dec. 22

GMAC Bowl, Mobile, AL

Memphis +4½ at Bowling Green (72): BG is averaging a shade below 49 points per game since demolishing Temple 70-9 back on Oct. 2. The Falcons lost to MAC champ Toledo, but gave No. 2 ranked Oklahoma a test in a 40-24 loss as a 33-point road dog. Memphis has scored 30 points or more in eight of 11 games.

Thursday, Dec. 23

Fort Worth Bowl, Texas

Marshall -1 at Cincinnati (53½): The Herd lost their thunder the last seven weeks, going just 1-6 ATS including four straight noncovers. Cincy had won and covered four in a row until star QB Gino Guidugli sat out the Louisville debacle (70-7) with an injury. UC placed 11 on the C-USA All-Conference teams, most of any member including Louisville. Game could ride on status of Guidugli (broken hand).

Las Vegas Bowl, Sam Boyd

Wyoming +12½ vs UCLA (58): Wyoming 4-0 ATS close to season helped earn bowl berth. First meeting ever against Bruins. UCLA won this bowl two years ago against New Mexico as a 10½-point favorite, 27-13. Big question is whether the Bruins really want to be here after nearly upsetting No. 1 Southern Cal. UCLA lost to Fresno in Silicon Valley Bowl last year, 17-9.

Friday, Dec. 24

Hawaii Bowl, Honolulu

UAB +3½ vs Hawaii (75½): Going away gift for Hawaii QB Timmy Chang after home wins over Northwestern and Michigan St. UAB 1-4 ATS in last five games.

Monday, Dec. 27

MPC Computers Bowl, Idaho

Fresno St +5½ vs Virginia (52): Rare trip for an ACC member to frigid Pacific northwest. Fresno familiar with Boise’s blue turf.

Motor City Bowl, Detroit

Connecticut +3 at Toledo (66): UConn 4-6 ATS, two coming against nonBig East foes. Toledo on 7-2 ATS run, including last four and MAC title win.

Tuesday, Dec. 28

Independence Bowl, Shreveport LA

Miami, O —3 vs Iowa St (51½): Departed Miami QB Roethlisberger’s only loss last year was to Iowa. ISU 6-4 ATS, including cover this year vs. Iowa.

Insight Bowl, Phoenix

Oregon St —3½ vs Notre Dame (50): Fifth bowl in last six years for Beavers. Irish still searching for a head coach, a major distraction.

Wednesday, Dec. 29

Houston Bowl, Reliant Stadium

Colorado —3 vs UTEP (59): Buffs off pounding from Oklahoma. UTEP went from 2-11 to 9-2 SU in one year under new HC Mike Price.

Alamo Bowl, San Antonio

Ohio St +1½ vs Okla St: Okies beat Southern Miss 33-23 two years ago in this bowl. Buckeyes beat Kansas State by seven in Fiesta last season.

Thursday, Dec. 30

Continental Bowl, Charlotte NC

Boston Col +3 at UNC (51½): BC lost to Wake Forest 17-14 as a pick. Heels 6-1 ATS in last seven, including four straight.

Emerald Bowl, San Francisco

Navy +2½ vs N.Mexico (42): Middies beat MWC member Air Force 24-21 as a +1 dog this season. Lobos off two straight noncovers in Las Vegas Bowl.

Holiday Bowl, San Diego

Texas Tech +11½ vs Cal (65): Mindset of Cal key factor, dropping behind Texas in final BCS poll. Could be final game for Bears QB Rodgers.

Silicon Valley Bowl, San Jose

Troy St pick vs No. Illinois (47): Troy 8-3 ATS, including covers against LSU, Missouri, S. Carolina and Marshall. NIU 18-5 straight-up the past two seasons.