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TheStreet Open House

Can You Bet on the NFL and Win?

I had the dreaded "ohfer" in the NFL games last week, going 0-5 and dragging my season record down to 49-46. As my punishment I will have to write "I WILL NOT BET ON THE NFL" on the blackboard 500 times.

As a handicapper, you must know your strengths and weaknesses. Over the years, I have identified college football as the one sport I can consistently handicap well, winning between 55% and 58% of my plays in nine of the last 10 years. This will be my final column for the year and most of my selections will be on college bowl games.

Fiesta Bowl -- Oregon State (minus 3) over Notre Dame (triple play)

I have been waiting for a spot to go against an overrated Notre Dame team this season and this is the spot. Notre Dame does not match up well with Oregon State, which possesses exceptional team speed and an accurate quarterback in Jonathan Smith. Oregon State's only loss this season was on the road to Washington. Oregon State has played a stronger schedule than the Fighting Irish and has performed well in every game, attaining a point-spread record of 8-2.

Notre Dame also has a good point spread record (8-3) but has struggled in a number of games this season. The Irish also have not been nearly as dominant as the Beavers. Ken Simonton is the quickest running back in the country this year and I predict he will have a monster game against a Notre Dame defense that is not blessed with great speed. Oregon State averages 186 yards on the ground and 225 yards in the air, while the Irish defense gives up 354 yards a game. The Irish average 214 rushing yards a game and only 132 passing yards. Oregon State will stack the line of scrimmage to stop Notre Dame from rushing the ball, forcing former third-string quarterback Matt LoVecchio to beat them through the air.

Oregon State has held opponents to an average of 93 rushing yards and 221 passing yards per game and has played such offensively competent teams as Washington, UCLA, Southern California and Oregon, shutting down the running attacks of each. I also like the coaching matchup in this game, and think Dennis Erickson is far superior to Bob Davie.

In what is certain to be bulletin board material for the Beavers, a columnist in the South Bend, Ind., newspaper expressed disappointment that Notre Dame was not playing a "worthy" opponent like Virginia Tech. Expect the Beavers to be fired up for this game and rout the Fighting Irish. This is my strongest bowl play and I will make it an unprecedented triple wager. Any Notre Dame fans who disagree with me should e-mail their vitriol before the game, not after the game, if my analysis proves faulty.

Cotton Bowl -- Tennessee (plus 4) over Kansas State (double play)

I have been very high on this Tennessee team this year, and think that the point spread on this game is inflated. The Vols have held opponents to an average of 74 rushing yards a game and have allowed only 220 yards passing a game. Tennessee's schedule strength is significantly higher than Kansas State's, and the Wildcats have simply not been able to beat quality teams this season. Tennessee is a young but ascending team.

One of the key questions to ask in a bowl game is whether the team is happy to be in the game. This year, Kansas State had its national championship aspirations dashed by Oklahoma, barely eked out a win over Nebraska at home, and then lost to Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game. Why would they be motivated to play in this game?

Tennessee, on the other hand, will surely want to cement its status as a preseason contender for the national championship, and what better way to do it than to beat a dispirited Kansas State team. Tennessee won five of its last six games and is looking progressively better on offense with freshman Casey Clausen at the controls. Kansas State also has a solid defense, but does not deserve to be a 4-point favorite in this game. I will take Tennessee plus 4 for a double play.

Humanitarian Bowl -- Boise State (minus 6) over UTEP

Boise State is playing this game on its home field. As of this writing, University of Texas at El Paso had sold a grand total of 100 tickets to this game to boosters. Who wants to win this game more? The Broncos have the best quarterback that you have never heard of in Bart Hendricks. Bart and his teammates will light up the scoreboard for their season average of 45 points a game -- No. 1 in all of college football.

Boise State averages 496 yards of total offense a game while giving up 368 yards, while UTEP gains 407 yards a game and yields 372 yards. Boise State has won 12 straight games on its home field, and this season outscored its opponents by an average of 22 points a game. The over-under on this game is 67, and if the weather is good, I expect the game to go over the total. UTEP quarterback Rocky Perez will be able to match Hendricks for a while, and UTEP has played a stronger schedule than the Broncos -- but there is no question as to which team will be more motivated in this game. As long as the weather cooperates, I think Boise State will be able to cover.

Insight.com Bowl -- Pittsburgh (Pick'm) over Iowa State

This is a tough matchup for Iowa State because Pittsburgh throws the ball well, and the Cyclones give up 210 yards a game through the air. Statistically, these teams are fairly even, with Iowa State averaging 424 yards of offense a game, while giving up 406 yards. Pittsburgh averages 400 yards of offense and allows 326 yards defensively. The Panthers have played a slightly tougher schedule than the Cyclones.

One stat that jumps off the page is that Pittsburgh is minus 11 in turnovers while Iowa State is plus 5. Most of Pittsburgh's turnovers have been in its passing game. The Panthers have phenomenal raw talent through the air, with two quality quarterbacks, John Turman and David Priestly and two excellent wide receivers in Antonio Bryant and Latef Grim. Iowa State has a balanced attack with Sage Rosenfels at quarterback and Ennis Haywood at running back. Pittsburgh permits only 2.6 yards per rush and should control Haywood, forcing Iowa State to become one-dimensional. The Panthers have an edge in coaching, and I will take Pittsburgh in a game that it merely needs to win straight up.

Holiday Bowl -- Oregon (plus 7) over Texas

Oregon wore down over the course of the season. Now that the team has had a month off, I think we will see the Duck team we saw at the beginning of the season, which won nine of its first 10 games. Texas looked spectacular in its final game of the season against Texas A&M, and the elevated point spread reflects that performance. Statistically, Texas has the edge, averaging 439 yards offensively while allowing only 278 yards. Oregon averages 409 yards on offense and gives up 331 yards a game.

Texas quarterback Chris Simms looked very good against Texas A&M, but one game does not a season make. Oregon Coach Mike Belotti is very creative and will have a complex series of blitzes to throw at Simms and force him to make mistakes. The Ducks have a veteran and accurate quarterback in Joey Harrington, who can match points with Texas. Turnovers will be the deciding factor in this game, and I think Oregon will win that battle. The seven points will provide a nice cushion of safety.

Outback Bowl -- South Carolina +6 over Ohio State

John Cooper vs. Lou Holtz. As Dick Vitale would say, it's a mismatch, baby! This is another game in which motivation matters. Ohio State is used to playing in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, while South Carolina was 0-11 last year. Statistically, these teams are dead even, with Ohio State averaging 370 yards on offense and giving up 319 yards.

The Gamecocks gain 368 yards a game on offense while giving up 308 yards. The Buckeyes have played a slightly tougher schedule than South Carolina, but the difference does not justify a point spread of 6, particularly because the Gamecocks will be the more motivated team. I am taking South Carolina plus the points.

While they will not count toward my season record, I also have small wagers on Virginia +10, North Carolina State +4, Northwestern +15, Florida +6 and Oklahoma +13.

NFL Pick

After writing "I WILL NOT BET ON THE NFL" on the blackboard 500 times, there is one game that I will be making a contingent bet on. You will hear ad nauseam the statistic that Tampa Bay has never won a game in temperatures below 40 degrees, and that Brett Favre has a phenomenal record in weather below 32 degrees. This will lead to an inflated line on Green Bay. At this time it is Green Bay minus 2 1/2. I predict it will go to minus 3 by Sunday and I will be betting on the Bucs simply on the basis of line value. If it does not move to 3, I will not play the game.

This will be the last Vegas Vice column for 2000. I wish all of you who have been loyal readers a happy and joyous holiday season, and a healthy and prosperous New Year!

Barry Lieberman was a litigator with the U.S. Department of Justice for nine years and is currently the general counsel for a company that operates four hotel/casinos in Las Vegas. He has been an amateur gambler for more than 20 years and successfully concluded last football season by winning on 55% of his college and pro selections posted on TheStreet.com. He welcomes your feedback at Vegasvice@aol.com.

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