Just ask Vegas: 'Huskers in too deep

December 29, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

MIAMI -- Only in college football can an alleged No. 1 team be a 17-point underdog in the game that will decide the national championship.

Ask Las Vegas: Nebraska is a fraud.

The entire country knows it, and the clamor over who's No. 1 will only intensify when Nebraska -- the top-ranked team in the Bowl Coalition and coaches' polls -- gets trashed by Florida State (No. 1, AP) in the Orange Bowl.

West Virginia (No. 3, AP) will claim the national title if it beats Florida in the Sugar Bowl and finishes 12-0.

And No. 4 Notre Dame will do the same if it beats Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl and finishes 12-1 -- the same as Florida State, a team it upset, 31-24.

Talk about a shocker: That defeat marked the only time in the Seminoles' past 16 games that they've failed to cover the point spread -- and in every other game, they were favored by double digits.

Ask Vegas: Florida State is No. 1.

The Seminoles were 23 1/2 -point favorites over No. 24 Clemson, and won, 57-0. They were 24-point favorites over bowl-bound Virginia, and won, 40-14. They were 34-point favorites over bowl-bound North Carolina State, and won, 62-3.

For good measure, Florida State also covered a 14-point spread against No. 10 Miami, a 10 1/2 -point spread against No. 8 Florida, and, oh yes, a 10 1/2 -point spread against Nebraska in the last Orange Bowl.

The Seminoles' 15-1 run against the spread started when coach Bobby Bowden switched to the fast-break offense last season. It does not include their 49-20 victory over Maryland, a game that was off the boards because quarterback Charlie Ward was injured.

To bettors who keep winning with Florida State, the line on the Orange Bowl can not go high enough. It opened at 14 points, went to 17 in two days, peaked at 17 1/2 , then fell back to 17.

The only way it will drop further is if Vegas' heavy hitters -- the so-called "wise guys" -- start putting big money on Nebraska. Of course, the wise guys didn't become wise guys by making such foolish investments.

"I don't think anybody really thinks Nebraska is the best team," said Michael "Roxy" Roxborough, president of Las Vegas Sports Consultants, the company that sets the point spreads used by the Vegas casinos.

"But anybody in the country would have been a substantial underdog to Florida State. Notre Dame would have been the closest, and they would have been a seven-point underdog on a neutral site."

Notre Dame, remember, was a 6 1/2 -point underdog at home, but beat Florida State by a touchdown. About $10 million was bet on that game in Las Vegas, Roxborough said -- possibly a record for a non-bowl game, but only one-sixth the annual take on the Super Bowl.

According to Roxborough's power ratings, the game for the national championship should be Florida State-Notre Dame -- not because it would be good for business, but because it would match the two best teams.

Roxborough's computer ranks Florida State No. 1, Notre Dame No. 2 and Tennessee No. 3. Nebraska and Miami are tied for fourth. West Virginia doesn't even crack the top 10.

Seriously, does anyone think West Virginia should be national champion when it compiled its perfect record against teams like Eastern Michigan, Rutgers and Temple, and beat Maryland by only five points?

A Florida State-Notre Dame rematch would have settled the issue, but Notre Dame screwed that up by losing to Boston College. So, the bowl coalition came up with Florida State-Nebraska, a game with all the appeal of a New Year's Day hangover.

Just ask Vegas: No one cares.

"A lot of people don't want to bother with Nebraska," said Scott Kaminsky, the odds manager for Roxborough's outfit. "I know how a lot of people think. They don't want any part of Nebraska. They think Florida State will blow them out. But they're not going to lay 16 or 17 points. So, they won't bet the game."

Florida State beat Nebraska, 27-14, in the last Orange Bowl, and neither team has changed dramatically since then. "Our ratings say Florida State is 13 points better," Roxborough said. "We gave Florida State a point for playing in Florida. It's not their home field, but it doesn't hurt 'em any.

"The reason we didn't go any higher than 14 [initially] is that they're playing in a bowl game. A bowl game is a little different than the regular season. Teams have one month to prepare for an opponent. That generally favors the underdog. Of course, if you don't have the talent, you can't win."

Hello, Nebraska.

No. 1 in two out of three polls, and a 17-point underdog to Florida State.

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