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Opening-night lightning has bettors praying


Lightning strikes lit up the opening night of the college football season, and there was a threat of point-spread shenanigans after a severe weather delay chased Steve Spurrier off the field.

South Carolina, a 12-point favorite, led North Carolina by 17 when the game was put on hold, a few minutes short of being an official result for wagering purposes.

Underdog bettors prayed for more lightning and rain. Others prayed for the weather to clear and for Spurrier, the Gamecocks coach, to reappear.

The calm of summer is over, and the storm is here.

“You can tell it’s football season. It’s not just guys playing the horses during the day,” MGM Resorts sports book director Jay Rood said. “It’s strong action for a Thursday.”

And UNLV returned with another weak performance. Add that to the phrase about death, taxes and the sun rising in the east.

Eight games were on the main betting board Thursday, and six were significant.

The last one, Southern California-Hawaii, went late into the night.

“It has been all about South Carolina and Mississippi,” Rood said. “We’re actually drawing quite a bit of UNLV money, too.”

Fools are born every minute, and, at some point in life, most find their way into a casino.

I did not bite on the Rebels plus-14, but plenty of suckers took the bait, and the line closed 13½.

An argument can be made that UNLV, on the short end of a 51-23 loss at Minnesota, deserved a better fate. Tim Cornett ran for the game’s first touchdown, Nick Sherry passed for another in the second quarter, and the Rebels represented well in the first half.

But, of course, there was another half.

The Gophers, who probably rank 11th in the 12-team Big Ten, scored on a 98-yard kickoff return, a 51-yard return of a blocked field goal and an 89-yard interception return. Bad teams find ways to fail to cover, and the Rebels continue to be a clown show on the road, where they lost for the 23rd consecutive time.

There was a point-spread shenanigan in Salt Lake City, where Utah, which opened as a 3-point favorite and closed 1½, kicked a short field goal with 19 seconds left to cover in a 30-26 victory over Utah State.

Rood said the bookmakers were rooting for Minnesota and rooting harder for Vanderbilt, a 3-point home ’dog to Mississippi.

But the Rebels of the Southeastern Conference rewarded bettors by pulling out a thrilling 39-35 comeback win and covering.

The South Carolina game was a classic tease.

According to house rules at Las Vegas books, a game is official when 55 minutes are played. With 8:20 remaining — 3 minutes, 20 seconds shy of a wagering decision — the teams left the field as lightning struck near the stadium in Columbia, S.C.

The delay lasted nearly two hours. Finally, Spurrier and his Gamecocks reappeared, but the Tar Heels were driving for a backdoor score with one minute to go.

North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner threw three incompletions into the end zone before slipping on a fourth-down run and getting tackled at the 1-yard line.

The thin line between love and hate — and cashing a ticket or not — is the goal line.

Rumors swirled of a six-figure bet being made somewhere on the Strip on Fresno State, an 11-point home favorite against Rutgers. USC, favored by 24 against Hawaii, looked terrible early but led 20-5 at halftime.

That was the warmup act for the weekend, when 35 games are on the main board between today and Sunday.

Bruce Marshall, a handicapper for Goldsheet.com, has circled Purdue plus-11 at Cincinnati and Ohio plus-20½ at Louisville as live underdogs waiting to ambush overpriced favorites.

“Double digits are way too much to give the Boilermakers, who did manage covers in all three games as a visiting ’dog last season,” said Marshall, who ripped Tommy Tuberville, the Bearcats’ new coach.

Alabama is back in action against Virginia Tech on Saturday, when Georgia opens at Clemson, UNR opens at UCLA and Johnny Manziel plays a half for Texas A&M against Rice.

Sixteen NFL games were played Thursday, and no one seemed to care. That will change next week.

■ CLOSING NUMBERS — By the end of the weekend, I probably will bet about 10 college games. These five are definite plays (home teams in CAPS):

SOUTHERN METHODIST (+5½) over Texas Tech; Purdue (+11) over CINCINNATI; NEW MEXICO (-3) over Texas-San Antonio; Ohio (+20½) over LOUISVILLE; Colorado State (-2½) over Colorado.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.