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By Howard Schwartz

Like the swallows returning to Capistrano annually and on time, so returns the popular Al O'Donnell's Point Spread Playbook ($19.95). This 104-page friend of pro football bettors has been produced by O'Donnell for more than two decades now and it has become eagerly awaited by old pros and novices alike for its value in providing spreads, totals and angles in an easy-to-use format. It's a sure sign that the football season is within reach when the Playbook arrives at GBC.

What makes O'Donnell's book such a winner? Besides the fact that it's always the first item available for the upcoming season, it gives the player the kind of information he needs to prepare for his handicapping year. There's a section for every pro team with room to keep records on every game to be played during the regular season. For extra convenience, the book lets you know if the upcoming contests are to be played on grass or turf and whether they are conference or non-conference games.

Additionally, O'Donnell supplies hundreds of betting angles, which have occurred in the past. He doesn't say "bet Green Bay" or "bet against the Jets." What he does say is this or that trend has occurred for the past number of years or last year and you might be alert to that fact when betting in the 2002 season.

He has angles for betting the totals (over or unders) and shows you how each team performed for the past three years, game by game, by date, versus each regular season opponent and whether the game went over or under the established total and against the line.

Because they are special situations, Monday night, Thursday or Sunday night games get special attention. O'Donnell also looks at how often the AFC beat NFC teams in specific situations, and includes post-season and the Super Bowl angles, with the results of every Super Bowl played with the spreads and totals.

O'Donnell knows the "early bird, homework now" bettors want material they can study even before the preseason games get started, and he's right on time and on target with his newest effort.

Also among new arrivals are several football magazines. These include:

Athlon Sports College Football Edition (Western College Football Edition) 184 pages, $5.99 has an excellent analysis of what to expect in college football in 2002—with predictions, analysis, schedules, rosters. Interestingly, it found a way of including one of those miniature, pocket-sized, slide-out NFL schedules. This particular magazine looks at college football nationwide for the first 72 pages—after that, it's all devoted to the WAC and Mountain West conferences, but picks up later on to look at the top 100 freshman, top recruiting schools, top high school seniors (Incidentally, this publication picks UNLV to finish fifth in the MWC).

Athlon Sports National College Football Edition (216 pages, $5.99)looks at 11 major conferences (including the WAC and Mountain West), examines the strengths, weaknesses of more than 100 Division 1-A teams; shows you who's expected to be on the offensive or defensive teams (returning starters are indicated) and who the backups are for each position. Schedules for all teams are included in a special section; along with the special pocket-sized pullout NFL schedule. The same material on top recruiting schools; top high school seniors are included in this issue as in the Western edition.

Athlon Sports Pro Football (240 pages, $5.99) gives you a quick look at each team—weaknesses and strengths; predicts where the team will finish in each conference; draft picks; players no longer there from last year; rosters; scores (no spreads or Totals) from last year; schedules (plus special slide-pullout, pocket-sized schedule in this issue); projected starting lineups; some fantasy material to work with (about eight pages).

Lindy's Pro Football (240 pages, $6.99) has a section on each NFL team showing schedules (including time game starts); last year's results; an analysis of roster with comments on each player and rating players by position; tells you where to call or write every NFL team; what the team web site is; information on the coaching staff; a six-page section on fantasy football including stats and comments on players by position.

Football Action—College Edition (206 pages, $5.99) looks at all major conferences plus major independents; tells you number of starters returning and lost; number of lettermen returning or lost; what the spread was for each game last year (and Totals if game was bettable in a Totals situation). Reviews offense and defensive strengths and weaknesses; contains betting angles for each team (against the spread in many cases). Excellent for those who want to know the opening lines and Totals movements during the week for all of last year, week by week, for both major college games and all the NFL games, from August to the Super Bowl, plus the final score. This magazine also looks at conference like the Big Sky, Ivy League and Southern, profiling teams, key players, projections.

(The books mentioned here are available from Gambler's Book Shop, 630 South 11th Street, Las Vegas, NV 89101. Call l-800-522-1777 from 9 to 5 Monday through Saturday Pacific time to order, using only MasterCard, VISA or Discover card (no Amex accepted). You may order through the store web site at www.gamblersbook.com and view the store's 1,000 books, videos and computer software. You may also call or write and ask for the free 80-page catalog to be sent to you. The store, founded in 1964, is located about two miles from Downtown Las Vegas, and the same distance from where the Strip begins, a block west of Maryland Parkway, just off Charleston Boulevard.)