This post covers picking strategies for college football pick’em contests for Week 10 of the 2011-12 season, based on college football predictions from our algorithmic models and other relevant data such as public picking trends. It also complements the analysis and projections presented in our College Football Office Pool Analysis pages.
This commentary reflects predictions and public picking trends as of Wednesday afternoon. The pick recommendations on our Office Pool Picks pages will continue to update based on the latest available data until shortly before the first AP Top 25 game or official Yahoo! Pick’em game of the week. Make sure to check our Game Winner Pick’em and Spread Based Pick’Em pages for the latest.
Week 11 Highlighted Picks Recap
Last week our Odds-On Value picks went 2-0, while our lone Odds-On Contrarian pick failed to come through, which made for a so-so week. Our upset picks, however, did great.
Our Low Risk Upset picks went 1 for 2, as Illinois lost, but Virginia Tech pulled off a minor upset Georgia Tech. Our High Risk Upsets went 2 for 4, as both Missouri and Pittsburgh took home wins. Finally, our Long Shot Upsets went 1 for 2, as Purdue knocked off Ohio State. If you picked a few of these games, you stood a very good chance of moving up in your pool standings.
Overall, our method of mostly staying conservative — but throwing in a couple carefully chosen upsets for those in larger pools — has worked out well, as our Conservative game winner picks are now beating 96.1% of all ESPN college football pick’em contestants. Our Aggressive picks are slightly behind, at the 89.7% level. Our Very Aggressive picks are further back, topping only 64% of competitors.
For spread-based pools, our advice last week was simple. For Conservative picks, use our projected cover odds to rank your teams. For Very Aggressive picks, go against the public in every game. And for a middle ground, those strategies are blended in our Aggressive picks. It was a middle of the road week for our models, as the Conservative ATS picks went 13-13. The risks taken by the Aggressive strategy paid off in a small way, as those picks went 14-12. Finally, our boom-or-bust Very Aggressive strategy didn’t pan out, finish at 12-15.
Those records, keep in mind, were against actual Vegas spreads. Most likely, your lines were a bit softer than those we compare against. Hopefully you picked up an extra game or two by using late line movement to your advantage, as detailed in our preseason pick’em strategy post.
College Football Week 12 Pick’em Strategy: Game Winners
It’s time for the Possible Game Winner Picks table. This valuable tool summarizes the info we use to make our recommendations. It’s based on our detailed pick’em analysis page, with only a couple tweaks.
First, we only show you the games where the public seems to be significantly undervaluing a team. Second, we add a “Value” column that shows the difference between projected win odds and public pick percentage — this is a key data point that tells us which teams give us the most bang for our buck. Third, we label the picks with a type that corresponds to the summary lists from our analysis page.
Team Opponent Win Odds Public % Value Spread Pick Type
Georgia vs. Kentucky 97.6% ~85% 12.6% -30.5 Odds-On Value
Texas vs. Kansas St 68.6% ~20% 48.6% -8.5 Odds-On Contrarian
S Florida vs. Miami (FL) 54.1% ~20% 34.1% -1.0 Odds-On Contrarian
Michigan vs. Nebraska 60.9% ~40% 20.9% -3.5 Odds-On Contrarian
Connecticut vs. Louisville 48.3% ~20% 28.3% -1.0 Low Risk Upset
Wash State vs. Utah 37.7% ~10% 27.7% +3.5 High Risk Upset
Rutgers vs. Cincinnati 42.5% ~30% 12.5% +3.0 High Risk Upset
NC State vs. Clemson 30.5% ~5% 25.5% +7.5 Long Shot Upset
We have one Odds-On Value and three Odds-On Contrarian picks this week. These are games where our favored team is being picked by less people than their win odds would suggest. In the case of the Odds-On Contrarian picks, the public actually favors the team that we think is more likely to lose, meaning you get to make a safe pick that has a large reward:
- Texas vs Kansas State — Kansas State as been an upset machine this season, with a straight up record of 5-2 in games where they’re the underdogs. The public assumes this is going to continue, but it’s worth noting that they are only 1-2 when the line against them as been this large (+8.5) or longer.
- South Florida vs Miami FL — This game is rated fairly close to a toss up, with South Florida the slight favorites according to both Vegas and our models. Yet the public is picking Miami at roughly an 80% clip, presenting a great chance to gain some ground.
- Michigan vs Nebraska — This looks like one of those clashes where home field advantage will play a huge role, and could be the difference in the game — Michigan is favored by 3.5 — yet the public is picking the road Cornhuskers at a 60% rate. We suggest you accept the slight edge ans go with Michigan.
For the Odds-On Value pick, the public favors the same team we do, but they are being picked at a rate much lower than their projected win odds:
- Georgia vs Kentucky — This is as close to a lock as you’re going to find, with Georgia favored by over 30 points, and our models giving the Bulldogs a better than 97% chance to win. Yet for some reason, only about 85% of Yahoo contestants are picking UGA to win. Here’s a great chance to gain a game on the other 15 percent.
There are several valuable upset picks this week, where we project a team to have sub-50% win odds, but they are so unpopular that they become worthwhile picks for people who need to make up ground on their conservative opponents.
For those of you who are 3 or more points behind, we’d suggest picking our Low Risk Upset:
- Connecticut vs Louisville — This game is close to a coin flip according to both Vegas and our models, but 80% of the public is picking Louisville. If you aren’t leading your pool or at least in the money, the clear correct decision according to game theory is to take the less popular side.
We also have a few promising High Risk and Long Shot Upset picks. These are designed for those of you who are either in large pools (hundreds to thousands) or are far behind the leaders — basically, people that need to take some gambles. If we simulate the week 1,000 times, these picks will have a lower projected AVERAGE score, but they have higher highs and lower lows, and those highs have the best chance of giving you a significant boost over the competition. It’s a risky boom-or-bust strategy, but when you’re behind at this stage, you need to take some risks
If you’re one of those that needs to gamble (behind by 5+), add one or two of those more risky upset picks, whichever strike your fancy. If you’re down by 8 or more points, you should probably choose all three, and hope that you get fairly lucky:
- Washington State vs Utah — True, Washington State has under a 40% chance to win this one, according to a combination of Vegas and our models, but they’re being picked by only 10% of pick’em players. That means this is a great spot to take a gamble.
- Rutgers vs Cincinnati — The Bearcats are slight favorites here, but this game has a reasonable chance of swinging Rutgers’ way. One of our three models even gives Rutgers a slight edge. Yet only 30% of the public is picking the Scarlet Knights.
- North Carolina State vs Clemson — We don’t usually talk about hard-to-measure things like motivation, but we’ll make an exception here. Clemson lost their shot at an undefeated record two weeks ago, and then nearly blew a game last week in which they were a 16.6-point favorite. If they’re still depressed over blowing their perfect season, NC State has a decent shot to knock them off. Yet virtually nobody is giving the Wolfpack a chance, as less than 5% of Yahoo players are selecting them. If you’re behind, here’s a great spot to try to gain ground on everyone.
College Football Week 12 Pick’em Strategy: Against the Spread
As with the last two weeks, our Conservative College Football Spread-Based Pick’em Picks are simply chosen based on our predicted cover odds. These should be fine for small or medium pools. A few of our highest confidence picks this week are:
Remember, though, what we mentioned in our last preseason football Pick’em strategy post — if your pool has a different spread than what we list, be sure to use that to your advantage, by picking the team that the line has moved towards. As an example, if the line in your pool is Oklahoma State -12, but the current line in Vegas is -14, the smart pick for you would be Oklahoma State. You’d be getting two “free points” compared to true market value.
In huge pools (thousands of people), the small difference in our projected cover odds (generally ranging only from 45% to 55%) should probably be outweighed by the need to pick against your opponents, especially when some teams are being backed by only ~5% of the public.
As a result, our Very Aggressive picks this week are simply going to assume that the Vegas lines are efficient, and then pick whichever team has less public support. That gives you the maximum differentiation from the crowd, while costing you relatively little in win odds.
If you can see the number of people who have chosen each team in your actual pool, pick the less popular squad. Otherwise, you can use our picks for guidance, since the same teams should be popular in most pools.
Our Aggressive picks are a midway point between these two strategies. This is a good pick set if you’re in a pool with several hundred to a thousand people, or if you want to place a little bit less emphasis on our projected cover odds.
We hope this has been helpful. Feel free to ask for specific advice in the comments!