November 22, 2011 - by David Hess
This post covers picking strategies for college football pick’em contests for Week 13 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.
Last week our Odds-On picks went 2-2, with our lone Odds-On Value pick — Georgia over Kentucky — coming home with a win. That’s not a great week, but it’s not a killer. Our upset picks, however, did well. Two of our four highlighted underdogs won their games, as both Rutgers and NC State emerged victorious, despite less than 5% of Yahoo contestants backing Rutgers.
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 95.5% of all ESPN college football pick’em contestants. Our Aggressive picks are slightly behind, at the 89.5% level. Our Very Aggressive picks are further back, topping only 66% 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 pick sets, with some doing poorly, but others turning in fantastic weeks. The Conservative ATS picks fared the worst, being correct on only 10 of 27 games. The Aggressive strategy paid off, though, as those picks went a sterling 18-9. Finally, our boom-or-bust Very Aggressive strategy had a good week as well, finishing at 15-12.
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.
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
S Mississippi vs. Memphis 97.5% ~90% 7.5% -35.5 Odds-On Value
Alabama at Auburn 94.0% ~90% 4.0% -21.0 Odds-On Value
S Carolina vs. Clemson 71.9% ~60% 11.9% -4.0 Odds-On Value
Tulsa vs. Houston 40.1% ~5% 35.1% +3.0 High Risk Upset
Louisville at S Florida 43.0% ~20% 23.0% -- High Risk Upset
California at Arizona St 38.5% ~15% 23.5% +6.0 High Risk Upset
Virginia vs. VA Tech 34.7% ~10% 24.7% +5.0 Long Shot Upset
Notre Dame at Stanford 30.6% ~5% 25.6% +6.5 Long Shot Upset
Pittsburgh at W Virginia 30.1% ~5% 25.1% +6.5 Long Shot Upset
Because we agree with the public’s take on the projected winner on every game, we have no Odds-On Contrarian picks this week. We do have three Odds-On Value choices, though. These are games where our favored team is being picked by less people than their win odds would suggest. None of these will give you a huge edge, but you should still bump them up a couple spots if you’re in a confidence pool:
As you might expect, in a week where we have so few valuable favorite picks, we see a lot of tempting underdog choices. Here, 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.
There are no Low Risk Upset picks this week, so readers who are behind by only 2 or 3 points should either play it safe by sticking with our Conservative picks, or throw in one of these High Risk Upset picks. For those further back, we’d definitely recommend selecting one or more of these picks, if they strike your fancy:
We also have a few promising 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 large gambles. If we simulate the week 1,000 times, these picks will have a lower projected AVERAGE score, but in the cases where they do have a high score, your opponents are likely to do poorly, 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 6+), 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 super lucky:
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!
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