December 1, 2011 - by David Hess
College Football Week 14 Pick’em Strategy: For Those Not In 1st, Time To Take Big Risks
Last week was a great one for our Conservative strategy, as we picked every single Top 25 game correctly, went a perfect 10 of 10 in the ESPN pick’em, and got 19 of 21 right in the Yahoo contest.
This week looks to play out similarly, as we don’t see a ton of great upset picks, meaning playing it safe may be a successful tactic. Unfortunately, it’s so late in the season that standing pat isn’t viable for anybody other than pool leaders.
This post covers picking strategies for college football pick’em contests for Week 14 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 13 Highlighted Picks Recap
As mention above, our Conservative pick set was nearly perfect across all three contests we cover — Top 25, ESPN, and Yahoo.
Here’s what’s even more amazing — both of our Conservative losses in the Yahoo contest came in games we labeled as High Risk Upset picks. Those went 2-1, with Louisville topping South Florida and California winning at Arizona State, while Tulsa fell to Houston.
That means if you needed to gamble a bit, and so you threw in those upset picks but went with the Conservative choices otherwise, you went 20 of 21 in Yahoo last week. That certainty helps in the 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 94.0% of all ESPN college football pick’em contestants. Our Aggressive picks are slightly behind, at the 92.9% level. Our Very Aggressive picks are further back, topping only 70.1% 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 wasn’t the best week for any of our strategies, which can often be the case when favorites play well across the board. All three strategies projected either 9 or 10 games correct out of 21.
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 14 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
Boise State vs. New Mexico 99.3% ~95% 4.3% -48.5 Odds-On Value
TX Christian vs. UNLV 98.5% ~95% 3.5% -38.5 Odds-On Value
LSU Georgia (N) 80.3% ~70% 10.3% -13.5 Odds-On Value
Texas at Baylor 43.1% ~15% 28.1% +2.5 High Risk Upset
Ohio N Illinois (N) 35.0% ~10% 25.0% +3.5 High Risk Upset
Oklahoma at Oklahoma St 38.2% ~25% 13.2% +3.5 High Risk Upset
Connecticut at Cincinnati 24.7% ~10% 14.7% +9 Long Shot Upset
Syracuse at Pittsburgh 22.5% ~5% 17.5% +10.5 Long Shot Upset
Iowa State at Kansas St 21.1% ~5% 16.1% +10.5 Long Shot Upset
As was the case last week, our models agree with the public’s take on the projected winner in every game, so 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. We recommend everyone choose these teams, and boost their confidence points if applicable:
- Boise State vs New Mexico — This is about as close to a guaranteed game as you’re ever going to get, yet roughly 5% of the public is picking the underdog Lobos. You’re not gaining a huge edge here, but we wanted to make sure and point out that this should be your top confidence pick.
- TCU vs UNLV — Similar to the above game, this is a ‘gimme’ that 5% of the public isn’t taking. This ought to be your second highest confidence pick.
- LSU vs Georgia (neutral) — It’s hard to believe the #1 team in the country is being undervalued by the public, but the numbers sure make it look that way. About 30% of Yahoo contestants are picking Georgia to upset LSU, but their odds of winning are closer to 20%. People love to root for the underdog in championship games, so use that to your advantage here and boost the confidence of LSU.
There are no Low Risk Upset picks this week, so readers who are behind by only 2 or 3 games will have to take some bigger gambles on our High Risk Upsets. After all, it’s the last week of the regular season, so you can’t play it safe and wait for later. There is very little ‘later’ left.
These games represent the best balance of risk versus reward for players who need to gain ground:
- Texas at Baylor — Here is your best option if you need to try to make up only one game. Texas is only a slight underdog, but 85% of the public is picking Baylor.
- Ohio vs Northern Illinois (neutral) — This pick is similar in value to the Texas one, meaning you stand to pass about the same fraction of your pool if Ohio wins. But it’s slightly less safe, meaning we prefer the Texas pick if you only need to make up one game. For everyone else, we suggest you choose Ohio.
- Oklahoma at Oklahoma State — In the de facto Big 12 conference championship game, the public is picking Oklahoma State as if they’re a huge favorite, when the reality is that this is basically a game between two teams of roughly equal quality, with the Cowboys having the edge mostly due to home field advantage. We give Oklahoma nearly a 40% chance to pull off the upset here, which makes it worth a stab for those behind by several games or more.
We also have a few promising Long Shot Upset picks. These are designed for those of you who are behind by more than 3 games. At this point, you need to connect on multiple Hail Mary bombs to win your pool. We’re not going to sugar coat it: odds are, these picks will lose. But if these teams do get lucky and eke out victories, they give you the most bang for your buck in terms of passing a ton of opponents at once:
College Football Week 14 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!