October 19, 2011 - by David Hess
College Football Week 8 Pick’Em Strategy: A Good Week To Play It Safe
This post covers picking strategies for college football pick’em contests for Week 8 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 7 Highlighted Picks Recap
Our Odds-On picks did not have a great week, going only 3-3. Our Upset picks, however, did fine — two of six came in. 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 picks are now beating 92.4% of all ESPN college football pick’em contestants. Our Aggressive picks are slightly behind, at the 79.4% level. Our Very Aggressive picks are further back, topping only 55.3% 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. There’s no getting around the fact that last week was a poor one for our ATS picks, as all three strategies were correct on only 9 or 10 out of 24 games.
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 8 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 is 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
VA Tech vs. Boston Col 93.20% ~80% 13.2% -21 Odds-On Value
S Mississippi vs. S Methodist 59.10% ~50% 9.1% -3 Odds-On Value
Houston vs. Marshall 91.90% ~85% 6.9% -22 Odds-On Value
Texas A&M at Iowa State 91.80% ~85% 6.8% -20 Odds-On Value
Notre Dame vs. USC 74.50% ~70% 4.5% -8.5 Odds-On Value
Miami (FL) vs. GA Tech 55.60% ~25% 30.6% -2.5 Odds-On Contrarian
Louisville vs. Rutgers 53.00% ~30% 23.0% -2 Odds-On Contrarian
Purdue vs. Illinois 38.80% ~5% 33.8% +3.5 High Risk Upset
Cincinnati at S Florida 39.10% ~15% 24.1% +3 High Risk Upset
Utah at California 44.30% ~30% 14.3% +3 High Risk Upset
Missouri vs. Oklahoma St 31.10% <5% 26.1% +6.5 Long Shot Upset
Northwestrn vs. Penn State 33.70% ~15% 18.7% +4 Long Shot Upset
Michigan St vs. Wisconsin 24.60% ~10% 14.6% +7.5 Long Shot Upset
We have two Odds-On Contrarian picks this week. These are games where we favor a team to win, yet less than half the public is picking them:
- Miami FL vs Georgia Tech. Miami is improving (having covered the spread in their last two games), while Georgia Tech is trending the other direction (having failed to cover in three straight). Combine that with the fact that our models and Vegas both favor Miami, while the public favors Georgia Tech, and this becomes a great spot to gain some ground.
- Louisville vs Rutgers. This is one of those cases where our models see close to a coin flip, but the public is heavily on one team (Rutgers). The safe move for those ahead in their pools is to take Rutgers, but for everyone else, the best move according to game theory is to select the Cardinals and hope luck is on your side Saturday.
There are a plethora of Odds-On Value picks this week. These are similar to our Odds-On Contrarian picks, except that the public is giving our favorites a little more credit. Still, these teams are being picked less than their odds suggest they should be. You’re probably already planning on choosing these teams, but it’s worth giving a bit higher confidence to all five of the teams listed above, and especially to Virginia Tech over Boston College, as the Hokies have very high win odds and the most value of any team in the category.
Just like last week, there are no Low-Risk Upset picks to be found, meaning those in small pools, or not in desperate shape, should be playing it conservatively, and sticking to favorites.
The rest of our various Upset picks 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. These picks will lower your AVERAGE score for the week, but they 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, add one or two of our High Risk or Long Shot Upset picks, if any of those strike your fancy. Here is the choice that looks most appealing to us:
- Purdue vs Illinois. The Boilermakers are a bit more of a gamble than Utah over Cal would be, but the public support for Purdue is so low (5%), that the risk is worth it. If this pick comes through, you’ll have gained a game on nearly everyone in your pool. Unless you live in Indiana.
College Football Week 8 Pick’em Strategy: Against the Spread
As with the last two weeks, our Conservative College Football Spread-Based Pick’em Picks are simply ranked by our predicted cover odds. These should be fine for small or medium pools. 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 -27, but the current line in Vegas is -29, the smart pick for you would be Oklahoma. 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 (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!