Week 10 College Football Pick’em Strategy: Time To Ride Michigan State?

Michigan State has endured an up and down 2012 season, the low point being a four game span during which they won only once, squeaking by Indiana. The Spartans bounced back last week, though, edging Wisconsin on the road. Throughout the season, Michigan State’s defense has remained strong, and they rank in the top 5 nationally in opponent yards per play.

While our numbers don’t quite favor the Spartans to pull an upset over Nebraska this week, we do see the game as a relatively even matchup. With the public heavily favoring the Cornhuskers, Michigan State looks like the best value upset pick of Week 10.

Where We Stand After Week 9

Here is where our game winner pick’em strategies currently stand on ESPN (which uses confidence points) heading into Week 10. There wasn’t much change across the board, and in a week with some crazy upsets in ESPN’s 10-game pick’em, Penn State’s failure to upset Ohio State weighed on our more aggressive strategies.

  • Conservative: 94th percentile (-2.4 from last week)
  • Aggressive: 75.4th percentile (-2.3)
  • Very Aggressive: 67.4th percentile (+1.4)

As we’re into the final third of the season, you need to assess your position in your pool and act accordingly. If you’re only in the top 20-30% or so of a huge pool, for example, you’re almost certainly not going to win it. But if the pool has weekly prizes, you should try to maximize your odds of winning a weekly prize by rolling the dice with very aggressive picks.

If you’re in the money or close to it, the opposite is true. Be wary about taking on too much risk. It’s still too early to go totally conservative and pick only favorites if you’re doing well in a larger pool, but we’re getting into the home stretch now and a more defensive strategy will soon make sense in that case.

Here is where we stand on Yahoo! with our point spread pick’em strategies. All of the ATS pick sets had considerable success in Week 9, and the more aggressive strategies made huge jumps in the standings. Notably, the Conservative strategy continues its run of being in the top 1% in the nation every single week this season:

  • Conservative: 99th percentile (no change from last week)
  • Aggressive: 93rd percentile (+10)
  • Very Aggressive: 78th percentile (+11)

(Keep in mind that we occasionally “flip” picks if the point spread listed on ESPN is significantly different than the point spread listed on our site.)

Recap of Last Week’s Advice

Last week we highlighted two games in which we (and Vegas) favored a team that less than 50% of the public picked. Nebraska pulled through at home, keeping Michigan out of the endzone in a 23-9 win. Nevada, however, did not fare as well, losing by 17 at Air Force.

Our upset picks performed about as expected overall. We noted that Arizona and Washington were good value picks, especially with less than 5% of the public picking them, and both pulled off upsets on Saturday. Picking either of those teams last week would have provided tremendous value in any sized pool.

Unfortunately, Penn State, Cincinnati, Iowa and Texas Tech failed to reach similar success, all losing last week. Still, out of those six upset picks, one would have expected a total of around 2.2 total wins based on our win odds, and we got two.

We also noted three against the spread picks in which 88% or more of the public was picking a particular team. Both Washington and Arizona not only covered, but won outright, and Cincinnati pushed with its 3 point overtime loss. Simply picking against extreme public imbalance last week resulted in a 2-0-1 record, and more importantly, a gigantic advantage over most pool competitors.

Our Week 10 College Football Office Pool Picks

Here’s where you can find our computer generated picks for college football office pools, based on logic appropriate for your size of pool (very important!):

On our game winner office pool picks, there is a drop-down menu above the picks table where you can select Yahoo!, ESPN, or AP Top 25 teams. A lot of people play in Yahoo! and ESPN pools, each of which pick a specific subset of games to include in their pick’ems week to week. We calculate pick sets designed specifically for these sets of games.

Also, if you haven’t checked out our college football pick’em strategy series, do yourself a favor and check it out. It’ll ensure our choices here make a lot more sense.

And now, it’s time for our handy Game Winner table, which summarizes a few teams that look like they could be smart picks for people that need to take some risks. It’s based on our detailed pick’em analysis page.

Week 10 Value Pick Highlights: Game Winners

TeamOpponentAdj Win OddsPublic %ValueSpreadPick Type
UCLAvs Arizona61%35%26%-3.5Odds-On Contrarian
Indianavs Iowa55%35%20%-1.5Odds-On Contrarian
Californiavs Washington63%46%17%-4.5Odds-On Contrarian
Michigan Statevs Nebraska45%21%24%+2.0Low Risk Upset
Arizona Stateat Oregon State40%4%36%+4.0High Risk Upset
Purduevs Penn State41%14%27%+3.5High Risk Upset
Syracuseat Cincinnati35%6%29%+4.5Long Shot Upset
TCUat West Virginia30%8%22%+6.5Long Shot Upset

This week we have three odds-on contrarian picks, which tend to be our favorite. These occur when the public disagrees with our models’ pick to win, and in this case, the Vegas favorite as well. UCLA, Indiana and California are all favored to win in Vegas as of publication time, and we give each of them win odds of over 50%. A majority of the public, though, is calling for the upset in each case.

All three teams are excellent picks in any sized pool and should probably receive high confidence levels in pools that require them.

There is also a riskier upset pick that provides significant value this week. We give Michigan State close to even odds to beat Nebraska at home, yet only 21% of the public has picked them to do so. For those in bigger pools looking for an upset, Sparty provides the most value with the least risk.

Finally four other upset picks are undervalued this week. Arizona State (especially, if only 4% are picking them in your pool!) and Purdue look like create picks for large pool/high-risk strategies. However, with other solid options on the board this week, we wouldn’t recommend taking such large chances on Syracuse and TCU — unless you’ve got a feeling, and in that case, at least you can know that value is on your side.

Against The Spread Pick’em Strategy

A lot of point spread based pick’em contests publish the games and associated point spreads at the beginning of the week, but give you until the end of the week (or close to it) to submit your picks. This means a great strategy is to look for a game where the official spread in your contest is different from the current spread offered at most sports books, and take the “free points.” In general, the edge you get from those free points is going to be stronger than any lean you have on who is favored to cover.

Below are the biggest line movements from earlier in the week. Up-t0-date line movement highlights can also be found on on the right side of our college football odds page.

Week 10 Point Spread Movement Highlights

TeamOpponentOpening LineCurrent LineMovement
Ohio Statevs Illinois-24.5-27.53.0
Virginiaat NC State+12+9.52.5
Arkansasvs Tulsa-5.5-8.02.5
Navyvs Florida Atlantic-14.0-16.02.0
Louisvillevs Temple-14.0-16.02.0
Kansas Statevs Oklahoma State-8.0-9.51.5

The other major source of value in ATS pick’ems is finding teams that a huge majority of your opponents are picking, and then taking the other side. Most Vegas point spreads are pretty efficient, so if 80%+ of your opponents are picking a certain team to beat the spread this week, that team is almost certainly being severely overvalued. That means you’ve got roughly a 50/50 shot of pulling ahead of a huge chunk of your opponents by picking against them, no matter what your personal opinion is of that game.

Here are five teams where the lines for the Yahoo! ATS pick’em are the within a point of those found at Pinnacle sports book on Thursday morning, yet 20% or less of contestants are selecting them to cover:

Week 10 Point Spread Pick Imbalance Highlights

TeamOpponentPublic Pick%TR Cover OddsCurrent Line
San Diego Stateat Boise State10%48%+4.0
Dukevs Clemson11%52%+6.5
Arizona Stateat Oregon State13%54%+3.0
Syracuseat Cincinnati15%47%+1.0
Oklahoma Stateat Kansas State16%51%+6.0

If the lines in your pick’em contest are the same or very close to those shown above, and if you think your competitors will be picking teams in roughly the same manner as the general public (e.g., in line with the Yahoo! contest picking trends), we’d recommend playing all five of these teams in a point spread based pick’em contest.

As you can see, our models only favor three of these five teams to cover the spread. However, all of our predictions for these games are close enough to 50/50 that the public’s blatant irrationality is worth exploiting in every case.

For advice on other games in your spread-based pick’em pool this week, check out our college football office pool spread picks page, or our college football ATS picks page.

As always, please feel free to ask questions in the comment section below. We’ll do our best to answer as many as possible, and we look forward to a fun and interactive college football weekly pick’em advice column this season.