Week 11 College Football Pick’em Strategy: Can Syracuse Be A Cinderella?

Louisville stands as the lone undefeated team in the Big East this year. They looked vulnerable at times on their recent three game home-stand, though, squeaking by South Florida and Cincinnati and falling behind early to Temple.

The Cardinals head to the Carrier Dome this week to take on the inconsistent Syracuse Orange. We see Louisville as narrow favorites to stay unbeaten, but a whopping 97% of the public is backing them in pick’em contests. For those needing to swing for the fences this week, rolling with Syracuse to pull a big upset certainly looks tempting.

Where We Stand After Week 10

Here is where our game winner pick’em strategies currently stand on ESPN (which uses confidence points) heading into Week 11. There wasn’t much change across the board, and in a week in which all the favorites won, even going 9 out of 10 with our conservative strategy was not enough to rise in the standings, and aggressive strategies will never shine when favorites dominate.

  • Conservative: 93.9th percentile (-0.1 from last week)
  • Aggressive: 76.5th percentile (+1.1)
  • Very Aggressive: 65.9th percentile (-1.5)

As we’re into the final third of the college football 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, 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 may soon make sense in that case.

Here is where we stand on Yahoo! with our point spread pick’em strategies. After big success last week with the more aggressive strategies, this week saw a dip in both. Such swings are to be expected though, since those are more “swing for the fences” approaches. Notably, yet again 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: 88th percentile (-5)
  • Very Aggressive: 73rd percentile (-5)

(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 three games in which we (and Vegas) favored a team that less than 50% of the public picked. Of the three, UCLA had the most value and the Bruins came through in a big way. UCLA took a 42-3 halftime lead and coasted to a 56-point victory, despite the fact that about two-thirds of the public had picked Arizona to win outright.

Similarly, Indiana beat Iowa 24-21 with only about one-third of the public backing the Hoosiers. Unfortunately, California was unable to top Washington, falling 21-13, but hitting two of those three was a net gain.

On the upset side, value pick Michigan State fell just short, losing to Nebraska in a close one 28-24.

We also noted five against the spread picks in which 84% or more of the public was picking a particular team. Unlike a lot of previous weeks, the public actually did quite well in week 10. While San Diego not only covered but won outright, Duke, Arizona State, Syracuse and Oklahoma State all failed to cover, much to the dismay of the sports books.

Our Week 11 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 11 Value Pick Highlights: Game Winners

TeamOpponentAdj Win OddsPublic %ValueSpreadPick Type
Virginiavs Miami (FL)52%17%35%-1.0Odds-On Contrarian
Utahat Washington52%19%33%-1.0Odds-On Contrarian
Fresno Stateat Nevada62%39%23%-3.5Odds-On Contrarian
Syracusevs Louisville41%3%38%+3.0High Risk Upset
Vanderbiltat Mississippi43%21%22%+3.0High Risk Upset
Wake Forestat North Carolina State30%5%25%+7.5Long Shot Upset
Indianavs Wisconsin30%7%23%+7.0Long Shot Upset
Penn Stateat Nebraska30%8%22%+7.5Long 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. Virginia, Utah and Fresno State 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.

Virginia and Utah especially offer phenomenal value for being essentially toss-up picks, but all three teams are excellent picks in any sized pool and should probably receive high confidence levels in pools that require them.

We don’t see any high value upset picks this week that don’t also come with a decent amount of risk. Still, for those in bigger pools looking for an upset, Syracuse provides tremendous value. While we make Louisville slight favorites, only 3% (!) of the public has picked the Orange, and this could be a great spot to take advantage of that extreme imbalance.

Finally, four other upset picks are undervalued this week. Vanderbilt looks like a decent pick 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 Wake Forest, Indiana and Penn State — unless you’ve got a feeling or you need to pull out all the stops, and in that case, at least you good 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-to-date line movement highlights can also be found on on the right side of our college football odds page.

Week 11 Point Spread Movement Highlights

TeamOpponentOpening LineCurrent LineMovement
Virginiavs Miami (FL)+2.5-1.03.5
Eastern Michiganvs Central Michigan+6.0+2.53.5
Akronvs Massachusetts-14.0-17.03.0
Northwesternat Michigan+12.0+9.52.5
Rutgersvs Army+19.0+17.02.0
Connecticutvs Pittsburgh+4.5+3.01.5

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 11 Point Spread Pick Imbalance Highlights

TeamOpponentPublic Pick%TR Cover OddsCurrent Line
Syracusevs Louisville8%48%+3.0
TCUvs Kansas State12%48%+7.5
Arizona Stateat USC15%52%+9.0
Arkansasat South Carolina17%48%+14.0
Indianavs Wisconsin19%54%+7.0

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 two 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.