Week 12 College Football Pick’em Strategy: Take Notice of Utah State

posted in College Football, College Football Pick'ems

Update Fri 11/16, 5 PM ET: Our office pool pick sets have now frozen for the week, but two games (Iowa-Michigan and Arizona-Utah) didn’t have point spreads released before our office pool picks froze. As a result, those games are missing from several of our office pool pick sets, and where they do show up, the picks are incorrect.

As of now, Utah looks like a great contrarian game winner pick over Arizona. They are a one point favorite, but almost 75% of the public is on Arizona. Michigan is heavily favored over Iowa, and the Hawkeyes don’t provide much value as an upset pick. Stick with Michigan there.

On the point spread side, Iowa +16.5 offers ridiculous value if your pool has that spread and is like Yahoo!, where a a ridiculous 95%+ of contestants are taking Michigan against the spread. Even though our models prefer Michigan -16.5, aggressive strategies should take Iowa plus the points and put serious confidence points on it, based on value alone. Since we like Utah in a tossup game, we’d take them ATS as well, assuming the line is very close to -1.


Louisiana Tech has been electric offensively this year, ranking 7th nationally in college football yards per play (6.6). Also, the Bulldogs are the only FBS team not to have thrown an interception all season.

Tech’s opponent, Utah State, looks up to the challenge though, as USU’s defense ranks 4th nationally in opponent yards per play (4.1). The Aggies have flown a bit under the radar this season, but are a mere 5 points from being a major national story. Their only two losses were by 2 at Wisconsin and by 3 at BYU, and they are the only FBS team currently undefeated against the spread.

In a matchup that will all but decide the WAC championship, our models (at publication time) favor Utah State to both win and cover a -3.5 point spread. Since over 90% of the public has picked Louisiana Tech to win, we see the Aggies as the highest value game winner pick of Week 12.

Where We Stand After Week 11

Here is where our game winner pick’em strategies currently stand on ESPN (which uses confidence points) heading into Week 12. All three strategies rose slightly, highlighted by our Conservative strategy which now ranks in the top 5% nationally:

  • Conservative: 95.5th percentile (+1.6 from last week)
  • Aggressive: 76.9th percentile (+0.4)
  • Very Aggressive: 67.3rd percentile (+1.4)

As we’re into the last three weeks 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 pick only favorites if you’re doing well in a larger pool, but we’re getting into the home stretch now, and if you’re already in good shape, picking a very unpopular upset pick will hurt you if it doesn’t come through.

Here is where we stand on Yahoo! with our point spread pick’em strategies. This week saw all three strategies take a bit of a hit, and the ridiculous run of our Conservative strategy ranking in the top 1% in the nation every single week finally came to an end. Still, the Conservative strategy should have you an excellent position for the home stretch in any sized pool:

  • Conservative: 98th percentile (-1)
  • Aggressive: 79th percentile (-9)
  • Very Aggressive: 68th 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, Virginia had the most value and the Cavaliers overcame Miami 41-40 with a late rally. Similarly, Fresno State handled Nevada by turning a tight game into a blowout with a 23-0 third quarter. Unfortunately, though, Utah lost big at Washington.

The big news is on the upset side, where we noted that for those needing to take a chance last week Syracuse had tremendous value with only 3% of the public backing the Orange. The 97% were wrong!!! Syracuse rolled 45-26, and taking a shot with the Orange last week would have resulted in gaining ground on nearly every other pool competitor.

We also noted five against the spread picks in which 80% or more of the public was picking a particular team. For the second straight week, the public actually did quite well. While Syracuse not only covered but won outright, TCU, Arizona State, Arkansas and Indiana all failed to cover.

Our Week 12 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 12 Value Pick Highlights: Game Winners

TeamOpponentAdj Win OddsPublic %ValueSpreadPick Type
Utah Stateat Louisiana Tech60%9%51%-3.0Odds-On Contrarian
Wisconsinvs Ohio State56%17%39%-2.5Odds-On Contrarian
Bowling Greenvs Kent State55%22%33%-2.5Odds-On Contrarian
Cincinnativs Rutgers66%33%33%-6.0Odds-On Contrarian
Syracuseat Missouri37%12%25%+4.5High Risk Upset
Arkansasat Mississippi State30%6%24%+6.5Long Shot Upset

Sweet lawdy mama, this week we have four 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. Utah State, Wisconsin, Bowling Green and Cincinnati 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 an upset in each case.

Utah State especially offers phenomenal value. As of early Thursday, the Aggies are 3-point favorites in Vegas and we give them win odds of about 60%. Surprisingly, though, more than 90% of the public has picked Louisiana Tech.

Consequently, Wisconsin, Bowling Green, Cincinnati and especially Utah State are all excellent picks in any sized pool and should probably recieve high confidence levels in pools that require them.

We don’t see any high value upset picks that don’t also come with a fair amount of risk, and we wouldn’t recommend taking such risks given that there are so many high-value favorites on the board this week. Still, for those in bigger pools looking for an upset, Syracuse and Arkansas provide some value. If you’ve got a big feeling about either of these two, at least 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 12 Point Spread Movement Highlights

TeamOpponentOpening LineCurrent LineMovement
South Alabamavs Middle Tennessee State+10.0+7.52.5
Kansas Stateat Baylor-11-132.0
Hawaiiat Air Force+23.5+21.52.0
Central Floridaat Tulsa+3.0+1.02.0
Stanfordat Oregon+21.5+20.01.5

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 75%+ 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 12 Point Spread Pick Imbalance Highlights

TeamOpponentPublic Pick%TR Cover OddsCurrent Line
Utah Stateat Louisiana Tech12%54%-3.5
Baylorvs Kansas State16%47%+12.5
Arkansasat Mississippi State17%47%+6.0
Minnesotaat Nebraska20%47%+20.0
Wisconsinvs Ohio State22%50%-2.5

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 one 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.

  • Help

    I like the ideas behind your strategies. I have used your Conservative ATS picks this season starting in the 2nd week. I was in 1st place at that time and am currently 19th in a 28 person pool. That doesn’t make much sense, given that you say that your Conservative Yahoo ATS picks are in the 98% percentile. Our pool is only using the Top 25 ATS games in Yahoo, so that could make some difference.

    How do you determine that ranking? You should publish the point totals and W-L record for the season and for the prior week for each of your pick sets every week.

  • http://www.teamrankings.com/ David Hess

    As we mention in the ATS strategy section of post, a big part of optimal ATS pick’em strategy is to flip picks for games where your pool line is offering “free points” compared to the consensus Vegas line. That happens pretty often on Yahoo, so our picks often are flipped from what you see on the picks page on our site.

    You can see last week’s picks for our Conservative ATS strategy here: http://football.fantasysports.yahoo.com/college/18362/15/picks?week=12 Yahoo doesn’t let us link to some kind of overview of the picks, but you can click the week numbers across the top of that page to see past weeks.

    I’m not sure exactly why your results are so different. It could just be down to the pick flipping, or you could be right that we’re not doing so well on Top 25 games (I haven’t looked through the history to figure that out). Either way, it’s a bummer that it’s not working out so well for you. Very sorry to hear that.

  • Help

    Yeah, I always take the “free points”, as well. It looks like one of the main differences is that your “against the spread pick’em” page has confidence points, but the actual Yahoo entry doesn’t use them.

    I took a look at the past weeks on your ATS pickem page and noticed that there are a lot of “X”s at the top of those lists – where the most confidence points are at risk.

    Here are the number of correct picks from the top 5,10 and 15 most confident picks from each week:

    Week: ……Top 5…Top 10….Top 15
    Week 1: …….4………..8…………11
    Week 2: …….3………. 5 …………7
    Week 3: …….3………..6 …………9
    Week 4: …….3………..4 …………7
    Week 5: …….5………. 6 …………7
    Week 6: …….1………. 4 …………8
    Week 7: …….1………..4 …………7
    Week 8: …….3………..3 …………6
    Week 9: …….2………..4 …………7
    Week 10: …..0………..1 …………5
    Week 11: …..0………..2 …………3
    Week 12: …..4………..8…………11

    It looks like the success rate dropped as the season progressed. But, it was a pretty good week last week.

    I like the concepts that you guys promote. What do you think can be done with the model to improve the success rate with these confidence points on the ATS picks?

    Thanks again for your insight.

  • http://www.teamrankings.com/ David Hess

    Thanks for the insightful comment. Those numbers are pretty interesting, and I’m surprised to see the top picks doing so poorly.

    At any rate, confidence point strategies for multi-week ATS pick’ems are one area where we haven’t done a ton of research into optimization yet, but we’ve got some major improvements planned. Our goal is to get through all of these before next season, but obviously I can’t make any set in stone promises.

    1) I think one issue here is the fact that we “freeze” the office pool picks before the first game starts, simply because it’s a bit tricky to let some picks (and corresponding confidence points) vary while others (that have already started) have to remain locked in place. Changing that process is on our long-term to-do list, and that should help, as our final model picks do perform better than the frozen office pool picks.

    2) Part of even the conservative office pool strategy involves fading the public when their picks skew heavily towards one team. We maybe taking this too far, if our fades end up losing too often. We’ll be investigating this topic in the offseason.

    3) The actual confidence point assignment is the part we’ve invested the least analytical resources towards to this point. However, we’re working on a project right now that should help us improve our confidence point strategy, by allowing us to simulate the effects of various point assignments.

    4) The pick flipping guidelines we currently use (about 3% per line point) are pretty rough, and can be improved. Here again, we’re working on a method that should allow us to make better estimates of exactly how much impact a line change has on the odds of a team covering.

    If we do get through all of these projects, I’ll be very curious to see how our results change from this season to next.