Week 13 College Football Pick’em Strategy: It’s Crunch Time

The college football season is down to its final two weeks, and thankfully there are multiple opportunities this week to make a final push and gain ground on your opponents. With three odds-on contrarian picks and a solid upset selection, the penultimate week of the season offers both smart low risk plays and some high-value longshots.

Where We Stand After Week 12

Here is where our game winner pick’em strategies currently stand on ESPN (which uses a 10-game weekly card and confidence points) heading into Week 13. All three strategies dipped slightly, while our Conservative strategy continues to be the highlight, ranking in the top 8% nationally:

  • Conservative: 92.5th percentile (-3.0 from last week)
  • Aggressive: 75.9th percentile (-1.0)
  • Very Aggressive: 67.1st percentile (-0.2)

Here is where we stand on Yahoo! with our point spread pick’em strategies. This week saw all three strategies rise in the standings, and after spending one week slumming it down in the 98th percentile, our Conservative strategy once again ranks in the top 1% nationally on Yahoo:

  • Conservative: 99th percentile (+1)
  • Aggressive: 83rd percentile (+4)
  • Very Aggressive: 72nd percentile (+4)

(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.)

As we’re down to the end 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.

In smaller pools, if you’ve been using our Conservative game winner pick sets, you may be finding yourself in 5th-10th place in a 100 person pool (if you’re playing on ESPN, at least), or in the top 5 in a 50-person pool. In that case, your pool’s prize structure is the most important thing at this point. If you’re in position to win some money (or only 1-2 wins out of the money) and are happy with that, you can play it conservative. If you need to come in first or second to win something, and you’re more than a few games behind, then you need to take some risks pronto. How much risk depends on how far out of the money you are, in terms of points/wins.

Feel free to ask questions about your specific situation in the comments and we’ll do our best to answer. (With Thanksgiving this week, though, we will have less time than usual to answer questions.)

Recap of Last Week’s Advice

Last week we highlighted four games, which is unusually high, in which we (and Vegas) favored a team that less than 50% of the public picked. Of the three, Utah State had by far the most value and the Aggies edged Louisiana Tech in overtime. Unfortunately, the other three did not fare as well with Wisconsin (in overtime), Bowling Green and Cincinnati all losing. That was frustrating; even if only Wisconsin had pulled out a victory, picking those four teams and going 2-2 would have been a net positive.

We didn’t recommend rolling the dice with risky upset picks last week, but did note that Syracuse and Arkansas provided the most value. The Orange scored 21 points in the 4th quarter to beat Missouri, while the Razorbacks proved no match for Mississippi State, falling 45-14.

We also noted five against the spread picks in which 78% or more of the public was picking a particular team. The two most unpopular picks, Utah State and Baylor, both not only covered but won outright. The public was correct, though, in picking Mississippi State, Nebraska and Ohio State to cover.

Our Week 13 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 13 Value Pick Highlights: Game Winners

TeamOpponentAdj Win OddsPublic %ValueSpreadPick Type
Pittsburghvs Rutgers52.9%16%36.9%-2.0Odds-On Contrarian
Mississippivs Mississippi State50.4%21%29.4%-1.0Odds-On Contrarian
San Jose Statevs Louisiana Tech63.7%42%21.7%-4.0Odds-On Contrarian
Iowa Statevs West Virginia48.4%17%31.4%+1.5Low Risk Upset
Arizona Stateat Arizona40.1%7%33.1%+3.0High Risk Upset
Michiganat Ohio State37.6%13%24.6%+3.5High Risk Upset
Minnesotavs Michigan State28.5%6%22.5%+8.0Long Shot Upset
Oklahoma Stateat Oklahoma31.3%11%20.3%+7.0Long 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. Pittsburgh, Mississippi and San Jose 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 an upset in each case.

Of the three, Pitt provides the most value. As of mid-day Wednesday, the Panthers are 2-point favorites in Vegas and we give them win odds of about 53%. Surprisingly, though, about 85% of the public has picked Rutgers.

Consequently, Mississippi, San Jose State and especially Pittsburgh are all excellent picks in any sized pool and should probably receive high confidence levels in pools that require them.

Remember though — if you are defending an in-the-money position in your pick’em pool this late in the season, picking against the crowd also carries risks. For example, Pitt is a very slight favorite, but if you pick them and they lose, 4 out of 5 people in your pool will gain ground on you. On the other hand, if you pick with the crowd and choose Rutgers instead, and Pitt ends up winning, it’s really not that bad for you, since only 1 out of 5 people in your pool will gain ground on you. This type of strategic thinking based on your end-game goals is absolutely critical to maximize your odds to finish in the money.

On the upsets side, Iowa State provides excellent value with relatively modest risk; at time of publication West Virginia is only a 1.5-point favorite in Vegas. With over 80% of the public picking the Mountaineers, rolling the dice with Iowa State provides an excellent chance to gain ground on a majority of players if you need to catch up.

Other than the Cyclones, we don’t see any high value upset picks that don’t also come with a fair amount of risk. Still, for those in bigger pools who need to pull out all the stops, Arizona State, Michigan, Minnesota and Oklahoma State all provide value. With two weeks left, if you’re ten or more games out of the money, it’s time to go for broke.

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 13 Point Spread Movement Highlights

TeamOpponentOpening LineCurrent LineMovement
Washingtonat Washington State-10.5-13.53.0
East Carolinavs Marshall-4.5-7.02.5
Michiganat Ohio State+5.0+3.51.5
Oklahoma Stateat Oklahoma+8.5+7.01.5

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 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 13 Point Spread Pick Imbalance Highlights

TeamOpponentPublic Pick%TR Cover OddsCurrent Line
Arkansasvs LSU11%50%+12.5
Georgia Techat Georgia15%47%+13.0
Minnesotavs Michigan State18%53%+8.0
Iowavs Nebraska18%47%+15.0
Arizona Stateat Arizona18%47%+3.0

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 as of publication time. 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.