Week 14 College Football Pick’em Strategy: The Final Countdown!

Note:  This week one of Yahoo’s Game Winner Pick’em games is Oregon State vs Nicholls State; this game was rescheduled from Week 1 due to travel concerns during Hurricane Isaac. We only project games between FBS schools, so you won’t find this game under the Yahoo! drop down menu on our college football office pool picks page. You shouldn’t need much help with this one, however, as Nicholls State is an FCS school whose lone win came against a team named Evangel.

The Northern Illinois Huskies have not lost since Week 1 (a one-point loss vs Iowa), and Kent State has not lost since Week 2. In an unusual turn of events, the winner of the this year’s MAC Championship Game could earn an automatic bid to a BCS bowl, provide they move into the top 16 of the BCS rankings.

Our models see NIU as solid favorites with 70% odds, and the Huskies are about a touchdown favorite in Vegas. Surprisingly, though, about 70% of the public has picked Kent State to win outright. For those looking to gain an edge over the public in this final week, Northern Illinois provides the best chance to do so.

Where We Stand After Week 13

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 14. All three strategies climbed in the standings, while our Conservative strategy continues to be the highlight, ranking in the top 7% nationally:

  • Conservative: 93.1st percentile (+0.6 from last week)
  • Aggressive: 77.9th percentile (+2.0)
  • Very Aggressive: 67.8th percentile (+0.7)

Here is where we stand on Yahoo! with our point spread pick’em strategies. For the second consecutive week all three strategies rose in the standings, and our Conservative strategy continues to rank in the top 1% nationally on Yahoo:

  • Conservative: 99th percentile (no change from last week)
  • Aggressive: 85th percentile (+2)
  • Very Aggressive: 75th percentile (+3)

(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.)

This weekend marks the final weekend of the college football season, so you need to assess your position in your pool and act accordingly. If you’re not near the very top of your pool, you’re almost certainly not going to win it. If the contest awards weekly prizes, though, you should try to maximize your odds of winning this week’s prize by rolling the dice with the 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. In such a case, in almost every close game you should pick the team that you think most of your higher-ranking competition will also pick, regardless of which team you think will win; this approach minimizes opportunities for opponents to gain ground on you.

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. How much risk depends on how far out of the money you are, in terms of points/wins, and how many games you have to pick this week. Feel free to ask questions about your specific situation in the comments and we’ll do our best to answer.

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. All three won, and two of the three won in impressive fashion. Of the three, Pittsburgh had the most value and the Panthers dominated Rutgers 27-6. Similarly, Mississippi scored 24 consecutive points to top their in-state rivals in the Egg Bowl 41-24. Finally, San Jose State outlasted Louisiana Tech 52-43.

Playing these three odds-on contrarian picks last week, you would have gained significant ground on a majority of pool competitors.

On the upset side, Iowa State carried a lead into the fourth quarter against West Virginia, but couldn’t hold on and eventually fell 31-24.

We didn’t recommend rolling the dice with any of the riskier upset picks, but we did note that Arizona State, Michigan, Minnesota and Oklahoma State all had value. Those risky upsets performed about as expected, with Arizona State winning, Oklahoma State losing in OT, and Michigan and Minnesota losing in regulation.

We also noted five against the spread picks in which 82% or more of the public was picking a particular team. The most unpopular pick, Arkansas, battled LSU throughout and covered the +12.5 spread. Iowa and Nebraska also covered the spread as underdogs, while Georgia Tech and Minnesota failed to do so.

All and all, simply fading the public on those five picks yielded a 3-2 result and nice little point differential over your competition.

Our Week 14 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 14 Value Pick Highlights: Game Winners

TeamOpponentAdj Win OddsPublic %ValueSpreadPick Type
Northern Illinoisvs Kent State69.4%29%40.4%-6.5Odds-On Contrarian
Central Floridaat Tulsa45.6%17%28.6%+2.0Low Risk Upset
Wisconsinvs Nebraska40.1%13%27.1%+3.0High Risk Upset
Connecticutvs Cincinnati38.2%16%22.2%+4.5High Risk Upset
South Alabamaat Hawaii34.7%6%28.7%+6.0Long Shot Upset
TCUvs Oklahoma33.0%6%27.0%+6.5Long Shot Upset

This week we have just one odds-on contrarian pick, but it provides a tremendous amount of value. Our models see Northern Illinois as clear favorites over Kent State with win odds of about 70%, and Vegas similarly favors the Huskies by 6.5. Yet, less than 30% of the public has picked Northern Illinois to win.

Consequently, Northern Illinois is an excellent pick for any sized pool, and should be ranked at or near the top for pools that require confidence points.

Remember though, as this is the last week of the season, 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, NIU is a solid favorite, but if you pick them and they lose, 7 out of 10 people in your pool will gain ground on you. On the other hand, if you pick with the crowd and choose Kent State instead, and NIU ends up winning, it’s really not that bad for you, since only 3 out of 10 people in your pool will gain ground on you. And if none of those three people is in a position to threaten your lead, they’re harmless anyway.

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, Central Florida provides solid value with relatively modest risk; at time of publication Tulsa is only a 2-point favorite in Vegas. With over 80% of the public picking the Golden Hurricane, rolling the dice with Central Florida provides an excellent chance to gain ground on a majority of players if you need to catch up.

Other than UCF, 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, Wisconsin, Connecticut, South Alabama and TCU all provide value. This is the last week, so if you’re sitting outside of the money, it’s time to go for broke. In the extreme case, if you’re decently far back, you should be trying to do the opposite of you pool’s majority in lots of picks this week.

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 14 Point Spread Movement Highlights

TeamOpponentOpening LineCurrent LineMovement
UCLAvs Stanford+10.5+8.02.5
Hawaiivs South Alabama-3.5-6.02.5
Boise Stateat Nevada-8.5-10.01.5
Northern Illinoisat Kent State-5.0-6.51.5

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 about 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 about 20% or less of contestants are selecting them to cover:

Week 14 Point Spread Pick Imbalance Highlights

TeamOpponentPublic Pick%TR Cover OddsCurrent Line
South Alabamaat Hawaii13%54%+6.0
Georgia Techvs Florida State14%51%+14.0
TCUvs Oklahoma17%52%+6.5
Nevadavs Boise State19%48%+10.0
Kansasat West Virginia21%44%+20.0

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 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.