Week 3 College Football Pick’em Strategy: Every Little Bit Counts

Let the good times roll. After a decent Week 1, our college football pick’em strategies had a smoking Week 2, thanks to several calculated risks paying off.

The schedule this week gives us plenty of chances to make small gains in confidence point pools, but there are not as many smart opportunities for big risks in non-confidence pools. In other words, it’s a good week to chip away at your opponents, and play it relatively safe.

Before we get to this week’s strategy discussion, here is a more complete review last week’s performance.

Our against the spread strategies had a monster week, with the Aggressive and Very Aggressive picks going 14-6 on Yahoo! All three of our ATS strategies are now ranked in the top 400 on Yahoo!, including a #30 rank — that’s first page leader board material — for the Very Aggressive ATS strategy. All three are ranked in the 99th percentile, meaning they are beating 99% of all contestants.

In Game Winner office pools, three of six highlighted upset picks came through, which allowed all of our strategies to climb the ranks.  All three strategies now rank in the 92nd percentile or above on ESPN, with the Conservative Game Winner strategy in the 99th percentile.

Our Week 3 College Football Office Pool Picks

Just a friendly reminder; here’s where you can find our computer generated picks for college football office pools:

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 3 Value Pick Highlights: Game Winners

TeamOpponentAdj Win OddsPublic %ValueSpreadPick Type
Connecticutat Maryland58%~25%33%-3Odds-On Contrarian
Oklahoma Stvs. LA Lafayette93%~80%13%-22.5Odds-On Value
Nebraskavs. Arkansas St95%~85%10%-24.5Odds-On Value
UCLAvs. Houston87%~80%7%-17Odds-On Value
Kansas Stvs. North Texas96%~90%6%-28Odds-On Value
Fresno Stvs. Colorado86%~80%6%-15.5Odds-On Value
Tennesseevs. Florida58%~50%8%-3Odds-On Value
N Carolinaat Louisville40%~5%35%3High Risk Upset
Boston Colat Northwestrn38%~10%28%3.5High Risk Upset
Utahvs. BYU38%~10%28%4High Risk Upset
Notre Dameat Michigan St35%~10%25%6Long Shot Upset
Arizona Stat Missouri34%~15%19%6Long Shot Upset
Stanfordvs. USC26%~5%21%9.5Long Shot Upset

This week there are a lot of mild value plays according to our adjusted win odds (a combination of our college football game winner picks and the Vegas line), and one good spot where you can pick the favorite yet still differentiate yourself from the pack. But there are no Low Risk Upset picks, so it may be a good week to make fairly conservative picks.

The safest value play this week, which we recommend for everyone, is to pick UConn over Maryland, and boost their win odds to a medium-high level. The Huskies are the Vegas favorite, yet only a quarter of the public is picking them. It’s a great spot to try to gain some points on the majority of your pool.

There are six games in the above table listed as Odds-On Value picks. In all of these games, the public is slightly underrating the favorite.  We suggest slightly bumping up the confidence points for these games.

Only about 5% of the public is picking North Carolina over Louisville, despite the Cardinals only being favored by 3. With 40% win odds, selecting North Carolina gives you almost even odds to gain ground on 95% of your pool. That’s a smart move for people in pools with hundreds of opponents. Boston College and Utah present similar opportunities. People in large pools may want to select one or two of these three teams.

For those in giant pools (thousands of people), the Long Shot Upset picks are not that attractive. Compared to the High Risk Upset picks, the teams are no less popular, they just have worse win odds. So in huge pools, selecting all three of the High Risk Upset picks is probably preferable to selecting a Long Shot Upset pick 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. They can also be found on on the right side of our college football odds page.

Week 3 Point Spread Movement Highlights

TeamOpponentOpening LineCurrent LineMovement
Florida Statevs. Wake Forest-24-284
UNLVat Washington State+11.5+8.53
East Carolinaat Southern Miss+9.5+72.5
Michigan Statevs. Notre Dame-3.5-62.5

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 85% of your opponents are picking a certain team to beat the spread this week, that team is almost certainly being severely overvalued. And 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 half a point of those found at Pinnacle sports book on Thursday morning, yet under 15% of the public is selecting them to cover:

Week 3 Point Spread Pick Imbalance Highlights

TeamOpponentPublic Pick %TR Cover OddsCurrent Line
Pittsburghvs. VA Tech~10%54%+10.5
S Methodistvs. Texas A&M~10%53%+12.5
N Carolinaat Louisville~10%47%+3
Arkansasvs. Alabama~15%54%+20.5
Troyvs. Miss State~15%52%+16.5
Mississippivs. Texas~15%50%+9.5
Utahvs. BYU~15%50%+4

If the lines in your pick’em contest are the same as 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.

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.