Week 4 College Football Pick’em Strategy: 95% Lean And Trimmed Of Value

After a strong Week 2, we followed up with another solid performance in Week 3. On the game winner side, all three of our office pool pick sets are top 10% on ESPN. Our Conservative strategy is in the 99th percentile; Agressive picks are at the 95th percentile. After making some big bets on UNC and Arizona State that didn’t play out, our Very Agressive pick set dropped back a bit to the 91st percentile.

On the point spread pick’em side (where we use Yahoo!, since ESPN doesn’t report percentiles there), we are simply killing it so far. All three of our pick sets are in the top 1% of Yahoo!. Week 3 was just average for our Aggressive and Very Aggressive plays, which both hit around 50% of games, but that was enough to keep both within the top 250 entries in the nation.

However, last week was our Conservative strategy’s time to shine on the ATS side. That pick set went 13-6-1 on Yahoo!, and is now one of the top 50 entries in the nation through three weeks. Let’s hope we keep it up and get to the Week 4 advice…

Our Week 4 College Football Office Pool Picks

Just a friendly reminder; 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 4 Value Pick Highlights: Game Winners

TeamOpponentAdj Win OddsPublic %ValueSpreadPick Type
Syracuseat Minnesota51%~45%6%-1Odds-On Contrarian
N Illinoisvs. Kansas74%55%19%-8.5Odds-On Value
Tulsavs. Fresno St.69%55%14%-6.5Odds-On Value
Wake Forestvs. Army69%65%4%-7Odds-On Value
Connecticutat W. Michigan53%50%3%-1Odds-On Value
Utahat Arizona State30%10%20%+7Long Shot Upset
Oregon Stat UCLA30%5%25%+7Long Shot Upset
Ball Stvs South Florida26%5%21%+9Long Shot Upset

Wow, it’s a freakin’ value wasteland out there this week according to our adjusted win odds (a combination of our college football game winner picks and the Vegas line) and public picking percentages.

First off, we haven’t included several games in the table above that technically qualify for “odds-on value” status, because their value was minimal. Florida (vs. Kentucky). Michigan State (vs. E. Michigan), Mississippi State (vs. South Alabama), and Ohio State (vs. UAB) are all big favorites this week, but nevertheless appear fairly valued.

Sometimes a good long shot upset pick is lurking against those big name schools, but not this week. Stick with the favorites if these games are included in your pool, even in larger pools, especially since it’s early in the season still.

Michigan (at Notre Dame) also barely qualifies as a value pick (high risk upset), but it’s too close to be confident about. A couple of the long shot upsets in the table above rank much better on the risk vs. reward scale, so again, we would not advise making Michigan your big upset pick of the week, if you need one.

What that leaves us with is the table above. Blech. Syracuse and UConn are one-point road favorites with minimal value. If it turns out the betting markets or our prediction models aren’t valuing the home advantage of Minnesota and W. Michigan accurately, both these schools could easily flip to being underdogs. If you’ve got a huge feeling for one of the home underdogs, go for it. We’ll stick with ‘Cuse and UConn — especially since betting lines have moved strongly in Syracuse’s favor recently — but the most likely outcome is one win and one loss out of those two games. Wake Forest is in the same category here.

The primary takeaways this week are that Kansas and Fresno State are bad upset picks. Don’t even think about picking either of those upsets over Utah or Oregon State.

Overall, if you’re in a small or even a midsize pool, up to maybe 50 people or so, this is a week to stay very conservative, and hope that your opponents bite on a silly, high risk upset pick or two and get burned. With literally no low-risk value upsets on the board, there’s nothing wrong with picking all chalk this week in smaller pools.

In larger pools, Oregon State and Utah are both fairly compelling longshot upset picks. They are as advertised, though — if you pick both, you’ve got about a 50/50 chance of netting zero wins. So we’d probably just stick with one for pools of up to a couple hundred people.

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 4 Point Spread Movement Highlights

TeamOpponentOpening LineCurrent LineMovement
Oregon Stateat UCLA+11.5+74.5

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, for example, 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 a point of those found at Pinnacle sports book on Thursday morning, yet 20% or less of contestants are selecting them to cover:

Week 4 Point Spread Pick Imbalance Highlights

TeamOpponentPublic Pick%TR Cover OddsCurrent Line
Vanderbiltat Georgia~15%48%+15
Ball Statevs. South Florida~20%52%+10
Oregon Stateat UCLA~20%49%+7
Californiaat USC~20%47%+16.5
Auburnvs. LSU~20%48%+20.5

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. As you can see, our models actually don’t favor 4 of these 5 teams to cover the spread — but again, it’s close enough to 50/50 that the public’s blatant irrationality is worth exploiting.

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.