Week 5 College Football Pick’em Strategy: A Great Time To Pick Against The Crowd

posted in College Football, College Football Pick'ems

Week 5 looks like a great opportunity to both play it safe and pick against the public, the holy grail of pick’em strategy. Before we get into the analysis, though, let’s see how our pick sets are doing so far.

Where We Stand After Week 4

Week 4 was sort of ho-hum for our pick sets. There were no huge wins to celebrate overall, but we also did well enough to keep our entries at or near the top of the charts nationally. Overall, our pick sets slipped a bit in Week 4, but all six pick sets currently rank in the top 10% of the country, and three of six are in the top 5%.

Here is where our Game Winner pick’em strategies currently stand on ESPN (which uses confidence points) heading into Week 5. The Conservative pick set should have you in the top 3 of a 100 person pick’em pool:

  • Conservative: 98.6th percentile (-0.6 from last week)
  • Aggressive: 94.1st percentile (-1.1)
  • Very Aggressive: 91.8th percentile (+0.6)

Here is where we stand on Yahoo! with our Point Spread pick’em strategies. Some of our more aggressive pick risks didn’t pay off last week, but all strategies are still doing well, again highlighted by Conservative:

  • Conservative: 99th percentile (no change from last week)
  • Aggressive: 96th percentile (-3)
  • Very Aggressive: 92nd percentile (-7)

(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.)

Our advice to avoid Michigan as an upset pick in Week 4 was spot on, and one of the two bigger upset picks we liked, Oregon State, came through, which was a net positive.

Our Week 5 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 5 Value Pick Highlights: Game Winners

TeamOpponentAdj Win OddsPublic %ValueSpreadPick Type
LA Techat Virginia62%~30%32%-3.5Odds-On Contrarian
Arizonavs Oregon State58%~20%38%-3.0Odds-On Contrarian
UCFvs Missouri56%~15%41%-2.5Odds-On Contrarian
Michigan Stvs Ohio State60%~40%20%-3.0Odds-On Contrarian
NC Stateat Miami (FL)44%~10%34%+2.5High Risk Upset
Oklahoma Stvs Texas43%~10%33%+2.5High Risk Upset
Iowa Statevs Texas Tech41%~25%16%+3.0High Risk Upset
CincinnatiVirginia Tech (N)34%~10%24%+6.5Long Shot Upset
Boston Collegevs Clemson31%~15%16%+7Long Shot Upset

After last week’s wasteland of value, we’ve got a plethora of juicy picks on the board this week, including plenty of odds-on contrarian picks, our favorites.

Louisiana Tech, Arizona, Michigan State, and UCF are all great picks, for any size pool. It’s pretty rare to get four chances to pick against the crowd with the odds in our favor, all in the same week. We can thank Oregon State’s upset of “ranked” UCLA and the brand power of the ACC and SEC for helping to brainwash the public.

All told, those four teams represent a major opportunity in small pools especially.

On the upset side, there are two clear choices for people in bigger pools who need to take some risk: NC State over Miami (FL) and Oklahoma State over Texas. Both of those teams are underdogs of less than a field goal, yet they are being picked by less than 15% of players. That does not compute.

If you’re looking for even more risk, Iowa State over Texas Tech is the third best upset choice. There is not quite as much value in Iowa State as there is in Cincinnati, but the Hawkeyes are a significantly safer pick.

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. Line movement highlights can also be found on on the right side of our college football odds page.

Week 5 Point Spread Movement Highlights

TeamOpponentOpening LineCurrent LineMovement
NC Stateat Miami (FL)+3.5+21.5
Tulsaat UAB-13-16.53.5
Florida Stateat South Florida-15.5-171.5
Boston Collegevs Clemson+10+73

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 5 Point Spread Pick Imbalance Highlights

TeamOpponentPublic Pick%TR Cover OddsCurrent Line
Kentuckyvs South Carolina~15%48%+20.5
Washington Statevs Oregon (N)~15%52%+30.5
Tennesseeat Georgia~20%47%+13.5
NC Stateat Miami (FL)~20%50%+2.0
UCFvs. Missouri~20%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.

As you can see, our models only really favor one of these 5 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.

  • Taylor

    I’m trying to understand the Cinci VaTech pick. All the numbers point to Cinci, but you’re recommending VaTech because of the spread? Are we assuming the numbers are unrepresentative, since Cinci hasn’t played enough to back up the numbers? Something about putting them at a confidence of 5 on ESPN doesn’t sit right with me.

  • Kristian

    Did you call Iowa State the Hawkeyes? That really hurts! 😉

    Anyway, thanks for your great posts and keep up the excellent work!