Week 9 College Football Pick’em Strategy: Penn State A Solid Value Pick

In a battle of two teams playing for pride rather than post-season glory, Penn State welcomes the Ohio State Buckeyes to Happy Valley this week. Even with the questionable health of starting quarterback Braxton Miller, the vast majority of the public has picked the Buckeyes to win this game, despite OSU being only a one point favorite.

Our models like the Nittany Lions well enough and we see this game as one of the best value opportunities of the week, provided the projections and Vegas odds hold steady. (It’s worth noting that Penn State did open as a 2.5 point favorite, but the Vegas lines have shifted to ever-so-slightly favor OSU.)

Where We Stand After Week 8

Here is where our game winner pick’em strategies currently stand on ESPN (which uses confidence points) heading into Week 8. The more aggressive strategies continue to slip a bit, which isn’t a shock, since they are more boom-or-bust approaches.

  • Conservative: 96.4th percentile (+0.1 from last week)
  • Aggressive: 76.7th percentile (-5.0)
  • Very Aggressive: 66th percentile (-4.0)

If your pool is huge (meaning you have almost no chance to win it from the start, and need to take big risks for a shot at first place), has weekly prizes for the best performance, or you have fallen way behind, our more aggressive strategies make sense. They take big gambles — really big gambles in the case of Very Aggressive — and while those gambles are well reasoned, they certainly don’t represent what we expect to happen.

Otherwise, though, the Conservative pick set should be your default, and that strategy should have you in the top 5 of a 100 person pick’em pool.

Here is where we stand on Yahoo! with our point spread pick’em strategies. Our against the spread picks shared a similar performance to the game winner picks, with the more aggressive strategies falling and the Conservative strategy holding strong. Notably, the Conservative strategy continues its run of being in the top 1% in the nation every single week this season:

  • Conservative: 99th percentile (no change from last week)
  • Aggressive: 83st percentile (-8)
  • Very Aggressive: 67th 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.)

Last week we highlighted that Toledo was a good value pick to beat Cincinnati with only 2% of the public picking the Rockets. Lo and behold, Toledo prevailed, downing the previously unbeaten Bearcats 29-23. Unfortunately the rest of our game winner value picks performed poorly last week, though several lost in last minute heart-breakers that could have gone either way. Still, as a measure of upset pick quality, close finishes are a good indication.

Western Kentucky, our favorite pick, lost by one point in overtime when Louisiana-Monroe decided to go for two rather than to force a second OT. Similarly, TCU fell in a third overtime period, and Maryland lost when their freshman kicker’s game winning field goal attempt hit the upright as time expired. Connecticut and Virginia Tech were not as competitive, though.

We also noted two against the spread picks in which 90% or more of the public was picking a particular team. Toledo not only covered but won outright, however California only managed 3 points in a blowout loss to Stanford.

Our Week 9 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 9 Value Pick Highlights: Game Winners

TeamOpponentAdj Win OddsPublic %ValueSpreadPick Type
Nebraskavs Michigan56%35%21%-2.5Odds-On Contrarian
Nevadaat Air Force61%40%21%-3.5Odds-On Contrarian
Penn Statevs Ohio State50%17%37%+1.0Low Risk Upset
Cincinnatiat Louisville41%4%37%+3.0High Risk Upset
Washingtonvs Oregon State39%4%35%+4.0High Risk Upset
Arizonavs USC33%3%30%+6.5Long Shot Upset
Iowaat Northwestern32%7%25%+6.0Long Shot Upset
Texas Techat Kansas State31%7%24%+7.0Long Shot Upset

After only one odds-on contrarian pick last week, this week there are two such picks as of Thursday morning. Odds-on contrarian picks occur when the public disagrees with our models’ pick to win, and in this case, the Vegas favorite as well. Nebraska and Nevada are both favored to win in Vegas, and we give each of them win odds of over 50%. A majority of the public, though, is calling for the upset in each case.

These two teams are great picks in any sized pool and should receive high confidence levels in pools that require them. As we mentioned above, Penn State is also a great value pick and close enough to a 50/50 winner that it’s probably worth picking them to win in any situation.

There are also a couple of riskier upset picks that provide significant value this week. We give Washington and Cincinnati each about a 40% chance to upset their opponents, yet only 4% of the public has picked each to do so. For those in bigger pools looking for upsets, these two teams provide the most value.

Finally, three long shot upset picks are undervalued this week. We think Arizona, Iowa and Texas Tech have a much greater chance to win outright than the public believes. However, with five other solid options on the board this week, we wouldn’t recommend taking such large chances. But if you’ve got a feeling, at least you can know that value is on your side.

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. Interestingly, while Penn State is a solid game winner value pick, Ohio State looks like a fantastic ATS value pick in a point spread pick’em if your contest has the Buckeyes at their opening line of +2.5 and not their current line (as of Thursday morning) of -1.

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

Week 8 Point Spread Movement Highlights

TeamOpponentOpening LineCurrent LineMovement
Ohio StatePenn State+2.5-13.5
Stanfordvs Washington State-22-253.0
Wake Forestvs Clemson+14.5+11.53.0
Texas A&Mat Auburn-12.5-152.5
Ricevs Southern Misspick-22.0
Kentuckyat Missouri+15.5+13.52.0

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 severely 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 8 Point Spread Pick Imbalance Highlights

TeamOpponentPublic Pick%TR Cover OddsCurrent Line
Washingtonvs Oregon State11%51%+4.0
Arizonavs USC12%52%+6.5
Cincinnatiat Louisville12%49%+3.0
Penn Statevs Ohio State20%54%+1.0
Iowaat Northwestern20%47%+6.0

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. 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.