Hardly a week goes by without someone asking me how I did with my weekly football picks in The News Leader.
Since I’ve done it for what seems forever, I’m not surprised by the question, and usually I give a rather straight-forward answer.
But inside, I’m sort of chuckling, although I don’t show it. It runs through my mind that I hope they don’t think I’m an expert. Only if they knew how I did my picks! I hope they didn’t put any money, or any other credence on my choices.
Here at The News Leader, we know that our football pick section is very popular. That comes not only from communications with readers but also from Chartbeat which allows us to see just how many people are digitally tuned in to each article that we write that is on the Internet.
So since we are very close to the end of the football season, I thought it would be nice to share some of the secrets of our football picking. And in some cases you will be surprised. Joining me in this sharing are veteran pickers Patrick Hite, Tom Jacobs, Ron Hartlaub and newcomer Joe Pittman.
In the past, we have picked 20 games a week. It included a slate of high school, college and professional games. Sometimes, near the end of the season, with just so few games left, we were picking teams like Northwest Missouri State, Valdosta State or the Sam Houston State Bearkats, squads we had never heard of and probably ones that had no interest with our readers.
So, this year, we went to a different format of picking by including just the results of local high school teams, and colleges very familiar with our readers while dropping the pros.
High schools making the list were Lee, Waynesboro, Riverheads, Buffalo Gap, Stuarts Draft, Wilson, Fort Defiance and Grace Christian. In our college picks, we included James Madison, Virginia and Virginia Tech. The number of games picked each week varied, depending upon who was playing.
In the past, when we had a 20-game slate of high school, tough college and pro picks, we averaged about 70 percent success. That is, we got seven out of 10 games correct.
Of our picks, about 40 percent were sure outcomes while the other 60 percent, could go either way. If we split those, that’s how we got a winning average of 70 percent. Getting rid of the pros, and the hardest college games has really improved our odds this year. The top pickers are hitting around 85 percent. That means were are getting 17 out of 20 games correct.
And the race for the top slot is tight. Only one game currently separates the top three pickers while the top six are within three games of each other.
Now, revealing our secrets.
Some of them are really funny, especially when I asked a picker one time why he chose a team, and he said it was because he liked the mascot.
There are others that love their Alma mater. Regardless who they had on the schedule, they would always pick the high school or college they graduated from, even if it had nearly no chance of winning.
Then there are those that admit they literally toss a coin. I’ve even done that a few times.
However, in all the years I’ve picked, I’ve never let favorites determine my selections.
And that was sometimes very tough. I graduated from Lee and taught there 15 years before I retired.
Sometimes there were Lee football games where I didn’t pick the Leemen to win. Oh! yes, they watched those picks in the paper. Not only was it tough in the school but also the classroom where sometimes I taught some of the Lee football players.
I would tell them naturally, I wanted Lee to win, but I felt they would be the underdog, so I picked their opponent. If that made them mad, then my pick was an incentive to win. And if they did, then on Monday they could come, get in my face, call me an old fuddy-duddy, stick their tongue out at me, and have fun ridiculing my choice.
And, once in a blue moon, they had their opportunity.
Getting more serious, in making my choices, I compare past results, current team records, strengths and weakness of opponents, home field advantage, current winning streaks or losing streaks to show momentum or lack of it, and how the rivalries have done in past years.
A good example of that would be the Virginia-Virginia Tech game of last week. Virginia had lost 12 straight to the Hokies. There was no way I was going to pick an upset, even though I am a Virginia graduate. The Cavaliers had lost six in a row, Tech was headed to the ACC championship game if they won and Virginia was going nowhere. For me, and all other nine pickers, it was a no-brainer.
Then there was the Riverheads-Stuarts Draft game of a few weeks ago. We all picked Riverheads. And, we were all wrong. Both teams were 9-0 at the time. I based my choice on past performances between the two teams, and that favored Riverheads which lost in overtime to the Cougars.
For me, over the years, Lee has been the hardest to pick, and Riverheads the easiest. The Leemen have tripped me up many times by losing a lot of home games that I felt they should have won.
Some people put a lot of thought into their picks, but not Patrick Hite.
“I come in and be done with it,” he said. “The problem is I think too much.”
Hite said the team that gives him the most trouble is James Madison. “I really don’t follow that conference (CAA),” he said.
“My easiest is obviously Riverheads – Why not? They are consistently a 7-8-9 win team for the regular season. I don’t know the last time I picked against them – maybe when Wilson was good.”
For Tom Jacobs, his selection reasons are a little different from others.
“It’s past history between the teams and common opponents,” he said. “And sometimes you just know which teams will win. For colleges, you can look at the Vegas betting lines.”
For Jacobs, Grace Christian has proven to be the most difficult to pick because of lack of familiarity, especially with the Warriors opponents. And Waynesboro has caused problems. “They are hot, and not hot,” he said. “It’s hard to gauge how the team is going.”
Meanwhile, his easiest is Riverheads.
Ron Hartlaub has been on the panel since 2004 and has had pretty good success overall. “I’ve won once, and tied once,” he said. “My goal is not to finish last.”
He, like most of us are quizzed about our selections. “People I don’t know from Adam come up and talk to me about my picks,” he said.
Hartlaub said he has most trouble with Wilson Memorial and Grace Christian because it’s hard to research teams that the Warriors play.
Joe Pittman is in his first year of selecting winners.
“I go with the history between the schools and look at who they have so far played,” he said of his picks. “Private schools are the hardest. Usually I have no idea.”
When it comes to picking high schools, one helpful tool I use, and also some of our other writers is MaxPreps. When we Google the high school name, the sport and MaxPreps, up pops on the computer screen an up to date summary of that particular team, its record, results and remaining schedule, along with rosters. And MaxPreps sometimes goes back a couple of years to give past history. For example, MaxPreps was particularly useful a few weeks ago when Quantico played at Grace Christian. Who is Quantico? Well, by using MaxPreps, I found out that Quantico was 9-0 at the time and had played several common opponents on the Grace Christian schedule. That helped me immensely in my pick.
What do we get if we happen to be the overall winner? In the past, we picked upwards of 300 games for a season. This year, we currently stand at around 100.
Well, the answer is nothing, except bragging rights. I remember one time long time ago, it was the winner who had to take everyone else out to dinner.
So, don’t take us seriously. Don’t bet the kitchen stove on who we pick. For us, it’s just fun. And, why don’t you try to beat us. Just take the weekly slate, do your picks and compare it to what we did.
I bet you will be surprised how well you will do.
Contact Ken Bosserman at email@example.com