After a 2-year hiatus, football picks are back with a major upset

Readers of this blog from the start may remember I ran a test during the 2013 football season to pick winners of league games in the Sierra Foothill and Pioneer Valley leagues. The test was a success as I went 23-5, an 82 percent win rate.

minersThat’s a pretty impressive record when you consider that all I knew about the teams was what I read in the papers, didn’t attend any games, and had no particular insight into how good they were.

But I have learned after many years of sports handicapping that point differential–points scored vs. points surrendered–is a good basic measure of how strong a team is. Since these are high school kids, I didn’t think I needed to get much more sophisticated than that, and I was right.

bruinsSo I wrote a simple computer program that tracked the differential of each school in the two leagues, adjusted for the strength of schedule based on opponents’ differentials, and let the program tell me who would win the league match-ups.

I’m going to run the experiment again this season, and will include college and professional picks later–I don’t like to make predictions until I have four games worth of statistics. The Pioneer Valley League (that includes Bear River) doesn’t start league play until next week, so this week I’m going to focus on the opening week of action in the Sierra Foothill League.

Sierra Foothill League

This has not been a good place for the Nevada Union Miners, who have yet to win a  game–not one–going 0-17 in league play. The school’s athletic brain trust has made no secret of its desire to exit the SFL as soon as possible, but they’re stuck for a couple of more years so they have to stand and fight even if it means taking more lumps.

Well, if my numbers are correct, the Miners will make history tonight by winning their first league game over Rocklin, ranked No. 4 in the region by The Sacramento Bee. The Miners have gone 2-2 in non-league play (a 100 percent improvement over last year’s one-win season) and figure to show well against a Rocklin team that hasn’t looked good despite a 3-1 record. In fact, I have the Miners favored by 7 points.

Other league action includes:

–Folsom by 33 points over Woodcreek;

–Del Oro by 25 points over Granite Bay.

I’m not going to make a selection in the Bear River-El Dorado match-up tonight because this is the fourth game for each team (El Dorado won by forfeit last week), and it has been my experience that you need at least four games in the books to make an accurate prediction,  a policy the Associated Press Top 25 college poll should follow.

The college boys are entering their fourth week of play and we’ve already seen three top five teams beaten–including then No. 2 Florida State losing to Louisville by 43 points!–and last Saturday, seven of the top 25 went down.

Early season rankings are based on a school’s reputation, which is why you usually see the same suspects in the pre-season top 10 every year, and the perception of how good a team will be this season based on returning players and the 4- and 5-star recruits they have brought in.

As all of the early season “upsets” show, this technique doesn’t work well. I’ll wait a while longer.

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