There is this housewife in West Valley City named Pauline Empey who is arguably the best football prognosticator in the entire greater Salt Lake area. She won last season's Deseret News Grid Picks Contest and got a free trip to the Holiday Bowl; and now, a year later, here she is, one of 12 finalists in this year's contest who have emerged from nearly 2,000 weekly entrants. Pauline is not without credentials when it comes to knowing a winner from a loser.
She says BYU will win today's game over Utah, 55-17.She doesn't suggest this score idly. Along with the other 11 Grid Picks finalists, she is trying to win $25,000. The BYU-Utah game is the final pick of the 1990 contest. Every weekly winner qualified to predict the halftime and final score of the annual Ute-Cougar contest. If someone predicts the halftime score correctly and follows that up with a correct prediction of the final score, Presto!, they are $25,000 richer and the IRS will be following them home.
What are the odds of this happening, you ask? Well, according to the predictions submitted by the 12 finalists, about the same as Utah beating BYU.
These people with money on the line don't care if the game is at Utah. They don't care if the Utes won the last game played at Rice Stadium in 1988, by a 57-28 score. They don't care that the Utes have nothing to lose and everything to gain. They don't care that Utah's defense is no longer a first cousin of Buster Douglas' chin.
They're betting with their heads. Their heads say Utah will lose by 37.2 points.
As you can see by the adjoining chart, Empey's prediction of a 55-17 game (35-10 at the half) is representative of the group as a whole. The closest anyone sees the game is Brent Johnson (45-24, a 21-point spread). The furthest is Richard Mouritsen (63-14, a 49-point spread).
The 12-person average is BYU 52.4, Utah 15.2 - a 37.2-point spread.
That's almost exactly what Pauline Empey thinks. Her 55-17 prediction makes BYU a 38-point favorite.
It's not a bad idea to sit up and listen when Pauline speaks on the subject of college football because her track record at picking games is nothing short of uncanny. During last season's contest, when the rules were different and you qualified for the Holiday Bowl grand prize by accumulating your won-lost record from week to week, she had the best prediction percentage among the thousands of weekly entrants.
Then, to prove that was no fluke, she out-guessed over 1,000 entrants in week five of this year's contest, winning $100 and advancing to this week's finals.
Pauline's husband, Kent, an employee at the Tooele Army Depot and an avid college football fan, has helped educate her on her picks. He tells her when Notre Dame, say, is favored by 40 over Navy, and she'll pick Notre Dame.
But on the close games, when Kent says, "Now Auburn-Alabama, that's a tough one," and then goes into a lengthy discourse of who has the best defense against the run and who has the most injuries, etc., Pauline goes to her own system, which is so simple she wonders why everyone hasn't thought of it.
She flips a coin.
"I take out a penny, or a nickel, whatever," she says.
This strategy has annoyed her husband and her son, Jason, a sophomore at Hunter High School, both of whom are ardent Grid Picks players who make their choices only after much study and deliberation. They would never resort to reaching for a penny or a nickel. And they have never won.
"They get upset with me because they try really hard," says Pauline.When she got on a roll through the middle of last season, picking winners right and left, she did detract from the coin-flipping strategy for a while.
"Kent was picking so bad," she says. "I just picked the teams he didn't."
This story is true. Honest. You could call Pauline at her home in West Valley, where she sews for a living and paints for a hobby, and talk to her about college football and she would tell you she doesn't know who's in the Rose Bowl and isn't terribly interested.
But she does know BYU and Utah are playing today (although she's going Christmas shopping and won't be at the game), and she knows that if it's 35-10 at the half and 55-17 at the finish, in favor of BYU, she'll be one rich prognosticator.
She arrived at her scores, by the way, by listening to Kent.
"My husband helped me with these," she says. "He told me not to go too high on Utah because they haven't been playing that good. And he's such a big BYU fan so he thinks they'll do well. So is Jason. Even if they know BYU is going to lose, they bet on them anyway."
I know what you're thinking. Pauline's going to be right again. It's going to be 55-17. But for the Utes. She should have chosen the team Kent didn't.