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FPI breaks down bowl season

Alabama is favored to win the national title, but should they be atop your Bowl Mania projections? Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire

It’s the most wonderful time of the year ... college football bowl season!

Eighty FBS teams will play in 40 bowls before the College Football Playoff National Championship.

Which teams are most likely to win these games? ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) has you covered with projections and a confidence meter for all 40 FBS bowl games.

Naturally, many will question whether these bowl projections even work. Our answer: This season, the FPI favorite has won 73 percent of FBS games, which is a higher success rate than that of the Las Vegas closing line.

Bowl season is a different beast to forecast, however, with far fewer mismatches than the regular season. There are also a few other factors such as the long layoff and different motivational factors that make bowls less predictable. FPI has a slightly different bowl model than the one it uses in the regular season to account for this unpredictability.

How has that model performed? The FPI favorite won 64 percent of games over the past three bowl seasons, and 73 percent of bowls last season. In comparison, the Las Vegas favorite has won 61 percent of games during that time, and its favorite is 6-12 when it differs from FPI’s favorite.

In terms of Bowl Mania, our FPI-based entries (picks and confidence based on biggest favorite) finished in at least the 90th percentile in each of the past two seasons.

We aren’t guaranteeing a win in your pool, or suggesting you follow FPI exactly, but here are some notable projections to watch:

• One thing that jumps out in the projections above is how close many of the games are expected to be. There are seven different games in which the FPI favorite is favored by less than one point, the most such games in at least the past 10 seasons.

• In the national semifinals, FPI projects that Alabama has a 68 percent chance to beat Washington in the Peach Bowl and Ohio State has a 55 percent chance to beat Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl.

Michigan, Wisconsin, USC and Oklahoma are favored in the rest of the New Year’s Six bowls, but in contrast to last year’s blowouts, each of those games is expected to be decided by fewer than five points.

• Conference bragging rights? The American Athletic Conference has the highest projected winning percentage (.607) of any conference this bowl season.

• The SEC is sending 12 teams, including 5-7 Mississippi State, to bowls this season, which is tied for the most ever by one conference. Unlike last season, however, when the SEC went 9-2 with a plus-16 scoring margin, the SEC is expected to go about .500 in this season's bowls.

• Mississippi State, BYU and Air Force are the most likely teams to win their bowls. They are the only teams with at least a 75 percent chance to win. Over the past two seasons, the FPI favorite went 18-2 in the 20 games FPI was most confident in picking.

Now, let the fun of bowl season begin ...