The FPI guide to picking the college football bowls

Miami experienced a rough end to the regular season, but is it due for a bowl-related renaissance? Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

So you want to win Capital One Bowl Mania.

You're a college football fan. You watch most Saturdays. Occasionally you'll tune in for some late-night Pac-12 action if Arizona and Cal are playing in a spicy barnburner. But ... how good is Fresno State again? And what is the long layoff going to do to SMU?

Bowl Mania is designed for die-hards. And that describes Stan, the guy three cubicles over who wins every year and has mentioned that fact one too many times. FPI is here to help.

First, let's get to the goods, FPI's predictions for bowl season:

So, what should you do with this information? Well, that's up to you, of course. But here are some tips that will definitely maybe help you win your league.

If you're in a small, straight-up or any size confidence pool

This is the simplest scenario. FPI would advise to simply take the favorite in each matchup in a straight-up pool, and rank by chance to win in a confidence pool. Bam. Easy.

If you're in a large straight-up pool

Now things get a little interesting. You want to take down the entire company, not just your small team or group. A good option here is to zig when they zag. In other words: Take an underdog who FPI thinks has a decent shot to win, but the general public does not. The chances are slightly against you to pull it off, but if you do, so many other people will take a loss that it'll help your odds of winning the whole thing.

To gauge differences in perception and FPI, we'll use Vegas lines. A couple examples of teams you could flip to in this scenario:

Miami Hurricanes

The Hurricanes are 6.5-point underdogs against Wisconsin in Vegas, but FPI predicts just a 1.6-point loss and gives them a 45 percent chance to win this one outright. Lots of people will probably be off of Miami, given the way the Canes lost to Clemson in the ACC championship game.

South Carolina Gamecocks

Michigan is the bigger name, and an 8-point favorite in Vegas, but FPI gives the Gamecocks a 40 percent chance to win this game.

Georgia State Panthers

Western Kentucky quarterback Mike White put up big raw numbers but wasn't that efficient (Total QBR: 52.8), so it's OK to go with the Panthers here, who have a 41 percent chance to win.

What if you fear lots of other people in your pool are using FPI, too?

Now you know how I feel trying to beat my analytics teammates in any sort of sports prediction contest.

If you find yourself in this situation, you might want to tinker with a couple of picks to potentially improve your chances. Look, FPI doesn't like to brag, but it's very good at what it does. We'll do a full season review after the bowl season is over, but as it stands now, FPI minimized error more than any non-Vegas line model that the Prediction Tracker tracked this season.

But it isn't perfect and we know that. One thing the model doesn't account for is injuries, suspensions or bowl sit-outs. By and large, it's hard to predict which of these situations actually end up mattering much. But one place you could pivot off of FPI is when a team will be missing its quarterback and that quarterback is particularly good. Most of the time, this might mean just lowering the confidence away from this team in a confidence picks pool. Some of those teams you could shy away from a little bit would include:

West Virginia Mountaineers

Mountaineers quarterback Will Grier injured his finger and coach Dana Holgorsen said Grier's chances of playing in the Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl are "not good." Utah is favored by 6.5 in Vegas, but FPI -- not knowing Grier's injury -- thinks it should almost be a pick 'em. Maybe find a happy medium.

Mississippi State Bulldogs

MSU quarterback Nick Fitzgerald is hurt and coach Dan Mullen is gone. The model has Mississippi State as barely worse than a coin flip against Louisville, but without Fitzgerald, the Bulldogs are probably longer shots than that.

Boise State Broncos

Actually, this has more to do with the Broncos' opponent, Oregon. Quarterback Justin Herbert missed five games due to injury this year and the Ducks were significantly worse without him. With Herbert now back, Oregon is probably a tad underrated by the model.

What if you fear lots of other people in your pool are using FPI and reading this article, too?


Happy bowl season!