Let's be honest: Bowl season is better with a little something on the line.
Sure, the battle for 23rd-best team in the nation is great and all, but backing a team makes for a superior viewing experience. Capital One Bowl Mania is here to help.
Of course, UAB and Northern Illinois might not have graced the presence of your television screen this year, and you might not know how to pick that game. That's where FPI comes in, with our handy guide to assist in your bowl season predictions.
So let's start with this: The FPI predictions for every bowl game, listed in order of predicted points margin.
Having the chart above is a large part of the battle, but knowing what to do with that information is important, too. Your strategy for taking FPI's advice should depend on the type of pool you're in.
If you're in a small straight-up pool...
Well, then your job is easy. You can simply follow the chart above and pick the FPI favorite. Congratulations, you have selected the team with the best chance to win every contest.
There's only game where I'd consider pulling a manual override in a small, straight-up pool:
The Black Knights are 3-point favorites in Vegas but 3.6-point underdogs according to FPI. We don't have a problem disagreeing with Vegas, but in this case, FPI is naïve to the fact that Cougars QB D'Eriq King is out. While many QB injuries don't justify moving away from FPI, King is fifth in Total QBR and is that important. Ed Oliver missed time this year, but he also won't be playing for Houston. It's close, but I'd probably lean toward flipping to Army in this case.
If you're in a confidence-points pool ...
Again, the vast majority of our advice is simply to follow the table above -- the larger the win percentage, the higher the confidence points we recommend assigning. This is really where a model shines over humans. Anyone can pick Utah over Northwestern or Georgia over Texas, but how much more likely is one than the other? That's harder for us to decipher.
In the section above, we noted that Houston is (probably) a little less likely to win than FPI thinks. King isn't the only elite quarterback to sit out bowl season, but he's the only one to be in a game that's close enough to flip in a straight-up pool. Here, it's probably worth tinkering with the confidence points for a few teams missing high-end quarterbacks, or where some other factor that FPI is not aware of could come into play. Careful though: There's a reason why FPI is smarter than us in the first place, so if you want the model's best guess, I wouldn't stray too far.
As is the case with King, Will Grier fits into the category of a quarterback who is good enough that we can assume he's a real factor. Without him, West Virginia should still be the favorite to beat Syracuse, but it's fairly close.
If there's any team in the country that FPI is underrating, my best guess would be the Crimson Tide. And yes, that's despite Alabama being ranked No. 1 in the country. Here's why: FPI can handle some garbage time -- plenty of good teams take their foot off the gas pedal at times throughout the year -- but Alabama's situation was an extreme. Tua Tagovailoa only attempted eight passes in the fourth quarter all season.
We think they have the second-best offense in football going forward despite consciously playing suboptimal offense for significant portions of time this season. We're almost certainly underrating that side of the ball as a result. It might be worth making Alabama in the Orange Bowl your most confident result and bumping up the Alabama/Oklahoma combination in the final.
McKenzie Milton ranked 15th in Total QBR this season -- high enough that I think it's worth guessing his absence will affect the Knights, even though Darriel Mack Jr. played well filling in against Memphis. One might argue that UCF has more to play for than any team outside of those in the national semifinals, but neither I nor FPI will venture into trying to guess any team's collective mindset. Don't move UCF down too much, though, because LSU will also be missing future first-round pick CB Greedy Williams, who is sitting out.
Nudge down: Houston Cougars
If you're in a large straight-up pool
So this is where you want to zig a little while everyone else zags, hoping that a few minor underdogs pull through for you (and very few others) in the pool. In this case, we'll identify teams that are narrow underdogs according to FPI but larger underdogs according to Vegas, which we'll use as a proxy for the general game expectation.
In other words, these are teams that FPI thinks have only slightly less than a 50 percent chance to win but that the rest of your pool is, relative to the underdog's chance to win, less likely to pick.
Somewhat quietly, Ryan Finley managed to put together another nice season. The NC State quarterback had a QBR of 81.4 after surpassing the 80-mark in 2017 as well. That's part of the reason why FPI gives the Wolfpack the offensive edge over Texas A&M, even though the Aggies' Kellen Mond has had a strong year in his own right. FPI also does not really make a distinction between A&M winning and losing that overtime extravaganza against LSU, even though most people might give the Aggies a little extra credit for pulling out the victory.
Ohio State is a 6.5-point favorite in Vegas, but only a 2.1-point favorite according to FPI. Maybe there's a feeling that Urban Meyer will throw everything he has into his last game as a head coach, but our cold and calculating model isn't going to consider nebulous concepts like feelings. What we do know is that Washington will be one of the toughest tests for the Buckeyes offense this season (after Michigan) and, as a result, FPI thinks this contest is awfully close to a coin flip.
These two teams feature contrasting strengths. Buffalo has the more appealing offense, which includes Tyree Jackson; the Bulls' 6-7, 245-pound quarterback that could be of interest to the NFL. Meanwhile, Troy boasts Sawyer Smith at signal-caller who boasts a 29.1 Total QBR on the season. Yikes. But defense counts too, and that's where Troy has the edge, as FPI believes the Trojans' defense is about five points per game better than the Bulls' D. That, combined with the general uncertainty that goes into all bowl games, makes this game extremely close to a 50/50 proposition.
Happy bowl season -- and may the odds be ever in FPI's favor!