December 13, 2018 - by Team Rankings
In this post, we’re going to share six picks that can help you increase your odds to win your 2018 college football bowl pick’em contest. For a primer on our data-driven approach to dominating bowl pools, see our article on college bowl pool strategy.
Want expert picks for your college football bowl pool? Customized pick recommendations for your pool are ready in our Bowl Pick’em Picks product.
Out of all 41 bowl games this year (including the FCS Celebration Bowl), the six picks below stand out based on their combination of win odds and pick popularity. They range from underrated favorites to unpopular underdogs that have a real shot at pulling off an upset.
Deciding whether or not to choose these teams should be top of mind when you make your 2018 college bowl picks, because they represent some of the best opportunities to gain ground on your opponents in the pool standings. Winning a bowl pool is all about taking calculated risks, and the teams below offer excellent risk-vs-reward profiles.
Just keep in mind that we are not saying you should make all of these picks. The best picks for your specific college football bowl pool depend on multiple strategy factors, such as the number of entries in your pool; whether it uses confidence points; and the prize structure. If you want our game-by-game recommendations for your pool(s), check out our Bowl Pick’em Picks.
Note: Win odds and projected pick popularity data quoted below may change between publication time and kickoff time. If you want to see the latest numbers, our product updates multiple times per day with the latest information.
When a team is favored to win, yet is being picked by less than half of your opponents, that’s as close to a no-brainer pick as you can get. Here are three picks from the 2018 college bowl slate that meet those criteria.
(Note: An earlier version of this article included Fresno State as a value favorite pick, but that was based on incorrect pick popularity data. Fresno State has been replaced by Tulane.)
Miami Hurricanes (vs. Wisconsin)
Expected to be a very strong team this year, Miami underperformed expectations and suffered through a four game losing streak to finish just 7-5. Interestingly, a very similar story applies to 7-5 Wisconsin, which started the season ranked #4 in the AP Poll and finished unranked. Based on schedule strength and game results, our predictive ratings currently have Miami as the better team by four points on a neutral field; the betting markets agree, with the point spread currently Miami -4. However, only 34% of bowl pick’em players are picking Miami to win, presenting an opportunity to gain ground on the majority of your opponents while still picking the favorite. Outside of AP #2 Clemson and surprise #17 Syracuse, the public hasn’t heard much about the ACC this year compared to the Big Ten, and that may be causing bias here.
Toledo Rockets (vs. Florida International)
In the betting markets, Toledo is favored by 5.5 points against Florida International. Both the Vegas-implied win odds and our predictive models give Toledo over 66% win odds, yet Toledo’s national pick popularity is only around 38%. Toledo hails from the MAC conference (which plays a lot of midweek games) and has a worse win-loss record than FIU, so the public is likely using inferior information in picking this game, without realizing that Florida International played one of the easiest schedules in the nation this season (#114 in our strength of schedule rankings).
Tulane Green Wave (vs. Louisiana)
This year’s Cure Bowl features 7-6 Louisiana against 6-6 Tulane. Nearly 70% of players in ESPN’s Bowl Mania game are picking Louisiana to win, perhaps because Tulane is a name they’re not used to seeing on a bowl pick sheet. The Green Wave haven’t played in the postseason since 2013, and it was looking like they wouldn’t be bowl eligible until they scored a game-winning touchdown with 1:27 left in their final regular season game. Now that they’re in, though, Tulane is favored by 3.5 points in the betting markets, and our data-driven predictive ratings see Tulane as four points better than Louisiana.
All underdog picks are not created equal. If you’re going to take a risk on a bowl upset pick, you want to focus on highly underrated teams that have a legitimate shot to win. The following three teams all qualify this year.
Eastern Michigan Eagles (vs. Georgia Southern)
As a 2-point underdog against Georgia Southern in the Camellia Bowl, Eastern Michigan has about 45% implied win odds, yet less than 20% of the public is picking them. With both of these teams being from relatively unknown smaller conferences, the public is probably (again) putting a bit too much stock in win-loss record, as Georgia Southern is an impressive 9-3, while EMU is only 7-5. It’s worth noting that our predictive ratings agree that Georgia Southern is the better team and more likely to win; Eastern Michigan is just being significantly underrated by bowl pool players.
Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (vs. Hawaii)
Louisiana Tech is a 1-point underdog against Hawaii in the betting markets, and our models agree this game is very close to a 50/50 toss-up. While it’s understandable that bowl pool players would be hesitant to pick a team traveling multiple time zones to play a bowl game against an opponent on its home field, the location of this game is public information that should already be priced into the betting line. So it certainly doesn’t make sense that LA Tech’s pick popularity is only around 22%. Hawaii’s 8-5 record is deceptive; based on its cupcake schedule and respective game results, our power rankings have Hawaii rated even lower than 1-11 Rutgers and 3-9 Tulsa. In addition, Hawaii’s most recent result in a home bowl game, a decisive 17-point win as a 7.5-point underdog against Middle Tennessee in 2016, isn’t indicative of a longer term trend. As a 10-point favorite, Hawaii lost by 27 to Tulsa in the 2010 Hawaii Bowl.
Iowa State Cyclones (vs. Washington State)
Surprise team Washington State was up to #7 in both the AP Poll and Coaches Poll until its season-ending loss to rival Washington in the Apple Cup, so the public likely holds WSU in high regard. (Coach Mike Leach and his silly antics getting widespread press coverage doesn’t hurt WSU’s brand awareness, either.) However, despite some impressive performances, our ratings still see Washington State as an overrated 2-loss team, and are right in line with the betting market in pegging 8-4 Iowa State as only a 3.5-point underdog. That’s still a significant risk — Iowa State only has about a 40% chance to win — but a minuscule 13% of the nation is picking them. Especially if you’re playing in a bigger bowl pool in which you need to take some educated risks to increase your odds to win, Iowa State should be at the top of your consideration list.
Maybe all of them, maybe only some of them. We’re not dodging the question — the reality is that it takes a lot of math to get to the right answer. Luckily, we can help with that.
We’ve built a product to do all this number crunching for you, and figure out when it makes more sense to fade the public or follow the crowd with your 2018 bowl picks. You answer a few quick questions about your pool, and it provides game-by-game pick recommendations that give you the best chance to win.
Check it out here: College Bowl Pick’em Picks.
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