December 15, 2017 - by Tom Federico
As we do every year, we’re applying proven strategies to help our customers win bowl pick’em contests during the 2017-18 bowl season. In this post, we’ll outline 5 high level tips to improve your odds to win a bowl pick’em pool.
Last year, customers using our premium bowl picks (which apply all of these strategies, and more) took first place in bowl pick’em contests five times as often as expected.
It takes both luck and skill to win a college bowl pool in a any given year, but the better strategy you have, the more you will win over the long term.
With the right approach, you can consistently outperform your competition, and become a force to be reckoned in your annual bowl pick’em contest.
Here’s a research-based framework for how to approach putting together your bowl pick sheet:
Every year’s slate of bowl games features different dynamics. For example, in the 2017-18 bowl season, betting odds expect only two teams (Florida State and Florida Atlantic) to win their bowl games by more than 10 points (based on lines as of Friday Dec 15). Last year, there were nine teams in this category.
Typically, the more games there are that are expected to be close, the more opportunities there will be to find inefficiencies in how the general public (i.e. your bowl pool competitors) are making their picks.
A good practical starting point is to separate all 78 bowl teams into rough tiers according to their chance of winning. You can use recent betting odds / point spreads or our algorithmic college football game predictions as an objective measure of each team’s win odds.
The main point here is to use reliable and intelligent data to estimate each bowl team’s odds to win — NOT inferior predictors like a team’s win-loss record (which ignores schedule strength and margins of victory), whether a team is ranked in the AP Poll or not, or a school’s “brand” as a football team.
For example, West Virginia has a rich and well-respected history as a football program, but they are a 7-point underdog against Utah this year in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
Winning a bowl pick’em contest isn’t only about picking winners. To maximize your odds to win, you often need to figure out the smartest opportunities to pick against the crowd.
You can unearth these “value picks” by comparing two metrics:
Sites that host bowl pick’em contests like ESPN and RunYour Pool often publish pick popularity information based on overall user picks in their games. So go collect all that data (or just use our Bowl Pick’em Picks product, where we’ve done all that work for you), and make a list of games that fit a couple key criteria:
Keep in mind that there will usually be more teams that meet the second criteria listed above than the first. More often than not, the public overrates favorites and underrates underdogs, but that’s not always the case, especially in bowl pick’em contests where many players may not be familiar with all the teams playing (e.g. the case with Ohio this year).
Once you’ve got your list of most likely winners and promising value picks on hand, the hard work really begins.
Somehow, you need to translate all of that great data into a specific set of 40 bowl picks that will maximize your odds to come in first place in your pool. Getting to the best answer is an extremely challenging problem, because there is no single set of “best picks” that fits every situation.
Rather, the picks that maximize your edge in your college bowl pool will depend on factors such as:
In years past, we spent hundreds of hours collecting data and doing complex math to come up with our official college bowl pick recommendations for our customers. Finally, we invested the time and resources necessary to engineer algorithms to do all the necessary computation, and our Bowl Pick’em Picks product was born.
If you prefer to make picks on your own, however, here are some basic guidelines:
Finally, when talking about making more upset picks in bigger pools, it’s critical to stress again that all upset picks are NOT created equal. In most cases, the worst possible thing you can do is make a “trendy” upset pick — that is, a pick that isn’t expected to win, but that a relatively high percentage of your pool is picking. Those are high risk, low reward gambles — yuck.
Typical bowl pick’em scoring (where you assign 1 to 40 confidence points to each pick) means that getting your 28-point pick correct, for instance, is worth the same as getting your 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 point picks all correct.
So it’s really not worth it to agonize over your lower-confidence picks. They don’t mean much compared to optimizing your top picks to maximize your chance to win your pool.
That same logic applies to making lots of upset picks, but giving them mostly low confidence, which is usually a fairly worthless strategy. If you make 8 big upset picks and get 6 of them right, that’s a once in a lifetime performance.
But if you gave most of those picks low confidence ratings, your reward for such spectacular picking is minimal, and it’s unlikely to make a huge impact on helping you win you pool.
In general, it’s better to make bigger bets on a select few upset or value picks that offer the highest risk/reward tradeoff, than the opposite.
Will you probably win your 100 person pick’em contest? Of course not. The odds are stacked against you.
As a baseline, you have a 1% chance to win that pool (1 in 100). Even with the best possible advice and analysis, you should still be thrilled to win a 100 person pool every 15-20 years or so. Given the payout structures of most pools, that would also result in a fantastic long term return on your investment in pool entry fees.
With that point as context, if you’re generally following the advice in this email, don’t beat yourself up if things don’t work out in a given year.
As long as you understand the dynamics of playing in office pools, and continue to play in bowl pools year after year with a cool head and a solid data-driven strategy, and don’t overreact by abandoning a solid strategy when it just happens to have an off year, you should have great success in the long run. Our approaches have proven that.
The information above will help you formulate an effective strategy for increasing your odds to win a bowl pick’em contest.
However, if you want to save yourself the time and effort of evaluating 40 unique matchups and trying to figure out which favorites and upsets you should pick to get the maximum edge in your specific pool — we can do all the number crunching for you.
Enjoy the bowl games and have a happy and safe holiday season!
Note: All betting lines mentioned in this article are as of Friday morning, December 15, 2017.
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