How to Win Your Bowl Pool in 2015

December 16, 2015

Every year the slate of bowl games seems to grow, and that includes this season with 41 bowl games including the College Football Playoff games (not to mention the Celebration Bowl that’s included in ESPN’s Capital One Bowl Mania contest).

If you’re counting at home, that’s two more bowl games than last year and six more bowl games than five years ago. As if bowl picks weren’t already challenging enough, now you’re responsible for picking even more games.

That’s why we’re here to help. Here are several key factors and matchups you should consider when making your picks in a 2015 bowl pick’em pool.

Opponent Pick Trends & “Value”

Winning a pick’em contest isn’t just about picking winners. To maximize your odds, you need to uncover opportunities to pick against popular favorites with the odds in your favor, or to take on a little risk in exchange for a big reward.

When it comes to bowl pools, we generally define “value” by comparing a team’s odds to win to the overall percentage of your opponents that are picking that team to win. When a team’s win odds are higher than their pick percentage, there’s value in picking that team.

5 Difference-Making Games in Your Bowl Pick’em Pool

Here are some examples of 2015 bowl games where one team is a possible value pick in game winner bowl pick’em pools.

Las Vegas Bowl: Utah vs. BYU

The return of the Holy War will take place on the first day of bowl season. The perception among the public is that this game will be a free ride for Utah, likely due to the fact that they were ranked in the top 25 for much of the season and BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall has left for the Virginia job. That public perception translates to 87% of the public taking the Utes, while the spread is only 2.5 points in their favor. We’re even less confident in Utah’s chances of winning, at only about 55% odds. Your opponents are likely to put heavy confidence points on this game that has the third highest public pick percentage, but what you should do is heavily dependent on your specific pool criteria.

Boca Raton Bowl: Temple vs. Toledo

The Baton Rouge bowl represents the biggest difference between Yahoo! public pick’em percentage and TR odds. While the public is taking the Temple Owls 80% of the time, our odds actually favor Toledo. Granted, 2015 Toledo head coach Matt Campbell has already left for Iowa State, but the current 1.5-point spread in favor of Temple already accounts for this news. With about 46% odds for a Toledo victory, this game could create an opportunity in bowl pick’em pools.

Texas Bowl: LSU vs. Texas Tech

The public seems to think this game is a sure thing. Certainly, Tech are significant underdogs by one touchdown, but the 88% public pick percentage could be underestimating an explosive Texas Tech offense that finished third in points per game and took down SEC competitor Arkansas in September -- a team that beat LSU by 17 points in Week 11. The teams have very contrasting styles, with the Red Raiders presenting a great passing offense and little defense (42.4 points allowed per game), while the Tigers’ old-fashioned approach centers around running back Leonard Fournette and a defense that ranked top 20 in fewest yards allowed per game. We give LSU nearly a 70% chance to claim victory, which are very favorable odds, but far from public sentiment. Our Bowl Pick’em Picks will advise you how to treat this game for your unique pool.

Outback Bowl: Tennessee vs. Northwestern

Both of these teams finished out the season strong by winning their final five games. It’s likely Northwestern’s two losses compared to Tennessee’s four losses that has caused 58% of the public to take the Wildcats. However, Tennessee played a significantly more difficult schedule, losing to two of the four playoff teams, and stand as 8-point favorites. We give the Vols better than 73% odds to pull out the victory, and since the public is leaning toward Northwestern, you shouldn’t be shy about picking the Vols and weighing them heavily.

Sugar Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Ole Miss

It’s almost hard to believe that the Yahoo! public pick’em percentage favors the Cowboys, but that’s the case at the time of this writing. A surprising 51% of the public is taking Oklahoma State despite their status as 7-point underdogs. Similar to Vegas, we don’t love Oklahoma State, but think they do have a chance of pulling this one out, with about 24 percent odds of winning the game. This game presents an opportunity to maximize value in your bowl pick’em pool, and Bowl Pick’em Picks can advise you exactly how to pick this game.

Which Value Picks & Upset Picks Should You Make?

All of the matchups above present value opportunities. In general, there is always "value" in picking longshot upsets; for example, Texas Tech has a bigger chance of beating LSU this year in the Texas bowl than most people think. The problem is, long shots rarely win, so it’s often better from a risk/reward standpoint to focus on slight underdogs. But it’s not always better.

How do you know which games to pull the trigger on? Here are some key factors that should impact your decision.

Bowl Pool Size

You need to match the level of risk inherent in your picks to your pool size. This is probably the most important strategic decision you will make. All else being equal, if you are in a pool with only your mom, dad, and sister, it’s stupid to go crazy making tons of upset picks. The best strategy is to play it safe. On the other hand, if you are competing against 2,000 co-workers and decide to only pick public favorites to win, you’re putting yourself at a huge disadvantage by being too conservative.

In practice this is an extremely difficult thing to assess, because it’s hard to know intuitively what the optimal risk level is for your specific office pool. Let us do the math for you – we’ve run millions of bowl pool simulations in order to determine how pool size impacts ideal risk level.

Pool Payout Structure

Is your pool winner-take-all? Or are there prizes for several top spots, even though it’s a small pool? The answer to that question can have an impact on pick strategy as well.

Imagine two 50-person pools that are exactly the same, except:

  • Pool A has 100% of the prize money going to 1st place
  • Pool B pays 30% to 1st, 20% to 2nd, 15% to 3rd, and 5% each to 4th through 10th place

In Pool A you need to beat everybody to have chance to win, whereas in Pool B you just need to finish in the top 20%. That means in Pool A you’re going to need to take some calculated risks, while in Pool B you may be able to cash simply by picking almost all the favorites, and letting other people’s failed upset picks knock them down the rankings.

Scoring System (Confidence Points)

You found a great value upset that you’re sure you should pick. Do you max out the confidence points? Do you play it safer and give it only a single point? Or should you choose a middle ground value in the 10 to 20 point range?

Again, there’s no one-size-fits all answer here. In a small pool, you’ll probably want to be more conservative, and assign your upset pick low confidence, so you limit the negative damage from an incorrect pick. In a very large pool, you may want to go for broke and assign the upset pick high confidence, figuring you won’t win the pool if you miss the pick anyway, so you might as well get the maximum positive benefit out of it. Our custom pick tool will make this decision for you, based on our extensive research into pool dynamics.

Let Us Help You With That

That’s a lot to take into account!

We can help.

With our Bowl Pick’em Picks, you tell us some details about your pool, and we’ll show you picks customized with the optimal amount of risk for your pool.

Here’s how we do it, and why our system is unique and better than just looking at bowl predictions/win odds alone:

  • We’ve developed proprietary computer models that simulate entire college football bowl pools. These simulations not only forecast game results, but also use pick popularity data to project how all players in a given pool will make their picks.
  • Running millions of bowl pool simulations gives us a deep understanding of the best picking strategies in many different scenarios. Our system leverages that research to identify your best possible picks, based on your pool’s size, scoring system, and payout structure.
  • Our algorithmically customized pool picks are unique in the industry, and provide a substantial edge over generic "expert picks" from other sources (which don’t bother taking into account the appropriate risk level for your specific pool).

TeamRankings College Football Pick’em Performance

Of course, applying proper strategy only matters if you start with good predictions. So here’s our recent track record.

The 2015 college football season has been one of our best yet.

  • Our playable (2- and 3-star) spread picks combined to go 162-137-5 (54.2%) this season
  • Overall, all of our college football spread picks went 374-336-13 (52.7%) this season
  • Our game winner picks went 568-155 (78.6%) this season
  • 58% of regular season college pick’em pool advice customers reported winning a weekly prize this season (counting customers in pools with weekly prizes, only)

Last season, our Bowl Pick’em customers reported a profitable 2014 bowl season:

  • Customers reported placing in the money in 22% of bowl pools they entered. Taking into account pool sizes and pool payouts, the expected win rate increased by 3x.
  • That 3x improvement factor increased in larger pools: users cashed in pools of 25+ people at 4x the expected rate, cashed in pools of 100+ people at 7x the expected rate, and cashed in pools of 500+ people at 20x the expected rate

Get Bowl Pick’em Picks Now

Our custom Bowl Pick’em tool helped all those customers win last season, and can increase your chances to win this season.

Time is running out to submit your picks to your bowl pick’em pool. Just enter a few details about your pool, and we’ll do the rest. You’re just a few minutes away from significantly increasing your chance to profit.

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Our 2- and 3-star rated college football picks went 158-139-6 (53.2%) against the spread this season.

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