Since 2010, I have been using a formula to project the scores for every college football bowl game. Here is the entry from last year, when it went 21-20 both straight up and against the spread.
Overall, the formula is 160-101 (.613) straight up and 136-119 (.532) against the spread. Last year was a relatively down year just above .500; 2013 is the only year the method has been below .500 both ways, and 2015 was a bifurcated year when it was 30-11 straight up but 18-23 against the spread.
That post a year ago takes a shot at explaining how the formula works, but the short story is that it’s based on points scored and allowed, with a simple opponent adjustment. It doesn’t have any provisions for coaching changes or missing players, so take that into account when browsing the games.
Below, I am using point spreads as reported by OddsShark at the time of posting with two exceptions. The Military and Armed Forces Bowls didn’t have point spreads at the time of original posting because the Army-Navy Game hadn’t occurred yet. I have updated the post to reflect changes coming after Army’s win, but the biggest change is the addition of those two last point spreads. Only two games had their score projections change at all, and in both cases it was one team’s score changing by a single point (which had no effect on picks straight up or against the spread).
Last thing: I will put the point spread next to the team the formula is picking against the spread. In the New Orleans Bowl, the formula likes the favorite Troy to cover, so it’s denoted as “Troy (-5.5).” In the Cure Bowl, the against-the-spread pick is underdog Georgia State, so it’s marked as “Georgia State (+4.5)”. Also, I round the scores to whole numbers for the picks, but because the formula goes to decimal places, a game might look like a push due to rounding when it’s not by the formula. If anything looks off by one in the picks, in other words, it’s the fault of the rounding.
Enough setup. Here are the picks.
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
December 16, 1 p.m. ET, ESPN
Troy (-5.5) 33, North Texas 26
This is a battle of two up-and-coming coaches to watch, Troy’s Neal Brown and North Texas’s Seth Litrell. This projection might be underselling the offense in this game.
AutoNation Cure Bowl
December 16, 2:30 p.m. ET, CBSSN
Georgia State (+4.5) 27, Western Kentucky 19
After building itself up on a run of coaches from Willie Taggart to Bobby Petrino to Jeff Brohm, the Hilltoppers finally came back down to earth a little this year. They’re favored in this bowl, perhaps due to their run of recent success, but the formula says not to sleep on GSU.
Las Vegas Bowl
December 16, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Boise State (+5) 30, Oregon 27
This one features a Pacific Northwest matchup that doesn’t get played often enough. It’s clearly the headliner of the first day of bowl season.
GILDAN New Mexico Bowl
December 16, 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Marshall (+5.5) 24, Colorado State 23
In a day when the formula likes underdogs not just to cover but win outright, this one is the closest pairing. Just 0.27 points separate them in the pick before rounding. The New Mexico Bowl has had a lot of good finishes in recent years, and this might be the next in that series.
Raycom Media Camellia Bowl
December 16, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Arkansas State (-3.5) 31, Middle Tennessee 15
I feel like the formula is selling the Blue Raiders a bit short, but at least the betting favorite is the pick here.
Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl
December 19, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
FAU (-17) 32, Akron 14
This is the largest point spread in the bowl season, and the formula still has Lane Kiffin’s Owls covering. Honestly, I’ll be surprised if FAU is held to only 32 points.
DXL Frisco Bowl
December 20, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
SMU 33, Louisiana Tech (+5) 31
This is the first game on the slate where the formula has an underdog covering but not winning outright. Whether or not Chad Morris gets a bigger head coaching job will play a big role in the actual game.
Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl
December 21, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
FIU (+8) 23, Temple 22
Someday, we will all tell stories of where we were when the game named after a mythical pirate with a laughably XTREME presenting sponsor was first played. As for the pick, Temple’s bad first half of the season and late surge explain the discrepancy between the formula, which looks at every game equally, and the spread, which isn’t bound as such.
December 22, 12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Ohio (-7) 33, UAB 25
The Blazers coming back to life and going to a bowl is one of the feel-good stories of the year. Ohio has been a better team, but weird things can happen in bowls played on foreign soil.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
December 22, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN
Wyoming (-1) 18, Central Michigan 14
This game can end up a clunker whenever warm-weather schools are sent to it, but that shouldn’t be a problem with these two teams. White snow on the blue field is one of the more striking images in the sport, so hopefully the forecast complies.
December 23, Noon ET, ESPN
USF (-2.5) 36, Texas Tech 26
The Red Raiders’ defense is a little better and its offense is a little worse than you might think, so the pinball possibilities aren’t as strong as you might guess. Still, it’s a rare instance when we can say the Birmingham Bowl is appointment television.
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl
December 23, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
San Diego State (-6) 23, Army 16
This game should be a tidy two hours and 30 minutes (not including halftime) thanks to a pair of run-heavy teams. If the Birmingham Bowl has too much passing for your taste, here is your chance to detox.
Dollar General Bowl
December 23, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
Toledo 30, Appalachian State (+7) 27
The nightcap features two of the most consistently good mid-major programs. If you’re a fan of a Power 5 team, it’s a chance to scout a pair of coaches who might make the leap up the food chain in Toledo’s Jason Candle and App State’s Scott Satterfield.
December 24, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Fresno State (+1.5) 16, Houston 14
The Hawaii Bowl has staked its claim to being the Christmas Eve game, but it’d be nice if it was played earlier in the day. This is a classic veteran vs. up-and-comer clash with Jeff Tedford facing Major Applewhite. The guy who’s been there before — and who’s leading a program for whom trips to Hawaii are an every-other-year occurrence — might have the slight edge here.
Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl
December 26, 1:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
West Virginia (+4.5) 28.3, Utah 27.5
Whether or not Will Grier can play and play effectively will decide whether this is a good contest or a somewhat easy Ute win.
Quick Lane Bowl
December 26, 5:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
Northern Illinois (+2.5) 22, Duke 16
NIU would have the big seasonal advantage if this one wasn’t played indoors. As it is, the Huskies’ defense appears to carry the day.
December 26, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
Kansas State 32, UCLA (+3) 31
This is the latest round of “is it Bill Snyder’s last game?”, but it’s also Josh Rosen’s last game and UCLA’s final contest in the pre-Chip Kelly era.
Walk-On’s Independence Bowl
December 27, 1:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Florida State 19.3, Southern Miss (+14) 18.9
There is a serious don’t-wanna-be-here factor for an FSU team playing in a venue it wasn’t expecting before the season with an interim staff. The sponsor, meanwhile, is a Louisiana-based regional burger chain started by two LSU men’s basketball walk-ons that bills itself as a “Bistreaux & Bar.” It’s no Poulan-Weed Eater, but that’ll do.
New Era Pinstripe Bowl
December 27, 5:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
Iowa (-3) 23, Boston College 19
Only snow can make this game aesthetically pleasing unless you really love three-yard rushes into the back of the line.
Foster Farms Bowl
December 27, 8:30 p.m. ET, FOX
Purdue (+4.5) 31, Arizona 27
The brand names may not jump off the screen, but this is another must-watch bowl. Khalil Tate running in RichRod’s spread option against Jeff Brohm’s innovative passing attack is something you should be here for.
Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl
December 27, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
Texas (+1) 29, Missouri 25
The Longhorns weren’t happy about being paired up with a Big 12-to-SEC defector, but they didn’t raise as big a stink with this one as they would’ve with the other one. The formula likes them to make their point by taking the win.
Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman
December 28, 1:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Navy (even) 27, Virginia 22
The Midshipmen aren’t up to what they usually are, but they can win this one on their home field. Even if they do, it shouldn’t take anything away from Bronco Mendenhall’s excellent second-year surge in Charlottesville.
Camping World Bowl
December 28, 5:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
Oklahoma State 29.5, Virginia Tech (+6.5) 28.9
The combo of Mike Gundy’s offense against Bud Foster’s defense makes this the best matchup outside the New Year’s Six games.
Valero Alamo Bowl
December 28, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
TCU 21, Stanford (+2) 20
This is one of two referendum games regarding Big 12 teams against enormous, slow-paced power teams.
San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl
December 28, 9 p.m. ET, FOX
Washington State (-4.5) 23, Michigan State 18
There aren’t many times when bowls are going up against each other for eyeballs this early, but 9 p.m. Eastern on a Thursday seems like an odd time to double up. It’s a similar situation, though, with a wide-open offense going up against a ground-and-pound opponent.
December 29, 1 p.m. ET, ESPN
Wake Forest 30.8, Texas A&M (+2.5) 30.5
The projected final for this one is only 0.0005 points larger than the New Mexico Bowl in the race for closest projected score. This has less of a chance to be close, however, considering the interim situation with the Aggies. Firing the head coach always raises the odds of a team no-showing in its bowl.
Hyundai Sun Bowl
December 29, 3 p.m. ET, CBS
N.C. State 30, Arizona State (+5) 26
I hope the Sun Devils’ new head coach gets to be there for this one. I’d love to see Herm Edwards do another incomprehensible press conference, only this time in an oversized novelty sombrero as is the custom at Sun Bowl events.
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
December 29, 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Northwestern (-6.5) 31, Kentucky 18
You’re already inclined not to watch this, and as the fourth-largest projected margin of victory, I can’t try to counter-intuitively sell it to you as a good game.
NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl
December 29, 5:30 p.m. ET, CBSSN
Utah State (-3) 30, New Mexico State 21
NMSU is going bowling for the first time in forever (1960), so it’s a feel-good story even if the final score isn’t all that close.
Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic
December 29, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Ohio State (-6) 38, USC 25
The first of the big-money bowls has the third-largest projected margin of victory. If the Buckeyes bring their best game, something they’ve admittedly struggled to do recently, it probably will be a fairly comfortable OSU win.
December 30, Noon ET, ESPN
Louisville 30, Mississippi State (+5.5) 29
Not only is this a Lamar Jackson game, but it’s Lamar Jackson against a team with a skeleton crew of an interim staff. Maybe Nick Fitzgerald and Aeris Williams will control the clock enough to keep it close, but there is real potential for fireworks.
AutoZone Liberty Bowl
December 30, 12:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Memphis (-3) 33, Iowa State 28
The Tigers are a supremely fun team to watch, and Iowa State has shown it has the potential to beat anyone. Prepare yourself to flip back and forth between this game and the TaxSlayer Bowl, or better yet, set up multiple screens to have them on at once.
PlayStation Fiesta Bowl
December 30, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN
Penn State (-4.5) 28, Washington 23
It’ll be interesting to see what the Lions do without Joe Moorhead, but UW’s periodic offensive problems might give Penn State the slack it needs to still pull it out.
Capital One Orange Bowl
December 30, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Wisconsin (-5.5) 25, Miami (FL) 15
Prepare for this one to generate narratives about who was the overrated one all along. Spoiler: The real answer is neither of them.
January 1, Noon ET, ESPN2
Michigan 16, South Carolina (+7.5) 13
Given the two alternatives, I can’t recommend watching this game longer than 30 minutes unless you’re a fan of one of the teams involved. Just stay away.
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl
January 1, 12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
UCF (+8) 31.5, Auburn 30.5
This kind of final score would give UCF a nice send-off at the end of the too-short Scott Frost era, as well as a cathartic gesture to the CFP selection committee that refused to rank the undefeated Knights even in the top 10. Meanwhile, it would also cause a lot of handwringing on the Plains given Gus Malzahn’s expensive new contract extension.
Citrus Bowl Presented by Overton’s
January 1, 1 p.m. ET, ABC
Notre Dame (+1) 26, LSU 19
If the Tigers can stop the run, this will definitely not be the final score. Either way, LSU fans will probably find more interest in the title sponsor, which Google tells me is a boating goods store.
Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual
January 1, 5 p.m. ET, ESPN
Georgia (+1.5) 31, Oklahoma 30
The careful reader will note that this is the first game the formula projects an SEC team to win outright. Getting two into the semifinals means everyone else gets bumped up a spot to a bowl against a tougher opponent than it otherwise would’ve faced. As for this game itself, it’s a great contrast in styles and perhaps the ultimate referendum on power running vs. high powered passing the season has to offer.
Allstate Sugar Bowl
January 1, 8:45 p.m. ET, ESPN
Alabama (even) 23, Clemson 17
The formula is picking the outcome that hardly anyone wants to see: Nick Saban versus Nick Saban’s defensive protege in the national title game. It would really be something to see after so many former Saban assistant hires and fires in the SEC over the last decade. Not that Clemson-Georgia would be all that different stylistically, but I for one am hoping my own formula is wrong about these semifinals.