Contrarian Picks & Strategy For Your 2023 College Football Bowl Confidence Pool

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Written By Brett Gibbons | Last Updated
bowl confidence pool

The most wonderful time of the year is upon us – College Football Bowl Confidence Pool Season! While still far off in popularity from March Madness brackets, more and more folks get involved each year. Below, we’ll go over bowl confidence pool strategies and contrarian picks to help you win your pool. Also, find college football bowl odds for every game.

Are you new to bowl confidence pools? We’ve got you covered there, too. You may want to bookmark this article, as numbers in the table below will be updated leading up to Dec. 16.

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WHAT ARE BOWL CONFIDENCE POOLS?

Bowl confidence pools are like pick ’ems or March Madness brackets, where you pick winners for all 42 bowl games and the National Championship. The wrinkle is that you then rank your confidence in each pick 43-1. Do you believe Oregon over Liberty in the Fiesta Bowl is a sure thing? You rank it 43. Not sure what to make of Michigan vs. Alabama in the Rose Bowl? You rank it one.

For every matchup you pick right, you get the points. Add it up at the end, and you get a winner!

This simple concept creates an obsessively exciting puzzle to piece together. Some bowl confidence pools take it a step further and add point spreads, but this article is solely going to focus on standard winners.

GETTING STARTED With Bowl Confidence Pools

Creating a spreadsheet is the easiest way to absorb all of this information. Plug in the matchups and insert a column for the point spread, moneyline, implied win rate, and pick percentage. If you’d like, you can add information like opening odds and point total. I’d strongly recommend these columns!

To give yourself a starting point, convert moneylines to implied win percentages with this formula:

For negative odds: (ML Odds-1)/((ML Odds-1)+100)
For positive odds: (100)/(ML Odds+100)

Then, sort the sheet from highest implied win rate to lowest implied win rate and rank your teams that way. That simple move already puts you ahead of most of your bowl confidence pool. If you’re playing in an office or friend pool with casual college football fans, this alone might be enough.

However, let’s dive deeper to give you a leg up in larger, sharper pools.

Using Point Totals To Your Advantage

Games that feature lower point totals have lower expected variance. Games with higher point totals have high expected variance. When choosing underdogs and ordering picks, consider these rules of thumb!

If you’re looking to pick an underdog, you’re better off looking at Georgia Tech () over UCF in a game with a -point total as opposed to, say, Air Force () over James Madison (total: ).

Simply ordering teams based on expected win rate and over/unders should be enough to vault you into the top 20%.

Market Movement

A ton of moving parts cause odds to fluctuate pretty wildly. Player opt-outs and coaching changes are the primary culprits. For example, Missouri opened as a +6.5 underdog against Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl. After the Buckeyes’ starting quarterback and others hit the transfer portal (and some speculation about major opt-outs), the Tigers flipped the line to favorites.

Strong market movement – especially when it comes opposite of the public favorite – is an excellent indicator of a winner. Picking against the vast public majority is called contrarian betting, or in this case, contrarian picking. We’ll go over teams that fit the bill later.

The Information Battle

All sports betting is a battle of information. But in bowl games, it’s more prominent and easier to get information. Follow college football news sources on socials and, if you’re really serious, turn on notifications to know before your friends do. Many will continue to use records and power ratings – these tools are mostly misleading during Bowl Season!

Many bowl games will be decided on who has the fewer or less-important player opt-outs. Oftentimes, coaching changes are cause for a loss (or occasionally a win, like Wyoming may this year). Did one team fly backward three time zones and play at 8:00 a.m. internal time like Nevada did in the 2021 Quick Lane Bowl?

Motivation, although tricky to project, is also a major factor. Did a team fall well short of expectations and find themselves in a consolation bowl? Are NFL-bound players still playing in this game? Look carefully for situations that suggest a team is just out for a vacation.

These are just some factors to consider when choosing your winners.

  • Speaking of the information battle, join the Bowl Season discussion on Discord with over 4,000 other sports betting fans. Get live bowl news and to-the-minute bets from our staff.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL BOWL CONFIDENCE POOL STRATEGY: THE HEAVY FAVORITES

Pick percentages below are pulled from ESPN’s Capital One Bowl Mania and will be updated frequently. Moneylines and subsequent win rate conversions are from FanDuel Sportsbook and will be updated.

BowlFavoriteOpponentWin %Pick %
Fiesta BowlOregonLiberty.89595%
68 Ventures BowlSouth AlabamaEastern Michigan.88287%
Orange BowlGeorgiaFlorida State.87088%
Frisco BowlUTSAMarshall.83392%
Guaranteed Rate BowlKansasUNLV.81890%
Fenway BowlSMUBoston College.80096%

I won’t spend much time on these because they’re pretty straightforward. Expected win rates over 80% are a safe bet to lean into and rank near the top of your confidence pool. Just because they’re popular picks doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be yours, too.

Leaning too contrarian in your pools will make you fall behind quickly.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL BOWL CONFIDENCE POOL STRATEGY: TOP CONTRARIAN PICKS

The following teams listed are based on expected win rates against pick percentages. Oftentimes, entries are filled out according strictly to record or ranking, opening up opportunities for sharper players. Think of it as a pool of teams to choose from. For breakdowns on each team, visit the corresponding bowl odds page linked below.

BowlFavoriteOpponentWin %Pick %
Myrtle Beach BowlGeorgia SouthernOhio.62119%
Military BowlVirginia TechTulane.74926%
Duke’s Mayo BowlWest VirginiaNorth Carolina.66734%
Alamo BowlArizonaOklahoma.59737%

Georgia Southern Eagles

This is less a faith pick in Georgia Southern as it is a fade of Ohio. The Eagles opened at +2 and now sit at . Ohio loses star QB Kurtis Rourke, lead back Sieh Bangura, starting receiver Miles Cross, and second-leading rusher O’Shaan Allison to the transfer portal. Backup QB CJ Harris suffered a season-ending injury in September. GASO should be at full strength should leading rusher Jalen White return from injury (Missed Week 13).

Some ESPN entries are picking up on the line flip, but at just a 16% early pick rate, Georgia Southern is one of the best contrarian picks on the board.

Virginia Tech Hokies

Virginia Tech not only out-played expectations this season, but ended the year on a 5-3 run to become bowl eligible. The Hokies playing 11-win Tulane will keep their pick rate low, much to our benefit. Tulane lost its entire coaching staff and a slew of key players. The real needle-mover, QB Michael Pratt, might be NFL-bound but hasn’t decided whether he will play. The Green Wave were on the cusp of a New Year’s Six Bowl but now have to settle for this mid-level bowl game in Dallas.

Tech has the opt-out edge, coaching continuity edge, and motivational edge, as this is the first bowl game under Brent Pry.

Arizona Wildcats

In less-sharp bowl pools, Arizona should be an automatic selection. Chances are, your casual CFB-watching buddies have no idea how good Arizona was this year. Logos and blind record picks drive the majority of public picks in pools, and Oklahoma is a prime team for that.

The Sooners lost star QB Dillon Gabriel to the portal. Although the backup is talented five-star Jackson Arnold, OU also lost offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby to Mississippi State and is without multiple other starters. Arizona is without their star left tackle, but the engine of their offense – QB Noah Fifita and WR Tetairoa McMillan – will play in this game.

There’s almost no factor that favors Oklahoma, who was just left out of a New Year’s Six Bowl. Consider this a consolation prize for them.

BOWL CONFIDENCE POOL STRATEGY: OTHER CONTRARIAN PICKS TO CONSIDER

There’s not quite the discrepancy between the expected win rate and pick percentage here, but these are other names worth considering.

BowlPickOpponentWin %Pick %
Famous Toastery BowlOld DominionWestern Kentucky.58319%
Arizona BowlWyomingToledo.59723%
Cotton BowlMissouriOhio State.57332%
Idaho Potato BowlGeorgia StateUtah State.50030%
Camellia BowlNorthern IllinoisArkansas State.50534%
Pinstripe BowlRutgersMiami (FL).48816%

Remember: the title “confidence pool” instills a false sense of what these points really are. Even if you’re not personally “confident” in a certain pick, strategically putting more points onto those picks may be the right move, particularly with contrarian selections. More than anything else, it’s a numbers game.

Wyoming Cowboys

In casual pools, pickers will see 11-2 Toledo and 8-4 Wyoming. However, star QB Dequan Finn and guard Vinny Scuiry hit the transfer portal. Wyoming plays its last game for longtime head coach Craig Bohl, who announced his retirement following this game. Expect the pinnacle effort from the Pokes in this one. As a bonus, Toledo coach Jason Candle has a poor track record in the postseason. He is 2-4 outright, but failed to cover the spread in last year’s win.

Missouri Tigers

Ohio State is a team that will always garner plenty of picks thanks to the logo. To be fair, the Buckeyes are excellent in bowl games – they haven’t dropped a non-CFP bowl game since 2013. Many of those wins came despite a slew of opt-outs. But this year, nobody might be shorthanded more than Ohio State, who could be without upwards of a dozen major contributors.

Missouri, on the other hand, has complete buy-in from the roster. Most of their stars return next season; this is their first New Year’s Six Bowl game since 2013. Mizzou flipped the line nine points following departures from Ohio State. They hold the advantage in just about every facet this year. At just a 30% pick rate, Mizzou might be the biggest home run contrarian choice this year.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL BOWL CONFIDENCE POOL STRATEGY: TEAMS TO BE WARY OF

High pick percentages and lower expected win rates are good teams to fade. Oftentimes, it’s due to an inflated record or the logo on their helmet. Either way, they’re good to be aware of.

BowlFavoriteOpponentWin %Pick %
Pinstripe BowlMiami (FL)Rutgers.53586%
First Responder BowlTexas StateRice.64584%
Independence BowlTexas TechCal.59780%
Music City BowlAuburnMaryland.56568%

Miami (FL) Hurricanes

This one takes a bit of speculation, but Bowl Season warrants such speculation. Is there a team that has less of a reason to be excited about their bowl game than Miami? The Hurricanes travel from sunny South Florida to chilly New York City to play in one of the least-attended bowl games in a baseball stadium. The ‘Canes have a terrible track record, losing 10 of their last 11 bowl games outright. Their coach, Mario Cristobal, is an ace recruiter and likely has already turned 100% of his focus to the trail after a 7-5 season.

Starting QB Tyler Van Dyke hit the transfer portal, backup QB Emory Williams suffered a season-ending injury, and seven of their best starters won’t play in this game.

Rutgers is missing a handful of players, but top RB Kyle Monangai will return next year and play in this game. The Scarlet Knights are local and qualified for their first bowl since 2014. (Note: They played in the 2021 Gator Bowl but were a five-win addition late in the cycle.)

Auburn Tigers

Regarding two mid-level teams, the public almost always sides with the SEC team. Auburn finished the year 1-6 against bowl-eligible teams and have lost six of their last eight bowls under different coaches. Hugh Freeze brings a competent bowl record to the table, but Auburn is simply over-picked compared to their expected win rate. Maryland is also 1-4 against bowl competition, but picking the underdog in a coin-flip game between two fraudulent teams can put you ahead in the larger bowl pools.

Good luck with your College Football Bowl Confidence Pools!

PoolGenius: Take your strategy to the next level

Now that you’ve got an understanding of key strategies and interesting high-probability and contrarian picks for 2023, the hard part is figuring out just how much risk you need to take in your specific bowl pool(s). For example, if you’re in a huge pool and need to beat 2,000 other entries, putting a team like Missouri as your top confidence pick might be the type of calculated gambit you need to take to give yourself any sort of fighting chance at a huge payday. But in a smaller pool, you shouldn’t even consider that.

Fortunately, our partners at PoolGenius are here to help those without the deep analytical skill (or time!) to figure out the game-by-game pick decisions that will maximize your edge. Their Bowl Pick’em Picks product generates ready-to-play picks for your college bowl pool (game winner, spread, and/or confidence point based), all customized for your pool’s size and rules. And best of all, the product’s recommendations automatically update for betting line movement multiple times per day.

Sign up for PoolGenius Bowl Pick’Em and give yourself the best edge to win your bowl pool.

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