College Football Bowl Confidence Pool Strategy, Cheat Sheet

Written By Brett Gibbons on December 12, 2022 - Last Updated on December 13, 2022
Bowl Confidence Pool Strategy

College Football bowl odds are nearly upon us! One of the most popular ways to get involved with the madness is bowl confidence pools. 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.

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 41 bowl games and the National Championship. The wrinkle thrown in is that you then rank your confidence in each pick 42-1. Believe Florida State over Oklahoma in the Cheez-It Bowl is a sure thing? You rank it 42. Think BYU and SMU is a total tossup in the New Mexico 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!

A simple concept that 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

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

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 the majority 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 and sharper pools.

Market Movement

For this Bowl Season being a fairly “standard” setup, there sure was a lot of market movement. Player opt outs and coaching changes are primary culprits, but moreso than previous years, we just had “off” opening numbers. For example, San Diego State opened at just -1.5 against Middle Tennessee in the Hawaii Bowl. The Aztecs almost immediately jumped to -6.5 despite no coaching or major player changes.

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 also easier information to get. Follow college football news sources on Twitter and, if you’re really serious, turn on tweet notifications to know before your friends do.

Many bowl games are going to 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 UAB may this year). Did one team fly backwards three timezones and play at 8:00 a.m. internal time like Nevada did last year in the Quick Lane Bowl?

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

Of course, no system is perfect and plenty of upsets happen despite no factors pointing to them. But when you see a setup like the 2021 Quick Lane Bowl coming, it’s always satisfying to watch unfold.

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 Capital One Bowl Mania and will be updated frequently. Moneylines and subsequent win rate conversions are from FanDuel Sportsbook and will also be updated.

BowlFavoriteOpponentWin %Pick %
Holiday BowlOregonNorth Carolina.85390%
Cirtus BowlLSUPurdue.84193%
Bahamas BowlUABMiami-OH.81188%
Myrtle Beach BowlMarshallUConn.80492%
Frisco BowlBoise StateNorth Texas.80096%

I won’t spend a lot of 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 simply 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).

BowlFavoriteOpponentWin %Pick %
Fenway BowlLouisvilleCincinnati.55019%
Duke's Mayo BowlMarylandNC State.54526%
Music City BowlIowaKentucky.56129%
Guaranteed Rate BowlWisconsinOklahoma State.60029%
New Mexico BowlSMUBYU.61833%
Birmingham BowlEast CarolinaCoastal Carolina.76739%

Louisville Cardinals

All of these lines are set and moved with coaching changes in mind. Off the bat, both Louisville and Cincinnati are dealing with moves in their coaching staff, as is Wisconsin. Ironically enough, all three moves are between these three teams, with Scott Satterfield headed to Cincinnati and Luke Fickell headed to Wisconsin.

Not only are the Cards still favored over the Bearcats, but the spread moved five full points in their favor– both across a key figure of +3 and again through a PK. While the implied win rate might not instill a ton of confidence that Louisville is a strong pick, the market movement should.

Iowa Hawkeyes

The Iowa pick percentage is almost certainly going to rise. Kentucky QB Will Levis and workhorse RB Chris Rodriguez both opted out for the game and future pickers should take that into consideration. However, it almost certainly will not rise to match their expected win rate at over 50%. Do note that Iowa is dealing with their own QB thing, with starter Spencer Petras (injury) and backup Alex Padilla (transfer) both being unavailable. But in the Brian Ferentz offense, who is throwing the ball matters far less than at other schools.

Regardless, Iowa’s seen six full points of movement in their favor. That also runs through +3 and a PK.

East Carolina Pirates

East Carolina will be near the top of most of my pool entires, likely inside the top five. Coastal Carolina is 9-3 while ECU is 7-5, prompting button-mashers to auto hit Coastal. This also comes down to name recognition. However, head coach Jamey Chadwell left for Liberty, stars Josiah Stewart and Willie Limpkin hit the portal, and while star QB Grayson McCall will play, he’s battling injury. There’s too much noise around the Coastal program at the moment.

Bowl Confidence Pool Strategy: Other Contrarian Picks To Consider

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

BowlTeamOpponentWin %Pick %
Military BowlDukeUCF.58026%
Gasparilla BowlMissouriWake Forest.52628%
Arizona BowlWyomingOhio.51920%
Cotton BowlTulaneUSC.50515%

Keep in mind: the title “confidence pool” instils 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.

SMU Mustangs

The vast majority of bowl confidence pools will continue to pick against SMU. Star QB Tanner Mordecai is out of the game and headed for the NFL Draft. However, their expected win rate remains steady over 50% (despite being a +1.5 underdog). Backup Preston Stone is a four-star prospect highly-lauded by the coaching staff. He’s a perfect fit in the system and this offense won’t lose much of a step, especially against BYU’s defense that ranks 115th in points per drive.

However, with a higher point total () comes higher variance. I’m likely going to lean SMU, but they won’t be very high in my confidence pool rankings.

Tulane Green Wave

Heisman winner Caleb Williams and the resurgent USC Trojans will continue to dominate entries. Tulane is one of the best contrarian picks this bowl cycle. Since opening as a five-point underdog, the line’s moved 3.5 points in their favor in spite of USC holding around 80% of betting tickets. That right there is the definition of a contrarian pick.

Even if the Green Wave’s expected win rate drops under 50%, they’re a terrific selection to set yourself apart from 83% of entries off the bat.

Wyoming Cowboys

Despite being a 1.5-point underdog in this game, over 80% of entries didn’t pick Wyoming. I expect that number to change, but not by a lot. The vast majority of people don’t know that Ohio’s prolific starting QB Kurtis Rourke isn’t playing in this game. Without him, the Bobcats scored seven full points in the MAC Championship.

Nobody knows anything about the Mountain West and MAC, so take advantage of the blind spot here. Wyoming will continue to hover around that 50% expected win rate mark and likely won’t rise higher than 25% of picks.

With a low point total () comes lower variance. Although the spread isn’t big, you can likely play Wyoming in the lower-middle tier of confidence (points 11-20).

College Football Bowl Confidence Pool Strategy: Teams To Be Wary Of

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

BowlTeamOpponentWin %Pick %
Texas BowlOle MissTexas Tech.63889%
Quick Lane BowlBowling GreenNew Mexico State.62175%
Sugar BowlAlabamaKansas State.60982%
Liberty BowlArkansasKansas.60379%
ReliaQuest BowlMississippi StateIllinois.47273%

See a trend? It’s not a coincidence– the public as a whole tends to believe the SEC is dominant over every other conference. And that’s not to say they aren’t the best conference, but it’s not a winning strategy to pick every SEC team because they’re in the SEC.

Ole Miss Rebels

Maybe the public believes this is still the top-10 Ole Miss team from the middle of the season or that Lane Kiffin being in news cycles lately gives them a bit of recency bias. A 63.8% expected win rate isn’t something to completely ignore– Ole Miss is a pretty comfortable favorite. However, they have considerably the lowest expected win rate of any team with a pick percentage higher than 83%.

Don’t forget, the Rebels ended the season on a three-game losing streak while Texas Tech rides a three-game win streak. Historically, the Red Raiders are excellent in bowl games, posting a 10-4 mark straight up outside of New Year’s Six Bowls dating back to when Mike Leach took over the program in 2000. Further, they’re 10-2 straight up in their last 12 non-NY6 bowl games after Leach dropped his first two.

Alabama Crimson Tide

“They’re Alabama, they’ll figure it out.”

“You’re really going to bet against Nick Saban?”

The market really is going to bet against Nick Saban. Since opening as a 6.5-point favorite over Kansas State, the spread moved three full points away from Alabama. Speculation around major players opting out like Heisman winner Bryce Young and stud pass rusher Will Anderson surely helped the number along.

One big note in favor of the Tide: Saban has 27 years of bowl experience more than Chris Kleimann. In bowl games, coaching experience matters. But just be wary of Alabama’s expected win rate (60.9%) versus their pick percentage (81%).

While I likely won’t be mashing Kansas State and ranking them inside the top 10, I’ll likely be lowering my confidence rank in Alabama should they be my pick. Conversely, I’ll lean upper-middle confidence should Kansas State end up being the pick (points 25-30).

Note: USC, Kentucky, and UCF also fit the bill, but I left them off this list because we talked about them earlier.

Good luck with your College Football Bowl Confidence Pools!

Brett Gibbons Avatar
Written by
Brett Gibbons

Brett is an avid sports traveler and former Division-I football recruiter for Bowling Green and Texas State. He’s a graduate of BGSU and works as an auditor for Google content curation products. He’s also contributed to Sports Illustrated and Fansided during his young writing career.

View all posts by Brett Gibbons