College Bowl Picks 2021: Expert advice, tips, strategy for pick ’em, confidence pools

Based on over eight years of proven results in thousands of real-world football pools, we’ll lay out a framework that gives you the best chance to win your 2021 college bowl pick ’em contest or confidence-points pool.

This analysis is brought to you by TeamRankings.com, the only site that uses advanced analytics and game theory to optimize picks for football office pools. To see their recommended picks for every game, customized for your bowl pool’s size and scoring system, check out their 2021 college bowl pool picks.

College Bowl Picks: How To Win A College Bowl Picks Pool

Identify The Bowl Favorites — Objectively

Picking the team you think is likely to win every bowl game is usually not the best strategy to win your pool. You also need to take pick popularity into account, especially in larger pools. Of course, you also shouldn’t blindly try to assess who the best team is. You should think twice about trusting yourself in that department. 

Regional biases come into play: In college football, there aren’t many regular-season matchups between top teams in different conferences, so some pools show strong regional preferences.

Let’s take last year’s Gator Bowl between 4-6 Kentucky and 8-3 NC State as an example. 

Kentucky won a close game, 23-21, and a small percentage of the public earned wins for that game. However, it was not an upset in the betting markets.

College Bowl Picks: How To Identify Underrated Teams Or Upsets

Use Bowl Pick Popularity To Identify Underrated Teams

To win your college bowl pick’ em contest, you will need to get at least one pick right that your opponents get wrong. That’s the only way to finish with the most points. That seems fairly obvious, yet it’s often ignored in terms of pick strategy. 

Picking an arbitrary number of bowl wins correctly does not win you pools. 

Underdogs are often (but not always) unpopular picks, so you need to evaluate both the risk and the likely reward of every pick decision. One useful approach is to identify teams that fall into either of the following two categories:

1. Favorites picked at a rate significantly lower than their odds to win

We often refer to these teams as “value favorites.” They are as close as you can get to no-brainer picks in a pool contest, as the more likely winner is also the underrated team. West Virginia playing Army in the 2019 Liberty Bowl is a recent example.

That isn’t a huge difference, but it’s a great reason to stick with a team like West Virginia, who was a relatively undervalued favorite. If you go by the odds, you would gain on 32 percent of your pool a whopping four out of five times that you played out the pool.

2. Moderate underdogs significantly underrated by the public

In most cases, the public will pick favorites more heavily. The key to differentiating your entry can be to find slight underdogs who have a solid chance of winning (40 percent or better) but are extremely unpopular compared to other similar underdogs. If you’re going to pick an upset where the underdog has a 45 percent chance of winning, would you rather:

You should prefer the former. 

To win a bowl pool, you have to get some key games right. Sometimes, that means taking reasonable upsets when few others do to increase your pot odds of winning the contest.

College Bowl Pool Picks: How to find the best strategy for risky teams

Apply the Right Amount of Risk

Now comes the toughest and most complex part of getting an edge over your bowl pool opponents. If you’re in a typical bowl pool, you need to figure out the exact combination of 40-plus picks that you should make. You also may need to add a confidence-point ranking to each pick.

Here are some factors that should influence your risk strategy:

The approaches we use to optimize picks for bowl pools are beyond the scope of this post, but here are a few quick tips:

Pick Strategy for Smaller Bowl Pools

Sure, some upsets are going to happen that you will miss, but with around 40 games to pick, the cumulative risk/reward strategy of staying extra conservative often pays off.  It may still be worth considering highly underrated teams if they are only the slightest of underdogs or perhaps making one calculated bet on one hugely underrated moderate underdog. Just don’t go overboard.

Pick Strategy for Larger Bowl Pools

Another way to increase your chance of cashing in a big bowl pool is to play multiple entries. You can diversify your risk by making a different set of calculated gambles in each entry. Our Bowl Pick’ em Picks product makes recommendations for playing up to three different entries in the same pool.

College Bowl Picks: Assigning Confidence Points, Picking Against The Spread

Pick Strategy for Bowl Confidence Pools

In bowl confidence pools, it’s important to understand the relative impact of every game. 

Pick Strategy for Point-Spread-Based Bowl Pools

Many players fail to understand the role of the point spread as the great equalizer in pools. 

Get Expert Picks From The Bowl Pool Pros

We hope this article has been helpful in explaining some of the key strategies you can use to win more college football bowl pick’em contests. Is it complicated and time-consuming to apply this level of analysis to your 2021 bowl picks? Absolutely. If you’re serious about winning, though, the expected long-term payoff can easily justify the effort.

However, if you’d rather outsource all of the number crunching to the office pool experts, we’re here to help. We produce or collect all the data mentioned in this post (up-to-date betting odds, algorithmic game predictions, public picking trends, etc.), and have built a product that makes customized, game-by-game pick recommendations for all of your college bowl pick’em pools

You simply answer a few questions about your pool, and in a few seconds, you’ve got the picks that maximize your chance to win. Learn more here:

TeamRankings also offers data-driven college bowl betting picks.

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