Expert College Bowl Picks 2021: Five underrated favorites, underdogs for pick ’em pools, confidence points pools

In this post we’ll share five value-driven picks that can give you an edge in your 2021 college football bowl pick ’em contests or confidence points pools. For a comprehensive primer on our data-driven approach to dominating bowl pools, make sure to read our college bowl pool strategy article.

This analysis is provided by TeamRankings, a site that has helped thousands of subscribers win prizes in football pools. To get customized pick recommendations for your 2021 college bowl pool, check out their Bowl Pick ’em Picks product.

COLLEGE BOWL POOLS: Strategy tips, advice

2021 College Bowl Picks: Five Underrated Values 

With up to 44 games, college bowl pools typically present a number of opportunities for smart players to get an edge. Here, we’ll discuss five picks that stand out as value plays based on their combination of win odds and pick popularity. They range from underrated favorites to unpopular underdogs that have a solid shot at pulling off an upset.

Deciding whether or not to choose these teams should be top of mind when you make your 2021 college bowl picks. They represent some of the best opportunities to differentiate your entry and gain ground on your opponents in the pool standings. Winning a college bowl pool is all about taking calculated risks, and the teams below offer excellent risk-vs.-reward profiles. 

Keep in mind that the best picks for your specific pool depend on multiple strategy factors, such as the number of entries in your pool; whether or not it uses confidence points; and the prize structure. If you want our game-by-game recommendations for your pool, check out our Bowl Pick ’em Picks.

Note: Win odds and projected pick popularity data quoted below may change between publication time and kickoff time. If you want to see the latest numbers, our product updates multiple times per day with the latest information.

Value Favorites

When a team is favored to win but is being picked by fewer of your pool opponents than it should be expected based on its win odds, that’s as close to a no-brainer pick as you can get.

Orange Bowl: Georgia vs. Michigan

Spread: Georgia by 8.5 points
Win Odds: Georgia 79%
Popularity: Georgia 68%

It’s rare for the national semifinal game to give us a true value favorite, but that’s what we have this year. The combination of Georgia losing to Alabama in the SEC title game and Michigan beating Ohio State and Iowa in back-to-back weeks is how we got here.

Our power ratings and the oddsmakers both have Georgia as the better team. With nearly one-third of entries picking Michigan, you can make a smart value play just by staying with the favored Bulldogs here.

Quick Lane Bowl: Western Michigan vs. Nevada

Spread: Western Michigan by 3.5 points
Win Odds: Western Michigan 64%
Popularity: Western Michigan 30%

The public is heavily on Nevada in this game, treating the Wolf Pack like the favorite, which they were when the bowl matchups were announced. But then Nevada head coach Jay Norvell left to take the Colorado State job, and QB Carson Strong, who could be an early-round draft pick in the NFL draft, has expressed uncertainty about playing in the game.

With the coach gone and the starting quarterback uncommitted to playing, the betting markets have shifted. Western Michigan now looks like a value play since you’ll get the favorite while most of the public is going with Nevada.

LA Jimmy Kimmel Bowl: Oregon State vs. Utah State

Spread: Oregon State by 7 points
Win Odds: Oregon State 73%
Popularity: Oregon State 52%

One of the best sources of value is picking against a team with a gaudy win-loss record who is an underdog. Utah State is 10-3 while Oregon State is 7-5, but that’s largely driven by close-game performance (Utah State is 4-0 in one-score games) and schedule.

Pool contestants are fairly split on who to pick in this one, so taking an Oregon State team that’s favored by a touchdown is the smart move.

Unpopular Toss-Ups

Some games are nearly even, but the public does not treat them as such, strongly picking one side. In those games, you can try to differentiate your entry by taking the team that is not being picked as much. 

Cheez-It Bowl: Iowa State vs. Clemson

Spread: Iowa State by 1 point
Win Odds: Iowa State 50%
Popularity: Iowa State 29%

This isn’t your typical Clemson team. Instead of appearing in the national semifinal, the Tigers are playing in a bowl named after a delicious salty cracker. Clemson also has a better record (9-3) than its opponent, Iowa State (7-5). However, the Cyclones’ five losses came by a combined 29 points.

You can diversify your pick from a lot of your opponents by taking Iowa State without taking on additional risk.

Value Gambles

All underdogs are not created equal. If you’re going to take a risk on an upset pick, you want to focus on highly underrated teams that have a legitimate shot to win.

Boca Raton Bowl: Western Kentucky vs. Appalachian State

Spread: Appalachian State by 3 points
Win Odds: Western Kentucky 43%
Popularity: Western Kentucky 25%

Appalachian State is a good Group of Five program, and it put up another solid 10-3 season. But Western Kentucky is pretty good, too, and it was only a few plays from being much better than its 8-5 record.

The Hilltoppers lost close games to Indiana, Army, and Texas-San Antonio twice, and they also lost to Michigan State by 17. They’ve played a tougher schedule than Appalachian State, but they’re being picked by only about 25 percent of entries even though they have a decent chance of pulling off the upset.

See All Bowl Picks & Value Plays For 2021

The five picks above provide just a few examples of how we use objective predictions and game theory to give players an edge in bowl pick ’em contests and confidence point pools. By understanding which favorites are underrated and which underdogs the public is sleeping on, you can craft a differentiated pick sheet that gives you the best chance to win your pool.

We’ve aggregated all the data and identified all the 2021 bowl teams being underrated by the public. You can see them all in the Data Grid feature of our Bowl Pick ’em Picks product (as well as get our customized recommendations on which ones you should pick in your pool).

You can also read more about them in our post on the top value-pick opportunities for 2021 bowl pools.

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