Value Picks for College Bowl Pick’em Pools in 2021

Maximizing your edge a bowl pick'em pool often requires some educated bets on underrated teams. Here are the top bowl value picks of 2021.

2021 Bowl Pool Picks Value

The Oregon State Beavers are included in our bowl value picks (Brian Murphy/Icon Sportswire)

In this post, we’ll identify high-opportunity picks that will help you increase your odds to win your 2021 college football bowl pick’em contest.

From underrated favorites to sleeper upsets, the picks we mention here balance risk and reward in a way that gives you the best chance to leapfrog your opponents in the bowl pool standings.

If you’re new to TeamRankings, we recommend you read our college bowl pool strategy guide for a deeper explanation of the logic behind our proven, value-driven approach to bowl pool picks.

But if you’re short on time, we’ve analyzed all 44 bowl matchups this year using the Data Grid feature of our Bowl Pick’em Picks product. We’ve have identified every game where the public is sleeping on a particular team compared to objective measures like betting-market odds and leading computer projections.

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Common Causes Of College Bowl Value Picks

With 44 bowl games to pick in 2021, there are plenty of opportunities for bowl pool players to fall prey to suboptimal decision-making. The reasons why can vary, but as an example, we usually see at least a few of the following examples every year:

  • Ranked vs. Unranked Team: A team that is ranked in the end-of-season AP Top 25 is playing an unranked team, but the unranked team is actually the favorite in the betting markets. The public is misled by the poll ranking and overvalues the underdog.
  • Great Win-Loss Record vs. Barely Winning Record: A team with only a few losses is playing a team that barely has a winning record (or in the case of last year’s bowl games, even a losing record!), but the team with the worse record is actually the better one. The public fails to account for a harder strength of schedule faced by the team with the worse record and overvalues the underdog.
  • Historical Powerhouse vs. Relative Unknown: A historically strong program from a celebrated conference has had a bit of a down year and is playing in a mid-tier bowl game against a much less famous school. The brand recognition of the storied program causes the public to pick the well-known team at a higher rate than warranted by objective metrics.

Those are just a few of the dynamics that can give educated bowl pool players the edges they need to win bowl pick’em contests far more often than expected. From a risk-vs.-reward standpoint, undervalued teams—whether they are underrated favorites or unpopular underdogs that have a legitimate shot at pulling off an upset—represent the best opportunities to gain ground on your opponents in the standings.

Our Process to Identify Underrated Bowl Picks

Doing the work required to properly identify underrated teams in bowl pick’em pools takes several steps, a lot of data, and some very specific know-how we’ve accumulated over years of doing it.

The basic steps are as follows:

  • Aggregate up-to-date betting odds on all bowl games from leading sportsbooks.
  • Project every bowl game with our market-leading computer power ratings.
  • Collect pick popularity data from multiple national bowl pick’em contests.
  • Adjust pick popularity data to account for biases inherent in source sites.*

(*This is the “specific know-how” part. As an example, pick popularity data from ESPN’s Bowl Mania game is skewed by various “auto-fill” options the game promotes to users. As a result, ESPN’s data is less likely to accurately reflect pick popularity trends in smaller, private bowl pools not hosted on ESPN, so we adjust their data to counteract that skew.)

2021 College Bowl Value Picks: The Complete List

Once we’ve done our analysis, we group the picks worth mentioning into two categories: Value Favorites and Value Gambles.

Here are some college bowl games in 2021 that are worth highlighting. Note: These picks have been updated with data as of Tuesday, December 14. Please check the Data Grid for the most up-to-date info.

Value Favorite Picks

The public usually picks teams that are favored in the betting markets at a high rate in bowl pick’em pools. For example, if a team is a 7-point favorite (which means it has about 70 percent odds to win), it’s not uncommon for 80 or 85 percent of the public to pick that team.

So when a favorite is being picked by the public at a similar or even lower rate than its odds to win, that’s as close to a no-brainer pick as you can get. We call those picks Value Favorites, and they should feature prominently in most bowl pool pick strategies.

Think twice about picking against the teams listed below, since there’s almost nothing worse than making a risky upset pick that is also a trendy and popular pick.

1. Western Michigan (vs. Nevada, Quick Lane Bowl) 

  • Monday, December 27
  • Western Michigan favored by 2.5
  • Win Odds: Western Michigan 64%, Nevada 36%
  • Pick Popularity: Western Michigan 30%, Nevada 70%

Nevada was the better team in the regular season, and it even opened the bowl season as a large betting favorite here. But the line has moved over a touchdown in Western Michigan’s favor.

Nevada’s head coach left for Colorado State, and QB Carson Strong is undecided about playing in the game, as he is likely an early-round pick in the NFL draft. The combination of those factors have created value in taking (now-favored) Western Michigan.

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