Bowl Game Picks: Confidence Pool Picks and Strategy

Bowl Game Picks: Confidence Pool Picks and Strategy

This article is part of our Bowl Game Pick 'Em series.

Bowl Season Confidence Pool Picks and Strategy for 2022-23

Rejoice! It's bowl season and we're about two get two-plus weeks of wall-to-wall college football action to get us through the holidays. This article is your guide to navigating Confidence Points-style bowl pools where you pick the winners straight up and assign point values for each selection. The higher the point value, the higher your confidence. So, save your 40-pointers for the games in which you feel the most confident and your single-digit selections for toss-ups and hedges against the field. 

41.) Michigan (-7.5) vs. TCU

It may seem crazy to put a playoff game at the top of the list but there are a few factors that help sway me. For one, we know we're not going to have to deal with any opt-outs. We also know we don't have to question whether both of these teams are going to give their all. And, bottom line, Michigan is a great team -- arguably the best in the country. I expect them to bully TCU in the trenches and to not allow the Frogs to get in sync on offense. 

40.) Memphis (-7.0) vs. Utah State

You see the identical 6-6 records and wonder how I can be so confident. Well, Memphis played the 72nd toughest schedule while USU ranked 103rd by that metric, according to PowerRankingsGuru. Memphis might be a nine-win team if it played Utah State's schedule. The Tigers rank 49th in SP+ while Utah State checks in at 108th. That's a serious disparity in the meaningful metrics beyond the records. 

39.) UAB (-10.5) vs. Miami (OH)

We're dropping some serious points to kick off bowl season. UAB has the fifth-ranked rushing attack in college football, led by Dwayne McBride. Miami is decent against the run (40th) but the offense is pathetic (128th in SP+). Slowing UAB's ground game is one thing, but Miami won't be able to shut it down. That's a problem when Miami may not be able to score into the 20s.

38.) Minnesota (-7) vs. Syracuse

Minnesota seems to have found its quarterback of the future in Athan Kaliakmanis so now the Gophs are more than just a one-dimensional, ground-and-pound offense. Syracuse obviously had a great start to its season but things went off the rails in a pretty serious way; the Orange's only win after Oct. 15 was against Boston College. In the season finale. Yikes.

37.) Boise State (-10.5) vs. North Texas 

I don't think North Texas rolls over in this spot despite Sith Littrell's firing earlier this month. I might even take them to cover. However, Boise State got on track in a major way down the stretch with only two losses after September, one of which was against a tough Fresno State team in the MWC Championship. The offense woke up with Taylen Green and he is going to be a problem for ...the Mean Green. North Texas' defense (108) will be its undoing in this spot.

36.) Florida State (-7.5) vs. Oklahoma

This one's pretty simple. FSU is rolling and will be threatening for a Top 10 spot in the preseason rankings next year with everyone that's coming back. Oklahoma, meanwhile, might already be having some buyer's remorse with Brent Venables after one year. The metrics actually have Oklahoma ahead of FSU but I'm not buying it after watching these two teams all year. The spread is more indicative of where these teams are, and it says that the 'Noles are over a touchdown better than the Sooners.

35.) LSU (-10.5) vs. Purdue

Purdue lost its coach relatively late in the coaching carousel and it's tough to know where the Boilers' heads are at heading into this one. A chance to knock off an SEC team should keep them fired up, but LSU is an upper-echelon SEC team. The SEC Championship game showed that the Tigers can move the ball with or without Jayden Daniels, plus Kayshon Boutte returning is a major factor. Purdue's offense isn't going to work against a defense as athletic as LSU's.

34.) Oregon State (-10.5) vs. Florida 

Speaking of teams looking to notch a win over an SEC opponent, I love Oregon State in this spot. The spread indicates a pretty serious lack of faith in the Gators from Vegas and it checks out. No Anthony Richardson is a huge deal for Florida. Meanwhile, Oregon State won six of its last seven games, including the finale against rival Oregon. It's always tricky to project which team will be "up" for a bowl game and which will not, but even if both these teams were going at it full-bore, I'd pick OSU. Just a better team this year. 

33.) Southern Miss (-6.5) vs. Rice 

I'm not going to pretend I've watched both of these teams intently all season. I did watch some, though, and Southern Miss at the very least has a strong defense. I'm not sure Rice is strong in any facet of the game.  I'll lean on the metrics instead. Southern Miss may cover the spread by a touchdown. 

32.) Mississippi (-4) vs. Texas Tech 

There was some tumult late in the season for Ole Miss, including the threat of Lane Kiffin skipping town, but it's still an extremely strong team. The run game is the best in the country among non-service academies and Texas Tech lost some star power up front during the season, so the Rebs could rack up some serious yardage on the ground. Texas Tech's offense is scary at times, but it struggled against quality defenses like TCU, Iowa State and Baylor. Ole Miss' defense is on par with those schools, if not better. 

31.) UCLA (-6) vs. Pittsburgh 

The edge at quarterback is glaring in this matchup. This is likely DTR's last game in a Bruin uniform and has been practicing after being nicked up late in the season. Pitt already lost its starting quarterback in Kedon Slovis, who is in the portal. The combo of Nate Yarnell or Nick Patti is underwhelming to say the least. UCLA's ability to slow Israel Abanikanda will be a major factor, but with Pitt's lack of a threat in the passing game, it will be easier to key in on him.

Stray Observation: This might be the best Uniform Game matchup on the entire bowl slate. Just tremendous.

30.) SMU (-5.5) vs. BYU 

I don't love trusting SMU with this many confidence points but BYU's injury list is a mile long. Key contributors at several important spots will not be available in this one, and quarterback Jaren Hall's status is up in the air. BYU has been notoriously bad about disclosing injury info all year, so it's something of a surprise we know this many players are out as it is. SMU also has the No.7 offense in SP+ while BYU's defense checks in at 103. A shorthanded BYU offense shouldn't be able to keep pace, even against a similarly bad SMU defense.

29.) Houston (-6.5) vs. Louisiana

Time is a flat circle. Every year I say I'm done with Houston in bowl games and every year I find myself picking them.

The fact that Houston is full strength despite Nathaniel Dell getting set to prepare for the draft means that the Cougs should be full throttle on offense. The Cougs ranked 9th in SP+ on offense this year. The defense is suspect (115) but Louisiana's offense (95) is suspect, too, and is working with a second-string quarterback, albeit an experienced one, with Ben Wooldridge out. 

28.) Oregon (-13.5) vs. North Carolina

I thought hard about picking UNC straight up with single-digit confidence points, and though I still feel good about the Heels covering that number, expecting the outright win might be a bridge too far. Oregon is expected to have Bo Nix for this game, and that's massive. Drake Maye should be in there on the other side, which is why I like UNC to cover. But it's Maye and a suspect supporting cast that's missing Josh Downs going up against a very strong Oregon team across the board that happens to have a Top 5 offense. That's big when UNC's defense checks in at 106 in SP+. 

27.) Fresno State (-3.0) vs. Washington State

I'm not sure Washington State wins this game even at full strength. With 32 percent of the target share and 34 percent of the receiving yards being unavailable following De'zhaun Stribling and Donovan Ollie's transfers, I'm even less confident in the Cougs. Fresno State hasn't lost since Jake Haener returned and has scored at least 30 points in each of those games. This should be a fun one, definitely among the most fun of the early bowls, and I think the 'Dogs knock off a P5 foe.

26.) Arkansas (-3) vs. Kansas

Kansas was undoubtedly one of the best stories in college football this season. Gameday even went to Lawrence in October. Jayhawk football is back on the map for the first time since the Todd Reesing days. Arkansas, meanwhile, was a disappointment. But it all comes down to perspective. Kansas was expected to be a doormat; Arkansas was expected to be a dark horse in the SEC West. Kansas exceeded expectations, Arkansas fell short. But Arkansas is still the superior side, and a uniquely bad matchup for Kansas. The Jayhawks gave up 258 rushing yards per game in November. That's not ideal when they're facing an Arkansas attack that runs it at the 9th highest rate in FBS with good YPC and touchdown rate metrics. 

25.)  Georgia Southern (-3.5) vs. Buffalo

Buffalo better be up on its scouting reports because this isn't your daddy's Georgia State football. Clay Helton has brought the passing game to Statesboro and the Eagles had the second-highest pass play rate in the country this season at 61.7%. They also push the pace with a 76.3 plays per game average. Buffalo might be able to return fire in this spot with Georgia Southern's defense checking in at 124th but Buffalo's defense (98th) will struggle to contain this Southern attack. Also, can you say Kyle Vantrease Revenge Game? 

24.) East Carolina (-9) vs. Coastal Carolina

The Grayson McCall factor is the only thing keeping me from putting ECU somewhere in the low 30s in terms of confidence points. McCall is going to transfer following head coach Jamey Chadwell's departure but apparently plans to play in the bowl for the Chants. The talented QB threw for 319 in his return against Troy in the Sun Belt Championship, but one man does not a team make. Coastal got rolled and if not for 13 unanswered fourth-quarter points, it would've been 46-13. Now, Troy is very good (more on them later) and ECU doesn't stack up the same way. ECU's offense is electric, though, and Coastal's defense took a big step back this year (97th). 

23.) Bowling Green (-3) vs. New Mexico State

Ick. Both of these teams rank outside the top 110 in overall SP+ and New Mexico State (111) actually grades a bit higher than Bowling Green (122). Bowling Green is the lowest-rated bowl team by that metric despite its 6-6 record. New Mexico State has the best win between those teams with a stunning upset over Liberty but has otherwise been a poor team. Losing to FIU this year is unforgivable. I'll take the MAC team in this spot, but I'd understand moving BGSU down into the teens in your confidence pools.

22.) Baylor (-5.5) vs. Air Force

Games against Service Academies can be tricky for P5 schools since the style is so different than what they're accustomed to, but Baylor has had added practice time to prepare for this matchup and Dave Aranda is a good defensive coach. Air Force, in addition to having a strong run game, has a Top 10 defense. It's hard to go against Baylor straight up in this spot because of the talent advantage, but Air Force is too funky and well coached to back the Bears with a ton of confidence. If this goes wrong for Baylor, it will go very wrong.

21.) Toledo (-4) vs. Liberty

A coach leaving does not always tank a team's chances in a bowl game. It can go the other way. However, I think not having Hugh Freeze on the sidelines (or on a hospital bed in the coach's booth) is a big deal in Liberty's case. 

VIDEO: Hugh Freeze Coached, Did a Press Conference From a ...

This is a fairly even matchup on paper; Liberty ranks 73rd in SP+ while Toledo is 80th. Both are outside the top 80 in offense and are about even on defense. SP+ has Liberty winning this one, but I'm siding with Vegas and going with Toledo.

20.) Georgia (-6.5) vs. Ohio State

I'll give a breakdown on this game closer to kickoff, but here's where I'm at with this matchup. Ohio State struggled against physical opponents this year (Notre Dame, Michigan) and Georgia is about as physical as it gets. The Bulldogs have the No.2 defense in the country per SP+ and will be Ohio State's toughest test to date in terms of its offense. With TreVeyon Henderson out and Miyan Williams nicked up late in the season, Ohio State may turn this thing over to C.J. Stroud and the passing game. They could have some success there; LSU threw all over the Georgia defense in the SEC Championship game and the Buckeyes obviously have a more dangerous passing game overall. In the end, I expect Georgia to have long, methodical scoring drives on offense and get Stroud off balance on defense, leading to a second straight national championship appearance. I expect this game to be far more competitive than the other semifinal game, however, hence the lower confidence value.

19.) South Alabama (-4.5) vs. Western Kentucky

Austin Reed's decision to withdraw from the portal has led to significant line movement this week. Without Reed, WKU was +8. With him back? +4.5. Obviously, having a 4,000-yard passer available for this game is big for the Toppers. I'm still skeptical they can win outright, though. South Alabama was excellent this year with a 10-2 record and the highest SP+ rating of any Sun Belt team. La'Damian Webb took home first-team All-Sun Belt honors for the Jaguars and the defense was stout, ranking 22nd in FBS. Western Kentucky's defense will struggle here and the offense -- which is its only hope -- will be knocked out of sync.

18.)  San Jose State vs. Eastern Michigan

Defense is the name of the game for the Spartans. They have one of the best defenses in the G5 and rank 35th overall in that area. Offense is a struggle for them, but Eastern's defense (90th) is suspect in its own right. It won't be pretty, but I expect San Jose State to grind it out for the win. The Spartans may never build a commanding lead, but they should be in control throughout.

17.) Clemson (-6) vs. Tennessee

This might as well be called the Opt-Out Bowl Presented By Capital One. Star players on both sides are sitting out. Clemson's vaunted defensive front will be shorthanded with some highly touted players getting set for the draft. Tennessee, meanwhile, was already without Hendon Hooker but bowl opt-outs leave them without Jalin Hyatt and Cedric Tillman. That might be too much to overcome for the Vols especially with Clemson finally making the right call and turning to Cade Klubnik at quarterback. If it was DJ Uiagalelei at quarterback for Clemson, I might take Tennessee here. But he's not, so Clemson it is. Even with Tennessee shorthanded, I wouldn't go much more than 22-25 on Clemson; Hooker's replacement, Joe Milton, is no scrub. 

16.) North Carolina State vs. Maryland

Taulia Tagovailoa gives Maryland an edge at quarterback but here's a quick look at the Terps' receiving room:

The-fresh-prince-of-bel-air GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY

Tagovailoa was great for much of the season but he also had one of the best pass-catching corps in the Big Ten. Maryland has some talent in the backfield and at tight end, but I'm not sure they can make up for the losses of Rakim Jarrett and company. As much of a dud as this season was for NC State, they can still defend at a high level and I'm not sold that Tagovailoa can do it all himself. I don't foresee this game being a springboard moment for the Terps the way last year's Pinstripe Bowl win over Virginia Tech was. 

15.) Louisville (+1.5) vs. Cincinnati

Well this is awkward. As you probably know, both teams lost their head coach in the last month. The twist is that Cincinnati's new coach was just at...Louisville. Scott Satterfield won't be coaching the Bearcats here but Louisville is surely going to be bringing a little extra juice in their sendoff to their former coach, to put it nicely.

On the field, Malik Cunningham's departure is obviously a big deal for Louisville. However, Louisville backup Brock Domann has plenty of experience this season, so he's not green coming into this one. And while Cunningham absence may be the headliner, Cincinnati has been more gutted overall when it comes to this game. The Bearcats are missing Tre Tucker, Josh Whyle, Leonard Taylor and others along with some key pieces on defense. The public may be heavy on Cincinnati here, but they're the more beleaguered team in this one. 

14.) Notre Dame (-2.5) vs. South Carolina

I'm not buying the Spencer Rattler resurgence. I'm not writing him off to the point of putting a ton on Notre Dame in this spot, but I'm still not buying in, either. South Carolina has lost some key pieces to the portal since its last game, including Jaheim Bell and MarShawn Lloyd. And let's not pretend that South Carolina was really all that impressive before that late-season surge.

The Irish have issues of their own. Michael Mayer has opted out and starting quarterback Drew Pyne is in the portal. So the passing game might be... nonexistent. That's okay if you're Notre Dame, though. Not only do they have a stable of running backs and a solid offensive line, but Tyler Buchner gives them a mobile option at quarterback provided he's available. Ground and pound will work against South Carolina, which ranks 113th against the run.

13.) Wyoming (PK) vs. Ohio

There isn't a ton separating these two *pats self on back for that analysis while noting that it's a pick 'em

Stephen A Smith Voice HOWEVER. One of these teams' starting quarterback is out and the other's is not. Advantage, Wyoming. 

Wyoming's defense hasn't played to the level we're accustomed to over the years but is still at least average. Ohio's defense has been poor (95th) and with a step back on offense without Kurtis Rourke, it could be a long day for the Bobcats. Give me the 'Pokes.

12.) UCF (-2) vs. Duke

Maybe this is giving Duke Football (!) a tad too much respect. Despite punching up in weight class in this spot with this being a P5 opponent, UCF is the more talented and athletic team. Duke really has been solid this season in Year 1 under Mike Elko; it went 8-4 after Vegas posted its win total at 3.5. Duke gave up just eight rushing touchdowns all year; UCF ran for 33. That might be the deciding factor in this game. If all the sudden, UCF's ground game isn't clicking especially when it gets in close, they're in for a fight. Still, I think the combo of John Rhys Plumlee, Isaiah Bowser and Javon Baker will be too much top end star power for Duke to stop over a full game. This will be a fun game though and I won't be shocked if Duke pulls off the upset.

11.) Kansas State (+3.5) vs. Alabama

You can call me an Alabama hater all you want, that's fine (and fair). But I of course respect the Tide. You've heard all the lines about this game already. "Is 'Bama really going to get up for this when this was supposed to be their year?" "Kansas State is going to treat this like its Super Bowl." 

Those are cliches, but they're also true. And that matters in a game like this. We can point to Bama bowl letdowns like Oklahoma after the 2013 season or the 2009 Sugar Bowl where it got blitzed by Utah. 

We don't know if Bryce Young is even playing in this game. How much of that is baked into the line? Probably a lot, and in the direction of Young not playing. Jalen Milroe is more than capable of running this offense if Young sits but it saps Alabama's ability to exploit Kansas State through the air and instead, its run-heavy approach would be met with some serious resistance from K-State.

I'll take the upset-minded Wildcats looking to make a statement.

10.) UTSA (+2) vs. Troy

Brutally tough call here. Troy has been fantastic this year and were deserving Sun Belt champs. UTSA was similarly excellent this season, though. This is a great clash of styles; UTSA has an offense befitting its team nickname as the Roadrunners put up points in a hurry and rank 15th in SP+ on offense. Troy, meanwhile, checks in with the No.10 defense in the land. On the other hand, UTSA's defense ranks 92nd while Troy's offense comes in at 101. It's strength vs. strength, weakness vs. weakness in this one. Last year I sided with UTSA in a similar setup against San Diego State and got burned. Still, I'll go back to the well and trust Frank Harris and the Roadrunners to get it done. 

9.) Middle Tennessee vs. San Diego State

I'm not strong on either side here (hence the points value) but I think most people will be locking in San Diego State and just moving on. I don't think it's that much of a slam dunk. This isn't a great San Diego State team; the defense is solid but the offense is putrid. That's the brand, I suppose. But this year's team is the dollar store version of that vision. I'll take MTSU for low points and hope to get some leverage.

8.) Mississippi State (+2.5) vs. Illinois

RIP to the Pirate, Mike Leach. A true legend, visionary and unique individual. He will be missed. Hail State

MSU Bulldog family, college football community mourns the death of Coach Mike  Leach - Mississippi State

7.) Wisconsin (-3) vs. Oklahoma State

I went into this article thinking I'd be on OK State for about 12 points. After digging in further, though, I'm on the Badgers. For as much of a flop this season was for Wisconsin, there's some new life being breathed into the program and the loss of Graham Mertz is hardly concerning. 

Oklahoma State, on the other hand, got off to a great start and faded tremendously down the stretch. Spencer Sanders was dinged up for part of that, but losing four of their last five with the only win coming against Iowa State makes me feel queasy about OK State here. The backup quarterbacks got some late-season reps, which is good, but they played poorly in those opportunities. Give me the Badgers, but I won't go much more than this number confidence-wise.

6.) Tulane (+1.5) vs. USC

The PAC-12 Championship game confirmed that Tulane is the worst kind of matchup for USC. The Trojans got bullied by Utah in that game and I don't know if I've seen less of a willingness to tackle from an allegedly good defense. That's going to be a problem for them against the Wave, who can pound the rock as good as anyone. We also know the USC is already without Travis Dye and it won't be surprising for Jordan Addison to miss this game, either. Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams was banged up in the PAC-12 Championship game himself and USC may not want to risk any further injury. 

5.) Penn State (+2.5) vs. Utah

This one's next to impossible to pick. Both are excellent, talented teams. There are high-profile opt-outs on either side, so that detail is a bit of a wash. It appears that most of the public is on Utah, and that's fair, but I don't view the Utes as a slam dunk. Penn State could absolutely win this game and get its backers some leverage in their confidence pools.

4.)Texas (-4) vs. Washington

I've gone back-and-forth on this one over the last two weeks and will likely waffle again many times before kick off. My lean has been Washington, but I'm flipping to Texas. Washington has some added juice with Michael Penix returning and Texas will likely be without Bijan Robinson, but I believe in Quinn Ewers and the passing attack for the Longhorns. 

3.) Wake Forest (-1.0) vs. Missouri

True coinflip game here. I'll lean with the better-coached and quarterback team but this one really could go either way.

2.) Iowa vs. Kentucky

Kentucky has no Will Levis and no Chris Rodriguez. The Wildcats might not score 10. You could say the same about Iowa, honestly, but I'll take Ferentz in this rematch of last year's Citrus Bowl.

1.) Connecticut vs. Marshall

Everyone is going to lock in Marshall for a ton of confidence points. Don't count out Jim Mora's boys, though. If I'm right and UConn pulls this off, that's a huge leverage advantage against those laying 35+ confidence points with Marshall.

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John McKechnie
John is the 2016 and 2021 FSWA College Writer of the Year winner. He is a Maryland native and graduate of the University of Georgia. He's been writing for RotoWire since 2014.
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