2019-2020 College Football Bowl Confidence Pool Picks, Ranked 1-40
Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Jeawon Taylor
- Most 2019-2020 bowl confidence pool picks are due before bowl season kicks off on Friday afternoon, so Collin Wilson breaks down every game and ranks them 1-40 in confidence points.
- There are some obvious games to pick with the most points since most pools are straight-up, like double-digit favorites Florida and UCF, but taking a few selective underdogs is a good contrarian strategy.
- See Collin's full rankings in the table below, and get his writeup for every game below that.
Nothing encapsulates bowl season for a gambler better than a late night weather alert in the Bahamas.
Over the past several days, my iPhone has chirped with plenty of information. Jordan Love burned a doobie, a 10-2 team fired its offensive coordinator and an assembly of NFL talent is practicing for Alabama.
There are plenty of wormholes in bowl research to answer the important questions.
Can Roc Bellantoni’s defense stop the triple option?
Can a 26-year old handle recruiting, first time play-calling duties and a job search all at once?
News is flying fast and furious, which means bowl season is upon us. So it’s time to fill out as many confidence pool sheets as possible.
In a confidence pool, you pick a straight-up winner and assign a point value to the victory depending on how confident you are in that pick. You can also pick the games against the spread and assign confidence values, but here I’m picking straight-up winners.
Filling a bowl confidence pool isn’t as simple as sorting by point spread and assigning the highest numbers to the biggest favorites.
For example, Pittsburgh is a double-digit favorite in the Quick Lane Bowl, but you will not find them anywhere near the top of our confidence pool assignments. A bowl confidence sheet filled with favorites never wins a pool, so a selection of underdogs at the right number is critical to victory.
My column will look beyond the point spread and to the current coaching regime, roster status, advanced matchup statistics and weather, if applicable.
Make sure and check out Danny Donahue’s piece on the best and worst coaches in bowl season, along with Steve Petrella’s insight on bowl underdogs on the moneyline. Without further ado, let’s get to my confidence pool selections for 2019-2020.
This column will assign points 1 through 40 representing the entire bowl slate, including the Celebration Bowl. A national championship pick is not included, but The Action Network Power Ratings may help if your pool includes the title game.
2019-2020 Bowl Confidence Pool Picks
Charlotte vs. Buffalo (-6.5)
Bahamas Bowl | Dec. 20
Two of the slowest pace, run dominate offenses meet in a wind-filled foreign country.
Buffalo ranks 12th in defensive line yards and top 50 in defensive finishing drives, so it will get the extra stop or two needed. Charlotte’s defensive ranks of 110th in rushing success rate and 99th in finishing drives is the difference.
Pick: Buffalo | Confidence Points: 14
Kent State vs. Utah State (-6)
Frisco Bowl | Dec. 20
The Golden Flashes were a popular bet out of the gate above a touchdown, but have since fallen to +6.
Utah State quarterback Jordan Love and leading rusher Gerold Bright were charged with a misdemeanor on Tuesday, leaving their status uncertain for this game.
Ohio is the only MAC team to win a bowl outright since 2016, so keep the points low for Friday’s slate.
Pick: Kent State | Confidence Points: 9
North Carolina A&T vs. Alcorn State
Celebration Bowl | Dec. 21
The Braves have lost two straight to the Aggies, lending plenty of motivation to Alcorn State. Florida A&M’s issues with postseason eligibility allowed North Carolina A&T to enter the playoffs with house money.
The Braves will overcome years of defeat thanks to a red zone defense that ranks third in FCS.
Pick: Alcorn State | Confidence Points: 1
Liberty vs. Georgia Southern (-4.5)
Cure Bowl | Dec. 21
Georgia Southern’s defense ranks outside the top 75 in passing success rate and explosiveness. That should be all head coach Hugh Freeze and senior quarterback Stephen “Buckshot” Calvert need for an upset victory behind an excellent passing attack.
The Flames are top 25 in finishing drives, while the Eagles are 122nd in opponent red zone touchdown scoring percentage.
Pick: Liberty | Confidence Points: 10
Central Michigan vs. San Diego State (-3.5)
New Mexico Bowl | Dec. 21
Both teams have a steady rush defense that will keep scoring low. The Aztecs have allowed just 18 touchdowns all season, tied with Georgia and just behind Clemson.
Special teams will be the difference, as San Diego State ranks 11th to Central Michigan’s 107th in SP+.
Pick: San Diego State | Confidence Points: 15
Florida Atlantic vs. SMU (-3)
Boca Raton Bowl | Dec. 21
Plenty of factors point to an SMU victory. The Mustangs have a top 20 explosive passing attack, rank 11th in finishing drives and are 18th in defensive havoc.
Florida Atlantic will go Kiffin-less as defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer takes the interim tag for this game.
Look for offensive coordinator Charlie Weis Jr. to play into the Owls offensive strengths, which is a boom or bust attack.
The market’s resistance to move off SMU -3 keep my confidence points low in this game.
Pick: SMU | Confidence Points: 6
Florida International vs. Arkansas State (-2.5)
Camellia Bowl | Dec. 21
Arkansas State is No. 9 in standard downs explosiveness and will be ready to go to the air early on the Florida International. The Panthers are top 25 in defending pass explosiveness, but a strength of schedule rank at 122nd may fluff the overall numbers.
FIU’s Butch Davis may have won his personal Super Bowl over Miami a few weeks back, while the Red Wolves will be emotionally charged for their head coach.
Pick: Arkansas State | Confidence Points: 13
Boise State vs. Washington (-3.5)
Las Vegas Bowl | Dec. 21
The Huskies have suffered key losses to the NFL Draft, and Chris Petersen has lost four of five bowl games since leaving Boise State.
The Broncos have won all four Vegas Bowl trips, with three of those manned by Petersen.
Boise State has the advantage in the trenches with rank of 17th in line yards, and the Huskies rank dead last defensively in power success rate.
Pick: Boise State | Confidence Points: 7
UAB vs. Appalachian State (-16.5)
New Orleans Bowl | Dec. 21
The Mountaineers are headed back to the same bowl where they blew out Middle Tennessee State a year ago, this time with their sights set on UAB.
The Blazers are in this bowl after a bit of luck with Louisiana Tech suspensions and a North Texas pick-six.
Appalachian State is top 20 in rush explosiveness in contrast to UAB’s defensive rank of 128th.
The Gameday crew tends to agree, and I’ll be putting 38 points on this massive favorite.
— Sun Belt (@SunBelt) December 14, 2019
Pick: Appalachian State | Confidence Points: 38
Marshall vs. Central Florida (-17.5)
Gasparilla Bowl | Dec. 23
Another postseason, another scheduled reminder that Doc Holliday loves to cover bowl games. Marshall under Holliday has been the biggest return of investment for gamblers.
Sadly, this is a straight-up confidence pool, and UCF is favored by 17 (even though the Knights may be unmotivated in their first non-New Years Six game in years).
While Marshall might be my bet against the spread, Central Florida will lean on an explosive passing attack and the fastest tempo in college football for the win.
Pick: Central Florida | Confidence Points: 32
Hawai’i vs. BYU (-2.5)
Hawai’i Bowl | Dec. 24
A little rest may be what the doctor ordered for a Cougars team that rewrote the depth chart weekly. BYU holds the better strength of schedule with games against Tennessee, Washington, Utah and USC.
The Hawaii defense is outside the top 100 in almost every statistical category and the last time BYU quarterback Zach Wilson was in a bowl, he completed every pass attempt with four touchdowns.
Pick: BYU | Confidence Points: 16
Louisiana Tech vs. Miami (-6)
Independence Bowl | Dec. 26
The Hurricanes lost their final two games to Florida International and Duke. The Bulldogs suspended quarterback J’Mar Smith and wide receiver Adrian Hardy derailing a probable conference title.
Louisiana Tech will get home field treatment, while Miami searches for an offensive identity. The Hurricanes will lean on a defense that is No. 9 in havoc and fourth in line yards to pull out a victory.
Pick: Miami FL | Confidence Points: 19
Eastern Michigan v Pittsburgh (-11)
Quick Lane Bowl | Dec. 26
The team that may be the unhappiest with their bowl destination is Pittsburgh. In mid-November the program had dreams of an Orange Bowl. By December, the Military Bowl director said ‘We’d be lucky to invite Pitt’.
Ultimately, Pitt was placed in the lowest ranking ACC bowl post-Christmas against a MAC opponent playing in its home state.
Chris Creighton is doing big things in Ypsilanti with Eastern Michigan, which could have been left out of bowl season once again, but got in over Toledo.
Look for a low scoring game with an uninterested Pitt relying on defense for the narrow victory.
Pick: Pitt | Confidence Points: 8
Temple vs. North Carolina (-4.5)
Military Bowl | Dec. 27
The Tarheels have a very young roster that will return plenty of production in 2020. North Carolina upperclassmen have not been to a bowl since the 2016 Sun Bowl loss to Stanford.
Look for quarterback Sam Howell to hit targets Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome deep against a Temple defense that is 96th against the explosive pass. Owls head coach Rod Carey has yet to win a bowl game in six attempts.
— ACC Digital Network (@theACCDN) October 26, 2019
Pick: North Carolina | Confidence Points: 23
Wake Forest vs. Michigan State (-4.5)
Pinstripe Bowl | Dec. 27
The confidence in this game all rides on the health of Wake Forest quarterback Jamie Newman. As of this writing, Newman is listed as questionable, along with receiver Scotty Washington, who has an outside chance to play.
If the Demon Deacons are at full strength on offense, this game would be lined at a pick’em. Michigan State’s defense will be completely healthy and ready to show a rank of 12th in havoc. The Spartans hold the top FBS rank in defensive line yards, as well.
Pick: Michigan State | Confidence Points: 25
Oklahoma State vs. Texas A&M (-7)
Texas Bowl | Dec. 27
Chuba Hubbard will play as the decision on his NFL future casts a shadow over the Cowboys 2020 season.
The battle tested Aggies defense ranks 39th in line yards, 13th in stuff rate and 23rd in havoc. They will limit Hubbard and get quarterback Dru Brown in passing downs.
Finishing drives is the key for Texas A&M with an offensive rank of 30th and defensive rank of 13th.
Pick: Texas A&M | Confidence Points: 33
USC vs. Iowa (-2)
Holiday Bowl | Dec. 27
The difference in coaching was evident before the bowls were announced.
Kirk Ferentz started practicing against the Air Raid offense just after the season ending game with Nebraska. Clay Helton waited out the decision of the administration on his future before starting practice nearly 10 days after Iowa.
Ferentz has seen the Air Raid before, shutting down North Texas in 2017 while owning a victory in every meeting with Iowa State under Matt Campbell.
The Hawkeyes rank of No. 6 against pass explosiveness is the key ingredient.
Pick: Iowa | Confidence Points: 29
Washington State vs. Air Force (-3.5)
Cheez-It Bowl | Dec. 27
Washington State has no experience in defending the triple option. Not a great start.
The Falcons have started prep against an Air Raid attack after last seeing a wrinkled version in a 2018 loss to Nevada. Air Force is 90th in passes defensed, while Washington State is 125th in line yards, so neither defense should slow down the opposing offense.
Both teams are top 20 in finishing drives which will lead to a vast amount of points. Take a shot on either team and keep the confidence low.
Pick: Washington State | Confidence Points: 2
Iowa State vs. Notre Dame (-3.5)
Camping World Bowl | Dec. 28
Brian Kelly led Notre Dame to a 10-2 season before firing offensive coordinator Chip Long. The offense will be manned by running back coach Lance Taylor and quarterback coach Tommy Rees. Kelly will not be calling plays.
In 11 bowl games, Kelly has covered only twice.
Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy will struggle with an Irish defense that is No. 2 in the country in opponent passes over 20 yards.
But ultimately, Kelly seems to lack interest in a non-New Years Six game.
When asked, #NotreDame coach Brian Kelly declined to give specifics on Chip Long's dismissal.
— IndyStar (@indystar) December 15, 2019
Pick: Iowa State | Confidence Points: 4
Memphis vs. Penn State (-6.5)
Cotton Bowl | Dec. 28
Penn State offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne has moved on to Old Dominion, while Memphis head coach Mike Norvell has moved on to Florida State.
Although an interim coach was named, Memphis does not have single coach on staff that has called plays.
Both teams are top 20 in defensive passing success and top 10 in SP+ special teams.
The difference in this game is the Nittany Lions rank of 27th in red zone scoring to the Tigers 124th in opponent red zone scoring percentage.
Pick: Penn State | Confidence Points: 21
Ohio State vs. Clemson (-2)
Peach Bowl | Dec. 28
The biggest difference between these two teams is how quickly each quarterback can get the ball out of his hands.
Trevor Lawrence has one of the fastest releases in college football. Clemson may adopt the Michigan and Wisconsin strategy of chip blocking Chase Young with a tight end to give Lawrence that extra half second.
Justin Fields tends to hold onto the ball too long and has issues with checking down and ball security. The Ohio State offensive line rank of 100th in sack rate will come into play against the Clemson defense.
A Tigers havoc rate of No. 4 in the nation will go a long way in limiting the Ohio State offense.
Pick: Clemson | Confidence Points: 26
Oklahoma vs. LSU (-14)
Fiesta Bowl | Dec. 28
The point spread continues to rise thanks to rumors of Oklahoma suspensions.
LSU has the highest offensive success rate of any team, and the defense has been reinvigorated of late with a success rate, havoc and line yards rank all in the top 20.
It would take a clean box score, overachieving success rate and a little luck for Oklahoma to beat LSU and Heisman winner Joe Burrow.
Pick: LSU | Confidence Points: 39
Western Michigan vs. Western Kentucky (-3.5)
First Responder Bowl | Dec. 30
The Hilltoppers have been playing quality football all season, ending with a bowl trip and a Conference USA coach of the year award for Tyson Helton.
Two slow paced offenses project a grind of a game.
Western Michigan quarterback Jon Wassink should struggle with a Hilltoppers defense that is top 10 in passing success rate. The Broncos have been pitiful in converting red zone trips to points with a rank of 113th in scoring percentage.
Pick: Western Kentucky | Confidence Points: 18
Louisville vs. Mississippi State (-4.5)
Music City Bowl | Dec. 30
The loss of left tackle Mekhi Becton will be felt by Louisville. Becton is a tremendous run blocker for a Cardinals team that is 11th in run rate. The Bulldogs running back Kylin Hill has declared for the NFL Draft, but will play in hopes of breaking the Mississippi State single-season rushing record.
Joe Moorhead will not have to balance 8-game suspensions throughout the roster, as this will be one of the few game Mississippi State will have everyone available.
Kylin Hill, making something out of nothing. pic.twitter.com/jf5i7XXYNf
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) November 10, 2018
Pick: Mississippi State | Confidence Points: 27
Illinois v California (-6.5)
Redbox Bowl | Dec. 30
Illinois won a whole bunch of games it shouldn’t have this season.
Against Michigan State, the Fighting Illini posted an amazing 14% postgame win expectancy.
Injuries and defensive inefficiencies ruined a perfect September for Cal, but quarterback Chase Garbers is at full strength after recovery from injury and should expose the Illini’s secondary.
Pick: California | Confidence Points: 28
Virginia vs. Florida (-14.5)
Orange Bowl | Dec. 30
Florida owns its home state and the Orange Bowl should be no different. A banged up secondary for the Cavaliers was exposed against Clemson as Gators quarterback Kyle Trask will look to do the same.
Virginia goes only as far as Bryce Perkins can carry the offense, but Florida is top seven defensively in havoc, sack rate and finishing drives. This could be a long game for Virginia.
Pick: Florida | Confidence Points: 40
Kentucky vs. Virginia Tech (-2.5)
Belk Bowl | Dec. 31
Lynn Bowden Jr. will play quarterback for Kentucky despite declaring for the NFL Draft. The Hokies will lean on a defense that ranks top 20 in rushing success rate to slow down Bowden and Kentucky’s pseudo-option attack.
Georgia limited Bowden earlier this year and had similar defensive stats in stuff rate, opportunity and line yards as Virginia Tech.
Hendon Hooker is the story for the Hokies — the quarterback has thrown a 50 yard pass in five of his last seven games and has really elevated this offense.
Pick: Virginia Tech | Confidence Points: 11
Georgia State vs. Wyoming (-7)
Arizona Bowl | Dec. 31
Quarterback Dan Ellington will play on a torn ACL one last time for Georgia State.
As good as Ellington can be, it is the Panthers disastrous rush defense that will be the difference.
Wyoming will not declare a quarterback until closer to kick, but expect Levi Williams to get plenty of time. The 6-foot-5 freshman is fleet of foot and will give Georgia State major issues on the ground.
Pick: Wyoming | Confidence Points: 24
Florida State vs. Arizona State (-4.5)
Sun Bowl | Dec. 31
When bowl games were announced, I immediately focused on the Sun Devils.
Herm Edwards decision to play Jayden Daniels from start of the season was beginning to pay off. Then Edwards fired half the offensive staff. Star running back Eno Benjamin and wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk declared for the NFL Draft and elected to sit the Sun Bowl. Benjamin and Aiyuk represent 71% of the rushing yards and 51% of total receiving yards.
The situation is just as chaotic with Florida State. Cam Akers leads a list of players who will not play in the bowl.
But I like the Seminoles because of coordinators Kendall Briles and Harlon Barnett. Both coaches are highly respected and can make adjustments on the fly against the Arizona State’s makeshift staff.
Pick: Florida State | Confidence Points: 5
Kansas State vs. Navy (-2.5)
Liberty Bowl | Dec. 31
Kansas State coach Chris Klieman and defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton have experience defending the triple option.
Klieman prepped for numerous FCS teams while at North Dakota State, while Hazelton was defensive coordinator at Wyoming who schemed for Air Force yearly.
While Kansas State claws its way to stopping the triple option, Navy will have issues defending the big pass. The Wildcats are top 35 in pass explosiveness, which may expose Navy similarly to the Notre Dame game.
Pick: Kansas State | Confidence Points: 12
Texas vs. Utah (-7)
Alamo Bowl | Dec. 31
With the exception of a couple of defensive backs, Utah will be at full strength for the bowl. That includes the front seven defenders that rank 15th in havoc and 17th in line yards.
Tom Herman also cleaned out his staff, firing his defensive coordinator and demoting his offensive coordinator. Kyle Whittingham, who is always excellent in bowl games, will have the Utes looking for redemption after a wasted Pac-12 Championship.
Pick: Utah | Confidence Points: 36
Michigan vs. Alabama (-7)
Citrus Bowl | Jan. 1
Tua Tagovailoa had a closed door meeting with Alabama players to discuss whether the team was “all-in” — whether that meant for the Citrus Bowl or for 2020 is unknown.
What is known is that roster full of NFL talent is practicing for the Citrus Bowl with only a few faces missing. Michigan is 73rd in passes defensed, a signal that Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, and DeVonta Smith will have their way with the Wolverines secondary.
— Rick Karle (@RickKarle) December 16, 2019
Pick: Alabama | Confidence Points: 20
Minnesota vs. Auburn (-7)
Outback Bowl | Jan. 1
Derrick Brown, a potential top 5 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, made his decision that he was playing the Outback Bowl. That is great news for Gus Malzahn and Auburn fans, as there is expectation no players will sit out.
The Auburn defense is well equipped to handle the Minnesota deep passing attack. And the Gophers offensive line rank fo 112th in sack rate will be under fire by Brown and company.
This game could start the engine on Bo Nix Heisman discussion for next season.
Pick: Auburn | Confidence Points: 35
Oregon vs. Wisconsin (-2.5)
Rose Bowl | Jan. 1
Wisconsin is throwing on standard downs, which is a change from earlier in the season with an 80% run rate on some Saturdays.
Jack Coan’s ability to get the ball downfield has made the Badgers multidimensional. As always, they can rely on the steady Jonathan Taylor and an offensive line that ranks No. 14 in line yards.
A stuff rate rank of No. 8 for Wisconsin against the Oregon defensive front rank of 50th dictates that the Ducks will not be in the backfield to stop Taylor before he gets going.
Wisconsin is 128th in pace of play, and this game is expected to be a grind by Taylor to keep Justin Herbert on the Oregon sidelines.
Pick: Wisconsin | Confidence Points: 22
Baylor vs. Georgia (-6.5)
Sugar Bowl | Jan. 1
There are plenty of advantages for this Georgia defense. Besides a “get healthy” game that is needed after a drubbing from LSU, the Bulldogs look to rebound from an embarrassing loss against Texas in this same bowl last year.
Matt Rhule still has no information on the availability of starting quarterback Charlie Brewer.
Georgia is the number one team in SP+ special teams compared to Baylor at 75th. If Brewer cannot play for the Bears, it could be a long evening for the Big 12.
Pick: Georgia | Confidence Points: 34
Boston College vs. Cincinnati (-7)
Birmingham Bowl | Jan. 2
The Bearcats had two bad weeks against Memphis and fell from a potential New Year’s Six bowl to Birmingham. Cincinnati players will receive swag in the form of a coin, a book and a bucket hat.
As disinterested as the Bearcats may be, Boston College will be coming without a head coach and star player. The Eagles fired coach Steve Addazio and running back AJ Dillion declared for the NFL Draft.
The Bearcats may get pushed around with defensive line yards rank of 46th, but they shine past the 40-yard line. Cincinnati has a defensive finishing drives rank of 13th, which should limit Boston College scoring.
Pick: Cincinnati | Confidence Points: 17
Indiana vs. Tennessee (-1.5)
Gator Bowl | Jan. 2
The impact of Indiana offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer was seen most in the passing game. The Hoosiers improved to a rank of 16th in passing success rate on offense, but the coordinator is now the new head coach at Fresno State.
Tennessee has marginal ranks in offensive success rate, but should capitalize against an Indiana defense that is 84th in opponent passing plays over 30 yards.
Pick: Tennessee | Confidence Points: 3
Nevada vs. Ohio (-7.5)
Potato Bowl | Jan. 3
As I mentioned above, Ohio is the only MAC team to win a bowl game since 2016. Frank Solich has won the past two bowl games, Frisco and Bahamas, by a combined score of 68-6.
This will be the Nathan Rourke show, as the senior quarterback will play his final game for Ohio.
Ohio is top 40 in rush and passing success rate and explosiveness, and fifth in line yards. Rourke will shred a Nevada defense that is 110th in finishing drives.
Three touchdown passes, one touchdown run.
— Ohio Football 🏈 (@OhioFootball) November 21, 2019
Pick: Ohio | Confidence Points: 31
Southern Miss vs. Tulane (-7)
Armed Forces Bowl | Jan. 4
Southern Miss had just one game the entire season settle within two touchdowns. A similar outcome may come in the Armed Forces Bowl if the Eagles do not solve defensive categories such as line yards, power success and stuff rate.
Tulane is top 16 in all those offensive categories, led by quarterback Justin McMillan. The Green Wave defense is 15th in opponent passing success which should shut Southern Miss down, as the Golden Eagles have no ground game to turn to.
Pick: Tulane | Confidence Points: 30
Miami (OH) v UL Lafayette (-14)
Mobile Alabama Bowl | Jan. 6
The ability to stop the run is vital for anyone playing ULL.
Miami of Ohio is 83rd in defensive rushing success rate along with a rank of 79th in line yards. That will not hold up well against a UL Lafayette team that is No. 2 in line yards and No. 4 in rushing success rate.
The Cajuns can sling the ball also, ranking 11th in passing success rate. From top to bottom, Louisiana has big advantages through the air, on the ground, in special teams and finishing drives.
Pick: UL Lafayette | Confidence Points: 37