College Football Predictions: ESPN Capital One Bowl Mania Picks 2021


ESPN’s College Pick Em may have ended, but now we get Pick Em on steroids in the form of Capital One Bowl Mania. All 44 bowl games are picked and you must assign a point value based on the confidence in each one of them from 1 to 44. The entry with the most points wins bragging rights with other Rotoballer readers…..and FREE premium access to our college football content for the 2022 season. That includes access to the DFS optimizers and premium slack chat to help with lineup decisions. Do I have your attention now? Join in on the fun here! Only one entry per person please.

Judith6074 won the regular season group with 531 points. She ended up with an 11-point victory over lbockenek and BKNoleGirl, who tied for second. It’s nice to see three women at the top! Congratulations ladies! It was a fun season! left handed freshman finished fourth with 516 points. I tied with 2pretty4orange in fifth place just one point back. Kev Shep, Bamarick, keepingthelittlehumansalive, and The Whitetale Deer rounded out the top ten with Squid just one point out of the top ten. Thanks to the entire group for an entertaining season!

Capital One Bowl Mania starts on December 16 and each game locks at kickoff. You can still move games around with others that haven’t locked yet, which comes in hands since we have an increasing number of players that opt out of the bowl game to prepare for the NFL Draft. If you want to participate in the spread version of the game as well, that group is here, though there are no prizes besides the one ESPN offers.

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This article will be for the confidence game mode. You can also read my against the spread picks here every week for every game so you know how I’m leaning for that version of the game. If I move a game up or down, I will update on Twitter if I can and on here so long as it doesn’t muddle up the article too much. I haven’t moved a lot of things around in recent years though, so that may be a viable option. Let’s get to the countdown! I will count them up from least confident (1) to most (44). You know, for dramatic effect.


ESPN Capital One Bowl Mania Picks 2021:

(1) East Carolina over Boston College

I may end up flipping this one…..again. Phil Jurkovec is coming back to the Eagles next year and is a go for this game. East Carolina has improved dramatically on defense over the last three months or so and the offense is better than people think. I just wonder how engaged Boston College will be in this game. They are the better team, but ECU just had a good season after an awful 2020 and got their coach an extended contract. I’m ready for the upset here.

(2) Tulsa over Old Dominion

The Monarchs are rolling right now, but they also only beat one bowl-bound team in Middle Tennessee State, who is a shadow of what they were earlier in the year. Tulsa will be without Sam Crawford, but the rest of the offense is intact. This is a great achievement for Old Dominion, but they get a tough draw in Tulsa. They don’t match up very well here.

(3) Iowa State over Clemson

The Cyclones will be without Joe Scates and Tarique Milton, but Clemson loses Brent Venables. That’s a much bigger loss. The Cyclones expect Breece Hall to play and I hope he does. He’s far too good to not have another shot on the national stage. Putting up a strong game against a defense like Clemson could vault him into the first round, which is a territory no running backs get to anymore. If anyone should, it’s Hall. The Heisman keeps embarrassing itself by ignoring running backs. Hall should have been invited to New York as well. He’ll show why here.

(4) Michigan over Georgia

If the Bulldogs still can’t decide who they want to be the quarterback, they’re in trouble. Michigan turned up the heat on a pretty damn good one in C.J. Stroud to get them this far. The Michigan defense isn’t quite as good as Georgia, but the offense is far more productive and far more fluid. Alabama exposed some major flaws for Georgia and Michigan is good enough defensively to take advantage. I may move this one up.

(5) Washington State over Miami(FL)

This is a tough one since I like this Miami team. Alex Van Dyke turned their season around, but Manny Diaz was still dismissed. The Hurricanes have their coach in waiting in Mario Cristobal, but they still don’t know who’s going to coach this for Miami. Washington State will be without Max Borghi who declared for the draft, but Deon McIntosh is plenty good enough to in the offense that Jake Dickert – who has already been named the permanent replacement as head coach – has in place. It’s more like a Mike Leach offense. There’s just enough turmoil in Miami to make me doubt them, but it’s a tough decision.

(6) UTSA over San Diego State

I may end up moving this one up. UTSA isn’t much of a secret anymore, but the masses are nervous after they got blown out by North Texas. Still, this is a fun and exciting team. Their balance on offense is going to be a problem for the Aztecs. They are capable of doing what Utah State did to SDSU. I just have to decide how much I trust them to do it.

(7) Minnesota over West Virginia

The Gophers aren’t as good as they should be. I know that losing not one, but three running backs for the season derailed them, but there is no reason for the lack of growth from Tanner Morgan. Still, this is a team that had a good enough defense to beat a bruising Wisconsin team. I’m not afraid of anything on the West Virginia offense, but I know how bad the Gophers have played at times this year. That’s enough to keep me from putting meaningful points on them.

(8) Utah State over Oregon State

I’m still a little nervous about the Aggies and have been since they were emasculated by Wyoming on November 20. Still, what they did to San Diego State in the Mountain West Championship can’t be ignored. That is probably better than any win Oregon State has. I like the Beavers and the way that they play, but Utah State is nearly unbeatable if they play like they did against the Aztecs.

(9) Virginia over SMU

SMU is another consensus favorite, but Bronco Mendenhall will be coaching his last game for the Hoos. He’s resigning after the game, which means Virginia is going to give everything they have in this one. Tanner Mordecai and the SMU offense are fun, but they will be less fun without Reggie Roberson (transfer portal) and Danny Gray (NFL Draft). SMU will have an interim. Virginia is going to win one for the Bronco!

(10) Kent State over Wyoming

Which Wyoming team is going to show up? Will it be the one that lost to New Mexico? Will it be the one that blew the doors off of Utah State? Or will it be the one that got embarrassed on their home field by a team from a tropical paradise at the end of November? There has been far more ugliness than good for the Cowboys this season. Kent is a consistently solid team, which is more than I can say for the Cowboys.

(11) North Carolina State over UCLA

The more I think about this game, the more I worry about it. It’s in California, so there’s an advantage for the Bruins. UCLA also has an advantage on defense. Their back rotation is similar to North Carolina State. I’d take the Wolfpack receivers over UCLA, but UCLA has a decided advantage at tight end. That leaves Dorian Thompson-Robinson vs. Devin Leary. DTR is an electric runner. Leary is a capable runner, but better passer. I have been really impressed with the growth of Leary this season and have a hard time picking against him, but I may end up flipping on this one or moving it down. I like the Wolfpack, but I’m not completely sold on it.

(12) Coastal Carolina over Northern Illinois

I get the feeling that Grayson McCall is going to play this game. Still, I don’t like picking against the Huskies. They are a tough and resilient team. I could see them winning this game, especially after punishing Kent in the MAC Championship. The consensus has CCU winning easily, but I’m not so sure. This is my way of hedging. I’m going with the favorites since there is overwhelming support of the Chanticleers, but I’m leaving it at a low point value hoping everyone else goes higher in case they lose.

(13) TBD vs. TBD (Playoffs Championship Game)

For the last couple of years, I have left this game with a few extra points riding on it. Not because I think one team will strongly win one way or the other, but because I can pick against the favorite if I am trailing in the pool in hopes of winning. Don’t worry, if I win the pool, I don’t get the prize. Second place will, but I’ll still get bragging rights!

(14) Michigan State over Pittsburgh

We have no news yet on whether Kenny Pickett will sit this one out or not. This game likely wouldn’t affect his draft status much either way. He has proven everything he can with the season he had for Pitt. When he’s whiting out names like Dan Marino from the Pitt record book, you know it’s been a special season. Kenneth Walker III is expected to play for Sparty. So long as he does, I like Michigan State to win this.

(15) Florida over Central Florida

I wanted to pick UCF since there is so much going on for Florida and most if it isn’t good. However, Dillon Gabriel transferring hurts the UCF program even though he hasn’t played since September. Mikey Keene isn’t going to beat the Gators. Isaiah Bowser likely wont either. Anthony Richardson will be out due to knee surgery, so Emory Jones wont be looking over his shoulder. Jacob Copeland entered the transfer portal, but I still think the Gators have enough left to win this.

(16) Kansas State over LSU

How much does LSU have left? They beat A&M in Orgeron’s last game. Now they have an interim coach, a barren cupboard of assistants, and no quarterback. Max Johnson joined Myles Brennan in the transfer portal. The only QB left on scholarship is Garrett Nussmeier, who has already played in four games and they may not want to burn his redshirt. That leaves walk-ons Tavion Faulk or Matt O’Dowd. Even if Skylar Thompson can’t go for K-State, Deuce Vaughn can. That should be enough to take out a LSU team that has had a miserable season for a myriad of reasons.

(17) Tennessee over Purdue

David Bell and George Karlaftis are both going to be drafted in the late first or early second round. If they opt out of this game, that’s going to spell the end for Purdue. Tennessee’s struggles to open the year mean little to nothing now. They closed the season strong once they got used to Josh Heupel‘s offense. I might move this up if Purdue has some players sitting. I think even with Bell and Karlaftis that Tennessee’s speed will be too much for the Boilermakers.

(18) Western Kentucky over Appalachian State

Corey Sutton is out for Appalachian State after undergoing surgery, but the rest of the team should be intact. Bailey Zappe is expected to play since he is four touchdown passes away from tying Joe Burrow‘s single season record. Western Kentucky has two players that are transferring, but it will be after the bowl game, presumably following offensive coordinator Zach Kittley to Texas Tech. If this game plays fast, which the 68 over/under suggests it will, that clearly favors the Hilltoppers. I think Zappe flirts with the record and possibly ties it.

(19) Alabama over Cincinnati

Losing John Metchie hurts, but not enough to take me completely off of Alabama. Bryce Young (deservingly) won the Heisman for a reason. The Tide just beat down a Georgia team that is very evenly matched with this Cincinnati squad. They proved this about a year ago. It has been a great run for the Bearcats and they absolutely deserve to be here. This is just a rough draw. I was hoping for a Cincinnati-Georgia rematch, but this is going to be a good one none the less. I do think Cincinnati puts up a good fight.

(20) Mississippi over Baylor

Matt Corral didn’t commit to playing this game to lose it. He’s going to be a first-round pick in about four months, but he wants to finish with his teammates on a high note. Baylor is a good team, but they are going to be tested by this offense. Matt Corral is better than anyone Baylor had to deal with this year and the Ole Miss defense has some swagger back. Ole Miss isn’t going to roll here, but they have the weapons on both sides of the ball to get it done.

(21) Central Michigan over Boise State

Hank Bachmeier was beaten within inches of his life a few times this season behind this line, so CMU’s solid pass rush is a concern for Boise. Another is Lew Nichols III, who is one of the best running backs in the country regardless of conference. Boise struggled with teams that run the ball well and control the clock. Central Florida, Air Force, Oklahoma State, and San Diego State all rode that formula to victory. Even Nevada ran more on the Broncos than they usually do. Boise can’t stop Nichols and the CMU defense is good enough to keep Boise’s rushers under 100 yards. We all know that’s the magic number to beat Boise.

(22) Utah over Ohio State

If Utah hadn’t elected to go with the experience of Charlie Brewer over Cameron Rising early in the season, there is no doubt in my mind that they would be a playoff team. They beat the Oregon team that beat the Buckeyes in Columbus back in September by a combined 59 points in the two meetings. That was an Oregon team without C.J. Verdell, but Verdell doesn’t make up that much on his own. Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave are both first-round picks and may elect to skip this game. The emergence of Jaxon Smith-Njigba helps make Ohio State really tough to defend, but we all saw what Hassan Haskins did to the Buckeyes. Tavion Thomas is at least as good as Haskins and the Utah defense is almost as good as Michigan’s.

(23) Oklahoma State over Notre Dame

Brian Kelly left South Bend like Art Modell left Baltimore nearly four decades ago. Still, Marcus Freeman is a great hire and most of the rest of the staff is staying. Now the bad news. Kyren Williams and Kyle Hamilton are both skipping the Fiesta Bowl to enter the draft. Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, who turned this defense into arguably the best in the Big 12(10) this year, left to take the DC job at Ohio State…..except he doesn’t start there until January 2. That means Knowles will face the Irish to finish the season with the Pokes, then will face them to open next year with Brutus. Notre Dame wont roll over, but this is a winnable game for Oklahoma State now that they don’t have to deal with Williams.

(24) Georgia State over Ball State

The only reason that I have this game this low is that Ball State beat Army. Georgia State is a similar team to Army except they probably aren’t quite as disciplined and they can throw if they need to. The Ball State offense never really came to life this year after a promising 2020 campaign. The Georgia State defense has been a strength all year. With defenses taking Justin Hall out of the game plan, Drew Plitt and the rest of the receivers have struggled to consistently put up points. The Panthers will be able to take Hall out of the game as well.

(25) Air Force over Louisville

I know that Malik Cunningham is special, but almost nothing else on this Louisville team is. Cunningham has already stated that he’s returning to Louisville next year, which is a great move for him. The 2022 draft class is loaded. He has a chance at being a top-five pick and a Heisman winner depending on how next season goes. Jordan Watkins and Justin Marshall wont be joining him though. Both receivers transferred out. That’s a lot of production from the receiver spot on a team that would need to throw well to win this game. Air Force will grind you down. They’ll keep the ball out of Cunningham’s hands and shorten the game significantly.

(26) North Texas over Miami(OH)

This is practically a home game for the Mean Green. They could almost walk to Frisco from Denton. Miami has a good defense and one of the best receivers you’ve never heard of in Jack Sorenson. Still, the Mean Green closed the season on a tear. They won five straight after Austin Aune took the quarterback job full time, beating both UTSA and UTEP in that time. The six straight losses were all to bowl teams with the exception of Louisiana Tech (SMU, UAB, Missouri, Marshall, and Liberty). I believe in the Mean Green enough now that I’m comfortable taking them here in what is essentially a home game.

(27) Fresno State over UTEP

I had this one ready to move down the list when Kalen DeBoer left for Washington and quarterback Jake Haener, who transferred from Washington, entered the portal to follow him back. Well, all of that is on hold now since Fresno got the quarterback whisperer Jeff Tedford back as the head coach. Haener withdrew from the portal and is presumably going to take on his role. Crisis averted by Fresno. I like UTEP, but they got a brutal draw here. Frenso is a terrible matchup for them. The Miners will put up a fight, but I don’t see them earning their first bowl win since 1967.

(28) Maryland over Virginia Tech

I usually try to stay away from games that are the last ones for a coach, especially a coach that is Virginia Tech royalty. J.C. Price was a highly-regarded player for the Hokies in the 1990’s. However, Virginia Tech losing Tre Turner to the draft and Tayvion Robinson to the transfer portal has me thinking that Taulia Tagovailoa‘s breakout could finally come in this game. Maryland battled all sorts of injuries and very tough opponents this year. Now they look pretty healthy against a team with an outgoing coaching staff.

(29) Wake Forest over Texas A&M

Haynes King is still not healthy enough to play for the Aggies and Zach Calzada has entered the transfer portal after Jimbo Fisher brought him back into the spotlight. That leaves the Aggies with Blake Bost at quarterback. He completed just two of seven passes this year for 18 yards. Wake’s defense has been a problem, but the offense has no problems keeping up. The Aggies are going to run a lot in this one, but I think they’ll need to throw to win. That looks like a tall order right now.

(30) Louisiana over Marshall

Billy Napier, who coached the Sun Belt Championship game, has already left for Gainesville. That leaves Michal Desormeaux in charge of the Cajuns. Grant Wells will be back for Marshall after leaving the final regular season game against Western Kentucky. Considering that the Cajuns haven’t had anyone follow Napier as of yet and that they promoted from within for the new coach, I still feel like the team and program – which won 12 games this year – is still stable. That should spell a win for the Cajuns.

(31) North Carolina over South Carolina

South Carolina running back ZaQuandre White opted out of this game. North Carolina QB Sam Howell elected to play. That’s all we really need to know about this one. Unless Sam Howell changes his mind, this should be fairly easy for the Tarheels.

(32) Arkansas over Penn State

The Penn State defense is going to put up a good fight and this might be the most healthy QB Sean Clifford has been since August. Still, there are potential opt-outs for Penn State, including star WR Jahan Dotson, which we will know little about since coach James Franklin isn’t releasing any information. We know that Arkansas WR Treylon Burks is opting out of this game. K.J. Jefferson is still in, so this is a go for me.

(33) Houston over Auburn

I may move this one up even more. I liked Auburn for the win here, but then Bo Nix, Tank Bigsby, and Shaun Shivers entered the transfer portal. It’s hard to imagine Roger McCreary, a likely first-round pick, sticking around with that kind of upheaval on the offense. Auburn will have nearly a month to break in a new quarterback, and now it looks like Tank Bigsby has decided to stick around. Still, they are playing a Houston team that won 11 straight before losing to a playoff team. I may move this down if McCreary plays and Tank is indeed staying, but right now, it’s not looking great for Auburn.

(34) Western Michigan over Nevada

There are a lot of things going against the Wolf Pack here. First off, the game is in Detroit. Lots of Broncos fans will make the trek down I-94 from Kalamazoo. Head coach Jay Norvell left Nevada for…..Colorado State? That feels like a lateral move at best! Cole Turner has opted out for Nevada. Melqaun Stovall and Justin Lockhart entered the transfer portal. We haven’t heard anything on Carson Strong or Romeo Doubs, but considering that Strong was playing on one leg for much of November and is a likely first round pick, it’s hard to see him playing since the coach that recruited him wont be there. If Strong and Doubs decide to give this one last ride, I might flip this and lower the confidence. As of now, it’s Western Michigan all the way with Strong and four of his top five receivers likely out of this game.

(35) Oklahoma over Oregon

As long as we don’t have the officials from the 2006 meeting, I’m pretty confident Oklahoma can win this. As expected, Kayvon Thibodeaux is opting out for the NFL draft. Oklahoma will lose Nik Bonitto, Isaiah Thomas, and Perrion Winfrey for the same reason. Jadon Haselwood has joined Spencer Rattler and Austin Stogner in the transfer portal. Both coaches also entered the portal as well. Oklahoma brings back Brent Venables to take over the head coaching job next season, but we have the best interim anyone could ask for in Bob Stoops. As of now, it looks like Caleb Williams will stay at least through the bowl game. That’s enough for the Sooners to get the win here. Oregon has a lot more of a learning curve losing Mario Cristobal. Miami is the only job Cristobal would have left Oregon for and it just so happened to open up.

(36) Memphis over Hawaii

Yes, it’s a home game for Hawaii and they just trounced Wyoming in Laramie to get themselves into this game. However, that doesn’t mean everything is rainbows and unicorns for the Warriors. Starting quarterback Chevan Cordeiro and lead back Dae Dae Hunter have entered the transfer portal. True freshman Brayden Schager (sounds like a shot to me) will start for Hawaii at quarterback. He mostly struggled when Cordeiro was sidelined earlier this year. Memphis is just more put together right now. I can’t in good faith take a team in turmoil to win a bowl game, even at home

(37) BYU over UAB

This is a tough matchup for the Blazers. I like them and the way they play, but BYU is tough on both sides of the ball. I don’t think UAB has the horses to stop this running attack, especially if Alex Wright declares for the draft. The Blazers are also likely to be without leading rusher DeWayne McBride. Even if he does play, he likely wont be at full strength.

(38) Wisconsin over Arizona State

I don’t usually put the Badgers up this high, but Braelon Allen is better than any back the Sun Devils have faced this year. Add in the absence of Rachaad White, who is opting out of the game to join the NFL, and this becomes worse. Then Chip Trayanum jumped into the mythical transfer portal and all of the sudden the Sun Devils are missing their top two backs against the nation’s best run defense. It wont even matter if Graham Mertz plays a poor game. Wisconsin wont have to throw if they don’t want to.

(39) Liberty over Eastern Michigan

Malik Willis is playing in the bowl game despite the fact that he is most certainly a first-round pick already. That’s all I needed to hear. He is the Liberty offense and the Eastern Michigan defense has little hope of stopping him. The Eagles aren’t built to keep up with a team like Liberty.

(40) Jackson State over South Carolina State

The only loss for Jackson State was a five-point loss in Monroe to the Warhawks. Deion Sanders has his team in their first ever Celebration Bowl, and this looks to be a cake matchup for them. I mean….come on…..South Carolina State lost to New Mexico State.

(41) Kentucky over Iowa

Oklahoma has their coach, so Kentucky can rest easy that Mark Stoops should be around for a while. This Kentucky team reminds me a lot of the Michigan team that just brutalized Iowa. They aren’t quite as physical on the lines, but they run the ball well and play good defense. Kentucky’s team speed is probably a little better. That’s bad news for an Iowa team that is setting the world afire if they somehow luck their way into 300 yards of total offense. Add in Tyler Goodson skipping this game, and it’s going to get ugly again for the Hawkeyes.

(42) Toledo over Middle Tennessee State

The Blue Raiders will be on either their third or fourth string quarterback since Chase Cunningham is lost for the season and Bailey Hockman retired from football back in September. This Toledo team almost took out Notre Dame – who finished fifth in the country – with Carter Bradley still at quarterback. This team is better with Dequan Finn under center. This may get moved down if it comes out that Bryant Koback is sitting out, but probably not a whole lot. Toledo is the better team even if they don’t have Koback.

(43) Army over Missouri

Missouri has one of the worst run defenses in the country. They allowed 229.3 rushing yards per game and 30 rushing touchdowns in 12 games, not to mention 5.48 yards per carry. It got a little better down the stretch, but not enough for me to trust them against a team that will run 60 times a game and not throw a pass if they can get away with it. To make matters worse, the struggling Connor Bazelak will have to win his quarterback job in the practices leading up to the bowl. Army is not the juggernaut that they were last year, but this is still a strong running team with a solid defense. That’s all I need to know against Missouri.

(44) Mississippi State over Texas Tech

The split between Mike Leach and Texas Tech wasn’t amicable then and there is still bad blood a decade later. Leach insists that the university still owes him millions of dollars that he will likely never see. You know Leach isn’t going to stop piling it on and the Red Raiders are pretty much powerless to stop him anyway. Sonny Cumbie is leaving the big, bad Big 12(10) for Louisiana Tech. That should tell you the state of affairs in Lubbock right now.  College Football Predictions: ESPN Capital One Bowl Mania Picks 2021

Britta Zeltmann

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