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Jay LaPrete / Associated Press

Ohio State receiver Marvin Harrison runs after a catch against Penn State during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023, in Columbus, Ohio.

If you thought the first half of bowl season was messy over the last 10 days, just wait until the unofficial second half starts today.

The difficulty in handicapping goes up a level once the non-playoff power programs get more frequently involved. There are far more opt-outs for players choosing to instead prepare for the NFL Draft.

Slight increases in transfer-portal entries and coaching changes over the final 19 non-playoff games also must be monitored.

I’ve navigated the first couple stages pretty well with a record of 10-7-1 against the spread (4-2 on plays, 3-3 on leans and 3-2-1 on guesses) at publication time and now feel prepared to move on to the end boss.

Read below for picks on the next 12 bowl games. Picks are labeled with one of three confidence categories. Lines are the best currently available in Las Vegas on the chosen side. Come back Saturday for the final installment of the series before the national championship game.

Military Bowl at 11 a.m. Wednesday in Annapolis, Md: Virginia Tech -10 vs. Tulane, over/under: 44. The Green Wave are a shell of what they were during the season with coach Willie Fritz and quarterback Michael Pratt merely starting the list of important figures no longer around. Cluster absences abound at virtually every other position. Virginia Tech meanwhile is at full strength, showed big firepower down the second half of the season and will be motivated in their first postseason chance under coach Brent Pry. The number looks big, but the discrepancy in continuity from the regular season is bigger. Play: Virginia Tech -10.

Duke’s Mayo Bowl at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday in Charlotte: North Carolina +6.5 vs. West Virginia, over/under: 54. The Tar Heels have recently recruited at a much higher level than the Mountaineers and therefore should have more depth in the program. They’re going to need it because they’ve lost a number of players through opt-outs and the transfer portal. West Virginia was worth a bet at -3, but the line may have swung too far the other way and North Carolina may even be worth a closer look if the spread touches +7. Guess: North Carolina +6.5.

Holiday Bowl at 5 p.m. Wednesday in San Diego: Louisville -7 vs. USC, over/under: 58. This spread has started to come down after getting as high as USC +8, but it hasn’t come down far enough. USC’s stock is at its lowest, which typically represents a buy point. The Trojans have lost some players, most notably quarterback Caleb Williams, since the end of the regular season but so have the Cardinals, including leading rusher Jawhar Johnson and leading receiver Jamari Thrash. Play: USC +7.

Texas Bowl at 6 p.m. Wednesday in Houston: Texas A&M +1 vs. Oklahoma State, over/under: 53.5. Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy’s teams typically perform well in bowl games — going 11-6 both straight-up and against the spread — despite few having as strong of a set-up as this year’s Cowboys. The Aggies are in between coaching staffs and roster cores. The line has moved a lot after opening as high as Texas A&M -5, but Oklahoma State -3 is probably the fair price. Lean: Oklahoma State -1.

Fenway Bowl at 8 a.m. Thursday in Boston: SMU -10 vs. Boston College, over/under: 49.5. Liberty went undefeated so it was entitled to the Group of Five conference bid into a New Year’s Six bowl game, but in reality, SMU was the best mid-major team. The Mustangs were my muse all season and there’s no reason that should stop against a mediocre-at-best Eagles’ side. The biggest concern is the weather as rain and wind could halt scoring and make covering this large of a number difficult. Play: SMU -10.

Pinstripe Bowl at 11:15 a.m. Thursday in New York: Rutgers pick’em vs. Miami, over/under: 40.5. The Hurricanes would have been a two-touchdown favorite over the Knights on a neutral field early in the season. Even this spread opened as high as Miami -6 before crashing all the way to pick’em. Rutgers should have a major edge both motivationally and availability-wise, but that large of a shift against what’s still a more talent-rich Miami program makes this a stay-away. Guess: Rutgers pick’em.

Pop-Tarts Bowl at 2:45 p.m. Thursday in Orlando, Fla.: NC State +2.5 vs. Kansas State, over/under: 47.5. The Wildcats have gotten only positive participation news in the last few days with a handful of players announcing their intentions to play in the bowl game including offensive line leader Cooper Beebe. And yet, this line hasn’t budged. Kansas State’s hulking offensive line should ease the settling-in process for quarterback Avery Johnson, who’s taking over for injured starter Will Howard. NC State overachieved down the stretch of the season with five straight wins and covers to decrease this line too much. Play: Kansas State -2.5.

Alamo Bowl at 6:15 p.m. Thursday in San Antonio: Arizona -3 vs. Oklahoma, over/under: 61.5. Oklahoma had a nice season where it was an upset loss to Kansas away from the Big 12 Championship Game, and therefore potentially the College Football Playoff, but the momentum doesn’t seem to have carried over. The Sooners have endured several surprising, impactful entries into the transfer portal. But, like in some of the aforementioned games, this is an awfully large move for a matchup that would have seen Oklahoma favored by double digits for most of the season. The Sooners’ program infrastructure should prevent them from falling off too much. Lean: Oklahoma +3.

Gator Bowl at 9 a.m. Friday in Jacksonville, Fla.: Clemson -4.5 vs. Kentucky, over/under: 45.5. There’s been a lot of push and pull in the betting market on this game with action pouring in on both sides at different times since it opened three weeks ago. That’s resulted in the spread landing right where it belongs. Clemson’s defense is the only outstanding unit in this game, ranking fifth in the nation in expected points added per play. Guess: Clemson -4.5.

Sun Bowl at 11 a.m. Friday in El Paso, Texas: Oregon State +6.5 vs. Notre Dame, over/under: 41.5. This game is a complete muddle with defections spread wide across both rosters. Notre Dame has shed more talent since the end of the regular season, but Oregon State lost its coach (Jonathan Smith is headed to Michigan State) and new head-coaching hire/defensive coordinator Trent Bray curiously won’t be around for this game. In a pairing with this much noise, it’s better just to take the points — especially when it’s this many on the spread. Lean: Oregon State +6.5.

Liberty Bowl at 12:30 p.m. Friday in Memphis, Tenn.: Memphis +9.5 vs. Iowa State, over/under: 58. Full disclosure: I took part in the early swarm of Iowa State money when this game opened below a touchdown. It’s just since moved so far that it’s hard to still suggest a bet on the Cyclones. Especially if this hits 10, there might be value on the Tigers playing in their home stadium. Iowa State had a strong, bounce-back year but isn’t explosive enough to count on to consistently win by margin. Guess: Memphis +9.5.

Cotton Bowl at 5 p.m. Friday in Arlington, Texas: Missouri +1 vs. Ohio State, over/under: 48.5. This spread shot down from as high as -6.5 with the expectation that Ohio State would bring in the ultimate bare-bones roster. And, sure, the Buckeyes have lost some players but not nearly as many as initially expected leading up to the game. Importantly, both receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. and running back TreVeyon Henderson are reportedly still with the team. I bet Missouri +3 early, and now regret it. I’m strongly considering buying out of the position. Lean: Ohio State -1.

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or

Article written by #LasVegasSun