Rutgers to Play Wake Forest in Gator Bowl as Texas A&M’s Replacement
Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Rutgers Scarlet Knights linebacker Olakunle Fatukasi (3).
Rutgers will officially play Wake Forest in the Gator Bowl on Dec. 31.
The Scarlet Knights (5-7) replace Texas A&M, which withdrew from the Gator Bowl on Wednesday because of COVID-19 and injury issues. With Texas A&M unavailable — the Aggies were down to 38 scholarship players, including only 13 on defense — the NCAA’s Football Oversight Committee had to find a replacement.
Several teams were interested in playing in the Gator Bowl, including two 5-7 teams — Rutgers and Illinois — and three teams that already played in a bowl this season — Northern Illinois, Coastal Carolina and Marshall — sources said.
The NCAA’s Football Oversight Committee met for nearly two hours Thursday morning before deciding to award the vacancy to a 5-7 team instead of a bowl-eligible team that already had played in a bowl earlier this season.
Gator Bowl officials initially believed Rutgers would not accept the bid because the Scarlet Knights had not practiced in nearly four weeks and would have only nine days to prepare for the game, sources said.
When there are not enough six-win bowl-eligible teams, the NCAA may select teams with 5-7 records to fill any openings. Rutgers had the highest Academic Progress Rate (APR) of the 5-7 teams and received the Gator Bowl bid.
Some committee members were concerned about the health and safety issues with the 5-7 teams that had not been practicing for a month. Those members favored selecting a team that “was prepared” and could take a game on short notice, a source said.
However, the NCAA’s Football Oversight Committee opted to adhere to the existing policy, allowing a 5-7 team over a team that already had played in a bowl game.
This will be Rutgers’ first bowl appearance since 2014, the second-longest postseason drought among Power Five teams behind Kansas.
Wake Forest athletic director John Currie said as many as five teams reached out to either the Demon Deacons, the Gator Bowl or ACC with interest in playing in the Gator Bowl. Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan, an Illinois booster, pushed hard to get Illinois in his hometown Gator Bowl, sources said.
Wake Forest is projected to be a 13-point favorite against Rutgers, according to Action Network senior writer Collin Wilson’s power ratings.