Rutgers will replace Texas A&M, play Wake Forest in Gator Bowl

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A replacement for Texas A&M in the Gator Bowl has been identified.

With Texas A&M unable to field a team due to COVID-19 cases on its roster, Rutgers will fill in for the Aggies and take on Wake Forest in Jacksonville.

Typically, a team needs to reach six wins in order to go to a bowl game. If there are no available 6-6 teams for an empty bowl slot, the 5-7 teams with the highest Academic Performance Rate (APR) are next in line.

Of the teams with a 5-7 record this season, Rutgers had the highest APR and was the first to receive the invitation to take Texas A&M’s spot. The Scarlet Knights accepted and will now play in a bowl game for the first time since 2014.

The Gator Bowl will take place on Dec. 31 at 11 a.m. ET as originally scheduled.

The NCAA Division I Football Oversight Committee said Thursday that any bowl game could be moved to “as late as Jan. 10” without a waiver in order “accommodate schools that might need additional time to prepare for competition.” Though Rutgers has not been practicing since its regular season ended with a loss to Maryland on Nov. 27, the game will remain in its original time slot.

Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano leads his team onto the field for an NCAA college football game against Penn State in State College,Pa.,Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)
Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano leads his team onto the field for an NCAA college football game against Penn State in State College, Pa., Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

Rutgers improving under Greg Schiano

Rutgers is in its second stint with Greg Schiano as head coach. He first spent 11 seasons as the head coach from 2001 to 2011 and brought the program to unprecedented success. That included leading the Scarlet Knights to six winning seasons and five bowl victories over his final seven years. Schiano left after the 2011 season to become the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Schiano spent two seasons in the NFL and then had a three-season run as Ohio State’s defensive coordinator before returning to Rutgers ahead of the 2020 season. In the five seasons prior to Schiano’s return, Rutgers had a combined 13-47 record with a 4-40 mark in Big Ten play. Over the past two seasons under Schiano, Rutgers is 8-13 overall and 5-13 in conference.

After going 3-6 in 2020, the Scarlet Knights opened the 2021 season by winning all three of their non-conference games. They struggled in Big Ten play, however, and were only able to beat Illinois and Indiana. Bowl eligibility was on the line for both teams when Rutgers hosted Maryland in the regular season finale, but the Terps came away with a 40-16 victory.

"This is an exciting time for Rutgers," Schiano said. "I'm so happy for our players to be able to experience a great bowl game atmosphere. Anytime you can go out and test yourself against the country's top talent, it creates a tremendous opportunity for our players to grow and develop.

Wake Forest can tie program record for wins in a season

Wake Forest, meanwhile, went 10-2 in the regular season and won the ACC Atlantic division. The Demon Deacons then fell to Pittsburgh in the ACC title game but were hoping to cap off a historic season in the Gator Bowl against an SEC opponent.

When A&M dropped out, Wake coach Dave Clawson said his team still wanted to play and was open to a replacement opponent.

This is just the second time in program history that Wake Forest has reached 10 wins in a season. With a bowl win, the Demon Deacons will tie a program record set in 2006. That season included the program's only other division title and ACC championship game appearance.

"Our outstanding group of seniors deserves this proper send off as we compete for a championship next week," Clawson said. "Coach Greg Schiano does a great job and I have tremendous respect for him and his staff. We expect a very tough game against a talented and well-coached team."