Rutgers has accepted a bid to play in the Gator Bowl against No. 17 Wake Forest, the school announced on Thursday in a video released on Twitter. The move comes after No. 25 Texas A&M was forced to cancel its appearance due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the program that reportedly left the Aggies with only 38 healthy players.
"We are disappointed that Texas A&M University and the Aggie fans will be unable to represent the Southeastern Conference in Jacksonville at this year's TaxSlayer Gator Bowl game," said TaxSlayer Gator Bowl Chairman John Duce in a statement. "However, the health and safety of the student-athletes, coaches and staff remains our primary concern."
The NCAA's oversight committee met Thursday to officially rubber stamp the process for selecting 5-7 teams for bowl participation. Rutgers earned the right of first refusal because it has the highest Academic Progress Rate (APR) among the football teams that finished 5-7.
Rutgers has not appeared in a bowl game since the 2014 Quick Lane Bowl.
An uptick in COVID-19 cases nationally due to a combination of the Delta and Omicron variants has proved disruptive to the sports world. Dozens of college basketball games have been canceled in recent weeks amid the spread and it now appears college football's bowl season will not make it through unscathed by the ongoing pandemic.
Texas A&M's sudden withdrawal left the Gator Bowl scrambling to find an opponent with less than 10 days before kickoff. All options were on the table at one point, including pursuing teams that had already played in a bowl game, according to Yahoo Sports' Pete Thamel.
A Gator Bowl victory would have sent the Aggies into the offseason with some momentum after they struggled in the season's final month with losses to Ole Miss and LSU sandwiched around a win against Prairie View A&M. The Aggies' last win vs. an FBS opponent came on Nov. 6 against Auburn. Rutgers finished the season with two straight losses, including a 40-16 loss to Maryland in the season finale.
Wake Forest will attempt to tie its all-time record of 11 wins that it set in 2006 with a victory in the Gator Bowl.