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Illinois Coach Bret Bielema 'Waiting by the Phone' About Gator Bowl Opening

No. 23 Texas A&M was set to face No. 20 Wake Forest in the Dec. 31 Gator Bowl. A COVID-19 outbreak within the Aggies program has opened up a spot in the game, and at least one Big Ten coach seems game to bring his team down to Jacksonville: Illinois's Bret Bielema.

It was initially unclear whether the bowl would be able to fill the spot without another bowl team bowing out of its game, but throughout the afternoon, some reported options have been floated. Among them: a 5–7 team like Illinois taking the bid, after Rutgers—another 5–7 Big Ten program with the first option due to its 979 APR score—reportedly turned down the opportunity according to Brett McMurphy of The Action Network. 

McMurphy said that other 5–7 programs are not “not expected to accept,” to which Bielema responded “Waiting by the phone,” an indication that the Fighting Illini are ready and willing to play. The team won its final regular season game vs. Northwestern 47–14 to move to 5–7 on the year.

After Rutgers, there are 11 more 5–7 teams that could conceivably fill the opening. Ranked by APR scores, courtesy of The Post-Standard:

  • Cal (977)
  • Texas (974)
  • Illinois (970)
  • FAU (965)
  • Syracuse (965)
  • Troy (961)
  • TCU (959)
  • South Alabama (955)
  • Charlotte (954)
  • San Jose State (952)
  • Florida State (942)
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A 5–7 program filling the spot is not even the most far-fetched conceivable option that has been floated. Wake Forest athletic director John Currie has acknowledged the idea that a team that has already played a bowl game could fill in for the Gator Bowl as well if they're granted ”whatever waivers might need to be in place.”

Currie added that four programs have already reached out about playing in the game, according to ESPN's Andrea Adelson, though he didn't specify if they are 5–7 teams or those who could look to double up this bowl season.

The one thing that is clear: Wake Forest wants to play, and it only has a few days to figure out who its opponent will be.

The Gator Bowl is scheduled to kick off at 11 a.m. ET at TIAFF Bank Field in Jacksonville on Friday, Dec. 31.

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