The trend of players skipping their bowl games has become normalized in the College Football Playoff era.
The Cotton Bowl Classic will be no different, as players for both the Oklahoma Sooners and the Florida Gators have elected to opt out of the game for a variety of reasons.
In the face of the players electing not to play, head coaches Lincoln Riley and Dan Mullen both said Tuesday they think there is great value and excitement for playing in bowl games like the Cotton Bowl.
“Are there going to be a couple of players here and there through the years that maybe think the bowl game is not that important? There may be,” Riley said. “But we’ve got to be careful to (not) take the one or two percent and say ‘Well, that’s how everybody feels.’
“There’s a big percentage of both our football teams that are gonna be pretty excited to play this game tomorrow night, so I tend to go with the majority and think these games are still pretty darn important,” he said.
At Oklahoma, senior cornerback Tre Brown chose not to play in the bowl game and will begin preparation for the NFL Draft. With this being OU's first time out of the playoff since opting out became a trend, Brown is technically the first player in school history to choose that path.
The Gators were especially marred with opt outs. Their top three pass catchers — Kadarius Toney, Kyle Pitts and Trevon Grimes — all announced they would not participate in the game, as well as safety Shawn Davis and defensive back Marco Wilson.
On top of the players forgoing the Cotton Bowl by choice, Florida’s fourth leading wide receiver, Jacob Copeland, will also be unable to play after testing positive for COVID-19.
The Gators will field approximately 60 scholarship players for the Cotton Bowl, Mullen said.
But in the face of all the absences, Mullen said he believes this year is more the exception to the rule, not the norm.
“This is our third straight New Year’s Six bowl game and in the previous two years we had a grand total of one opt out,” Mullen said. “This year is just such a unique deal. The stresses and pressures that these guys have been under this year, I think it’s led to everybody to be in a little bit of a different mental state.”
Riley said the Sooners are locked in and excited to compete in the Cotton Bowl after getting a few days off for Christmas.
“I think they understand the opportunity that playing in the Cotton Bowl presents,” he said, “and not only that but an opportunity to close out a strong season.”