Matt Stevens, IlliniGuys Staff Writer
December 23, 2021
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- The athletics department at the University of Illinois is currently operating under the belief nothing will change about the postseason possibilities of its football program.
Rutgers officially accepted the opportunity Thursday afternoon to be the replacement team for Texas A&M in the 2021 Gator Bowl and the Scarlet Knights, which finished with a 5-7 record, will play Wake Forest (10-3) at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Fla.
Texas A&M officially withdrew from the game Wednesday after the Aggies program was hit with a COVID-19 outbreak that reduced its active roster below the minimum threshold for the team to competitively play the game on New Year’s Eve. Shortly after A&M pulled out of the bowl game, reports surfaced Wake Forest and the Gator Bowl officials were actively searching for a replacement team to keep the game active instead of pursuing a cancellation. Illinois head coach Bret Bielema used Twitter to ignite a 24-hour social media surge that his Illini football program, which also finished the 2021 season with a 5-7 record, would be able to be a potential replacement team for Texas A&M. IlliniGuys.com is still unable to verify if those Wednesday tweets by the first-year head coach were merely social media jokes or actual indications that the Illini were pursuing the spot.
Bielema had previously stated earlier in the month that accepting a bowl bid with a 5-7 record would be “a no-brainer” decision for his program to allow for, if nothing else, the additional allotment of practice time for his developing roster for future years.
“I think that anything we can do to give us a chance to practice, I’m all for it,” Bielema said.
“I just think it’s invaluable. The only way to get good at football is to play football. During our bye weeks, some of the things that you’ve seen, the progression that we’ve made through the course of the year is through practice. To be able to do that again would be a no-brainer.”
IlliniGuys.com was able to verify from multiple sources inside or close to the Illinois athletics department that DIA officials were beginning the first steps of trying to answer logistical questions that included player availability, practice time availability and postseason waiver availability to whether Illinois could logically pull off such a deal. lost a costly home game to Rutgers on Oct. 30 as the two Big Ten programs finished with identical 5-7 regular-season records this season.
The NCAA Division I Football Oversight Committee confirmed Thursday it would follow its previously approved process for selecting 5-7 teams for bowl participation in the event of openings. Therefore, Rutgers earned the spot based on having a higher Academic Progress Rate score of 979 compared to 970 for Illinois.
Rutgers defeated Illinois in Champaign 20-14 on Oct. 30 in one of the four losses for the Illini this past season by seven points or less that cost Bielema’s first season at Illinois to end with a postseason trip.
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