Rutgers may have finished the football season with a 5-7 record, but this being 2021, the Scarlet Knights will still be going to a bowl game anyway.
The university will play in the Gator Bowl Dec. 31 against Wake Forest after Texas A&M had to pull out over a COVID outbreak. Rutgers Head Coach Greg Schiano confirmed the plan to NBC New York.
It will be the first bowl appearance for the Scarlet Knights since 2014, ending the second-longest drought among Big 5 schools. Rutgers last bowl appearance came against North Carolina in that year's Quick Lane Bowl, which they won, 40-21.
An NCAA committee decided Thursday to adhere to an existing policy that makes teams with 5-7 records bowl eligible if there are not enough six-win teams to fill all the spots. The 5-7 teams with the highest Academic Progress Rate scores have first crack at open slots. Rutgers is atop that list, though the NCAA did not release the full APR rankings to allow schools to privately decline a bowl bid.
The NCAA football oversight committee also announced that any bowl can be moved to as late as Jan. 10 if the schools involved need additional time to prepare for the game. The Gator Bowl will keep its scheduled date and 11 a.m. Eastern kickoff time on New Year's Eve, meaning Rutgers will have less than a week to get ready to play one of the highest-scoring teams in the country.
“Better late than never,” read a tweet from the Rutgers football account. “The Scarlet Knights are going BOWLING.”
“This program has made great strides under the leadership of head coach Greg Schiano and what better way to showcase that than at the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl on New Year’s Eve,” Rutgers athletic director Pat Hobbs said in a statement. "It is an equally exciting time for our Rutgers fans to be part of this marquee game.”
Having Rutgers replace Texas A&M on short notice was not a foregone conclusion for the oversight committee — even after Rutgers officials informed decision-makers on Wednesday that they believed the team could be reassembled quickly.
The Scarlet Knights have not played since Thanksgiving weekend and the team has not been practicing or working out together.
There was some concern among oversight committee members about the safety of having a team compete with so little time to prepare. At least some consideration was given to having a team that already has played a bowl face Wake Forest, or simply not filling the spot and having the game be canceled.
Ultimately, the committee chose to stick with an existing policy under unusual circumstances.
“The TaxSlayer Gator Bowl team has done an amazing job of pivoting in these circumstances,” bowl CEO Brian Rhodes said in a statement. “We wish the Aggies a speedy recovery, and we are looking forward to a great bowl game between Wake Forest and Rutgers.”