After Texas A&M was forced to drop out of their scheduled bowl game later this month, University of Illinois head coach Bret Bielema hinted that the Illini may be interested in replacing the Aggies in the game.
The drama began to unfold on Wednesday when No. 25 Texas A&M was forced to back out of the Gator Bowl because of injuries and COVID concerns.
That decision left Wake Forest without an opponent, and with every six-win team already slotted into bowls, a wider search will likely be needed to find a team to play the Demon Deacons.
Enter the Illinois Fighting Illini.
Bielema is one of the proponents of the Illini participating in the game, posting about it on Twitter:
The Illini finished just outside of bowl eligibility with a 5-7 record this season, but that mark includes road-wins over Penn State, who was No. 7 when Illinois went into Happy Valley and beat them 20-18, and Minnesota, who was No. 20 in the country.
The Illini reportedly have a powerful ally if they want to push for a berth in the game:
According to Brett McMurphy of Action Network, Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan is pushing hard for Illinois to get into the game. Khan graduated from Illinois, and the Jaguars’ home stadium will host the Gator Bowl.
Illinois last played in a bowl game in 2019, falling 35-20 to the Cal Golden Bears in the Redbox Bowl.
The Gator Bowl is scheduled for Dec. 31, with kickoff set for 10 a.m. on ESPN.