‘Waiting by the phone’; Could Illinois fill Gator Bowl game spot at last minute?

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Illinois football helmets sit on the field before an NCAA college football game against Northwestern Saturday, Nov. 25, 2017 at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill. Northwestern defeated Illinois 42-7. (AP Photo/Bradley Leeb)

No. 23 Texas A&M won’t play in the Gator Bowl against Wake Forest on Dec. 31 because of COVID-19 issues and season-ending injuries, the team announced Wednesday.

“It is unfortunate, but we just don’t have enough scholarship players available to field a team,” Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said in a news release.

The Aggies (8-4) were scheduled to leave for Jacksonville on Sunday. The team did not provide any details on the COVID-19 issues or injuries on the team.

“It is heartbreaking for our players, coaches, staff and fans that we are not able to play in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl,” athletic director Ross Bjork said. “Postseason football is the pinnacle of the season and when the opportunity is lost, it hurts on many levels.”

Could the Illinois Fighting Illini step in to fill the breach?

Illinois Head Football Coach Bret Bielema’s tweet Wednesday afternoon suggested his team would be interested in taking part.

Illinois ended its regular season with a 5-7 record and did so on a high note in a 47-14 win over in-state rival Northwestern.

An email seeking official comment from the Illinois athletic department was not immediately returned.

Pete Thamel from Yahoo Sports reported that teams who have already played in a bowl game could also be approached.

That idea makes more practical sense, since a team that’s already been practicing and playing would be in better physical condition to ramp back up.

Missouri plays in the Armed Forces Bowl Wednesday night against Army. A message seeking reaction from the MU athletic department about any possible inquiries from Wake Forest or Gator Bowl officials was not immediately returned Wednesday.

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