Rutgers (5-7) takes on No. 17 Wake Forest (10-3) in the Gator Bowl on Friday, December 31 at 11:00 a.m. in Jacksonville, Florida airing on ESPN. More than two touchdown underdogs and having just eight days to prepare, the Scarlet Knights are facing a daunting challenge. Find out what our contributors think about their chances of pulling off a monumental upset here.
David Anderson: Even though I am as excited as anyone not on the actual team for this extravaganza, I have an 11 am flight from Miami to an out-of-state location for a wedding significantly farther away from where I live than the Gator Bowl will be played. Yes, the exact time of kickoff I will be taking off, let’s hope the in-flight entertainment includes this game and it is actually entertaining. What I expect to be happening on the ground is that Rutgers will contain the Demon Deacons early on before the wheels fall off. Wake has a good passing game and should go for the jugular early on, but if Rutgers has Kessawn Abraham and Max Melton available, their presence as cornerbacks on the outside receivers is not nearly as troubling as some have made it out to be. The bigger issue is once the linebackers get a step tired and Sam Hartman gets comfortable with the vulnerabilities in the Scarlet middle of the field or even scrambling away from pressure to the sidelines. Eventually, Wake will not be stopped on offense even if it takes them some time to adjust to the grass surface. Rutgers needs to score at least 30, possibly 40 which is extremely unlikely even though Army put up 56 earlier in the year against a below-average Deacon run defense. Rutgers should be able to run the ball despite the uncertainty in who will tote the rock, but the offense’s ceiling all depends on if there is really a threat of passing the ball outside of some trick plays. The Demon Deacons easily cruise to 35+ points unless Dave Clawson decides to take his foot off the gas, that’s how most college offenses work these days when they can throw the ball. Wake Forest 38 Rutgers 23
Chris Banker: The Gator Bowl has long been one of my favorite college football postseason games. Something about the early kickoff on a New Year’s Day (this year, New Year’s Eve) at a beautifully warm and sunny locale is a hallmark of holiday tradition. To say that Rutgers’ participation this year is unexpected would be an obvious understatement, with their path to Jacksonville landing among the strangest turns I can recall — sorry about it, Maryland. As for the game itself, I’m not expecting Greg Schiano to work a miracle. There is something to be said about your opponent being able to roll from their conference title game right into bowl preparation while Rutgers has had to reconvene after an extended break. I don’t think this necessarily disqualifies the Scarlet Knights from having a good showing, because I see them doing just that. It just won’t be quite enough to knock off a highly potent offense and very talented team from the ACC. Wake Forest 42 Rutgers 24
Andrew Cangiano: As a fan, I feel conflicted about this opportunity for the Scarlet Knights. While you never want to turn down an opportunity to play in a postseason game, this game will be full of challenges for Rutgers. Steve Politi from nj.com said the team shouldn’t even be playing and I understand his argument. Even being able to field a team and getting them to the game will be a logistical miracle.
We know the challenges the Scarlet Knights will face, including, Going nearly a full month without practice, pulling together the team at the last minute during the holiday season, and then playing a really good Wake Forest team in 80-degree weather. Adding to the challenge and mystery is the fact that coach Schiano has been hush-hush about who will actually play in the game. Will the team's stars who declared for the NFL draft like Bo Melton, Isaiah Pacheco and Olakunle Fatukasi receive the eligibility waivers needed to be able to participate? We likely won’t know until kickoff.
For this reason, it’s really hard to predict how the team will perform but as a fan, I come into the game feeling like Rutgers has nothing to lose. If they win they will probably make a Disney movie about it.
I expect this team to play hard as always. Facing one of the nation's top offenses, the Scarlet Knights will need an effective ground attack against the Demon Deacons. Note, Wake Forest’s run defense is its biggest weakness. The defense will need to have multiple takeaways to keep this game close.
Realistically, I think Rutgers will likely be out of sync on offense, which will force the defense to be on the field for too long. Under the best of circumstances, this would be a tough matchup for the Scarlet Knights, and the last-minute invite is far from the best of circumstances.
The guys will give their best effort, but the heat and lack of conditioning will take a toll. Wake averaged 41 points per game during the season and I expect this to be similar. It will be great to see this team compete one more time this season. It’s a wonderful opportunity for the seniors to play in a bowl game and the younger guys to get some post-season experience. Don’t expect a victory, just be glad to see Rutgers playing on New Year’s Eve! Wake Forest 42 Rutgers 21
Art Stein: If this game was a normal game and both Rutgers and Wake Forest had a month to prepare for each other and the world was not going through another round of COVID madness, this would be an easy game to predict. Wake Forest would score somewhere in the ’40s or ’50s and Rutgers would be lucky to score more than a touchdown and two field goals.
But this game is about as far from normal as it comes. Yes, Rutgers has had little time to prepare but Wake Forest has spent the majority of the past month preparing and getting psyched for an SEC team, Texas A&M. whom they are not playing. Wake Forest is good. Nobody would argue that. But they are not a top ten team or a top 15 team for that matter and they play in the ACC, not the Big Ten.
The operative words here are chaos, uncertainty, and the element of surprise. Friday evening, the bells of Old Queens will be ringing. Rutgers 38 Wake Forest 35
Patrick Mella: As happy as I am to have one more game to look forward to, I think this game sets up badly for Rutgers. The lack of practice, players being thrust back into a last-minute game, their shaky defense versus a juggernaut offense, all adds up to a tough matchup for Rutgers. I’d like to go with my heart here but my head says otherwise. In fact, if they don’t get blown out, I would be surprised. But if you’re looking for something to be optimistic about, consider this: Rutgers has the luxury of playing about as loose as you could in a game. They’ll be heavy underdogs playing in a game they never expected to be in. Take a shot downfield early, run a trick play, come out and throw that first punch to set the tone, and try to pull off a New Year’s Eve miracle. I’m going to be rooting hard for my boys against my prediction but if you’re looking for honesty, Wake Forest 42 Rutgers 10
Dave White: I am a Rutgers alum. My wife is a Wake alum. I predict we will have snacks and friendly banter. Also something, something football. Rutgers 40 Wake 12
Cara Sanfilippo: When Rutgers was announced as the potential replacement for Texas A&M to play in the Gator Bowl, I received about 47 texts from friends, family, my in-laws, anyone who knew how much I love this team. I had feelings similar to Aaron that this was all going to blow up in our face. My experience with Wake Forest, and this shows my status as the only girl on this staff, is through the Bachelor franchise. One runner up and his best friend, the most recent Bachelor, played football for Wake, and so I became familiar with their stellar, at one point undefeated run this season and their dynamic offense. Not great for a team that has struggled to get points on the board this season. But then my Dad made a comment that he felt the reason we were considered was the Syracuse game, the one common opponent, this season. While I did correct them that the Knights were offered due to being smartypants, I did then see that they struggled to beat Syracuse in overtime, while our defense essentially smothered the Orangemen in the end and our running game was effective. Now, we don’t know if one of the men responsible for that running success will play, but I just have this feeling that the players who moved onto the NFL will come for one last hurrah. I know injury concerns have been discussed, but it's just my gut, based on no actual intel.
Then, I listened to Aaron’s podcast interview with former RU great, Mike Teel, and I got even more pumped. Rutgers has had great success when they can force turnovers, and Sam Hartman has thrown quite a few interceptions this season. The ACC is not the Big Ten, and definitely not the B1G East. I know the deck is stacked against us, Rutgers will be rusty and out of football shape, and we have had no time to plan. But the Demon Deacons did not plan for Rutgers, although Schiano has said Texas A&M’s defense is quite similar which is unfortunate, and don’t know who will be playing on our offense. It’s not much of an advantage against all the odds against us, but the last time I saw the betting line was a 14.5 favorite. For a team who made it official less than a week ago with the #17 team in the country, essentially two touchdowns seem like maybe Vegas knows something we don't. Or maybe, I am just searching and looking at the facts with my heart rather than my head. All I know is the Scarlet Knights are fired up and honestly, have NOTHING to lose aside from potential injuries which can happen in the best of circumstances. If they can play loose and get it going on offense, this could be a real Rudy or Friday Night Lights Season 1 (TV show) moment. Clear Eyes, Full Heart, Can’t Lose. I am going against all logic here. Rutgers 38 Wake Forest 35
Aaron Breitman: I want to believe Rutgers will play such an inspired brand of football that they give Wake Forest all they can handle after they perhaps have a letdown or flat performance against a fill-in for Texas A&M. However, I just think Wake has too much offensive firepower for Rutgers to slow down to have a chance. If Bo Melton doesn’t play, the top playmaker is missing. Isaih Pacheco is hugely important and if he doesn’t play, then it will really be just Aaron Young in the backfield with Kyle Monangai already having offseason surgery. With Cruickshank still rehabbing his injury, Rutgers is potentially going to be without four of its top five playmakers on offense. I do think Johnny Langan could have a big game and cause Wake some problems.
I think Rutgers will take a conservative approach and attempt to control the clock with sustained drives while limiting mistakes and profiting off of any turnovers. That’s why fans shouldn’t be surprised when Noah Vedral plays most of the game. I think Gavin Wimsatt will play, but probably not as much as fans hopes he will or as much as he should if RU trails by multiple scores.
Holding Wake Forest to 30 points would be a solid performance from the defense but doing so will not be easy. Everyone is excited they’ll be without Jaquirii Roberson and that certainly helps Rutgers but that offense is multi-faceted. If the defense gets worn out in the second half due to the heat, conditioning and the offense failing to put together long drives, this could get ugly.
I have said from the start I think this is an impossible situation for this team. While their effort is extremely admirable and should make every Rutgers fan proud, it’s why I’ve always thought this opportunity is really a nightmare in waiting. Nobody should offer a wink of criticism though even if this final score is the actual result. Wake Forest 52 Rutgers 10
Greg Patuto: This is a Rutgers’ team that learned last week that they would be playing in this game. They were away for a month before quickly coming together to prepare for a nationally-ranked team. This is not a recipe for success, especially against a team like Wake Forest.
Not to mention, Rutgers might be without its two most important players on the offensive side of the ball. If Bo Melton and Isaih Pacheco do not play, the Scarlet Knights are going to struggle more than they did during the regular season. The idea is to sustain drives and slow the game down. That is difficult if the offense cannot put together first downs consistently. As for Wake Forest, Jaquirii Robinson is out preparing for the NFL Draft but the rest of this high-powered offense is intact.
Yes, this is exciting for Rutgers and its fans. The team got to take a trip to Jacksonville while some fans will be in attendance as well. For those who can't make it down there, it will be a party on New Year’s Eve watching from home. Enjoy the moment. As for the game itself, do not get hopes too high. Wake Forest 47 Rutgers 13
Fred Gaudios: Assuming it’s true someone on Wake Forest or Rutgers kicks a football in the general direction of the other team a few minutes after 11am Eastern Time on Friday, I think we are in for a surprisingly close game. The other posts in this article are all logical and well-thought out, but I’m a fully credentialed member of Team Chaos, and I have a gut feeling Rutgers hangs around tomorrow. I felt the same way before the Purdue game in basketball, even finding last-minute tickets so I could be there in person. Sometimes weird things happen in bowl season, and Bowl Game Schiano tends to be the coach we wish he’d be more often in the regular season. That’s all I have to say. Rutgers 28 Wake Forest 27
Let us know in the comment section what you think will happen between Rutgers and No. 17 Wake Forest in the Gator Bowl.