Texas A&M will not participate in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl because of COVID-19 issues and season-ending injuries within the program, leaving Wake Forest without an opponent as officials try to find a replacement team, it was 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.
The game is scheduled for Dec. 31 in Jacksonville, Florida. The No. 25 Aggies (8-4) were scheduled to travel there Sunday.
Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork told ESPN that the program was down to 38 scholarship position players, of which 20 were offensive and defensive linemen.
In addition to the outbreak and the injuries, Texas A&M also had tight end Jalen Wydermyer and running back Isaiah Spiller declare for the NFL draft. Quarterback Zach Calzada, who started 10 games this season, entered the transfer portal.
"So if you take running backs, receivers, quarterbacks and defensive backs, we had 13 of those guys and only 13 scholarship players on defense," Bjork told ESPN. "We had over 40 guys out between COVID, season-ending injuries, transfers and opt-outs.
"We just didn't have enough. You can't put the other players that are healthy at risk."
Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said that he met with his team's captains and that they still want to play in the game -- as long as they have a new opponent by this Friday.
Wake athletic director John Currie said at least five teams have reached out expressing an interest to play -- including teams that have already played in a bowl.
"Whatever waivers might need to be in place to enable that to happen are likely to happen," Currie told reporters Wednesday on Zoom.
Currie reiterated that the ultimate choice for an opponent will be up to Gator Bowl officials.
"I'm an optimist by nature," Currie said. "Right now, based upon the fact that there's interest, I'm really encouraged, but it's complex. Ultimately, Greg McGarity, who's done a great job as the executive director of the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl, it's sort of in his hands to figure out how that needs to work."
The Gator Bowl said it was "aggressively" working with the NCAA to find a replacement team over the next few days.
Illinois (5-7), which officially was eliminated from bowl contention once all eligible teams were selected on Dec. 5, is open to the possibility of playing in a bowl game, sources told ESPN. Marshall, which lost to Louisiana last week in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, also is interested in being a replacement opponent, sources told ESPN.
"Waiting by the phone.... #ILL #famILLy," Illinois coach Bret Bielema posted on Twitter on Wednesday.
Tweeted Marshall coach Charles Huff: "Someone said one more game???....."
Clawson said over 90% of Wake Forest's team has received a COVID-19 booster shot, and the team has gone back to masking indoors, distancing and limiting contact -- all in the hope that it will be able to play.
The No. 17 Demon Deacons (10-3) put together the most historic season in school history, and players want to end it with their first Gator Bowl appearance since 1946.
"Overwhelmingly, the captains, they want to play in the Gator Bowl," Clawson said. "That's what they said. We've worked really hard to get to a bowl of this caliber, of this prestige. We have a ton of family members that are flying there. We oversold our bowl allotment again. We want to spend another game with Deacon Nation."
Texas A&M had an up-and-down season in which it went 4-4 in Southeastern Conference play. The Aggies beat Alabama on Oct. 9 when the Crimson Tide were ranked No. 1, but wrapped up the season with a disappointing 27-24 loss at LSU.
ESPN's Adam Rittenberg, David Wilson and Andrea Adelson contributed to this report.