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Gator Bowl Prediction and Preview: Wake Forest vs. Rutgers

TaxSlayer Gator Bowl Prediction and Preview: Wake Forest Demon Deacons vs. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Demon Deacons look to tie the program record for wins when they face the fill-in Scarlet Knights in the reconfigured Gator Bowl

Okay Aggies, move over to the sick bay. Scarlet Knights, get your gear on, you're up.

As college football fans already know by now, Texas A&M was scheduled to play Wake Forest (10-3) in this year's TaxSlayer Gator Bowl, but due to the Aggies being overrun by COVID-19, transfers, injuries, and opt-outs, they couldn't field a team. And since Rutgers was smart — I mean, as in having the best team APR (Academic Progress Rate) of all the 5-7 teams — the Knights got the invite to join the Demon Deacons in Jacksonville, Florida. Oh, and the Big Ten now gets all that bowl money and not the SEC. So there's that too.

Related: College Football Picks for Every Bowl Game in 2021-22

Of course, the other problem is that the Knights also only got eight days' notice, which is a pretty short window of time to prepare for a football game. Especially since your last game was a 40-16 loss to Maryland back on Nov. 27. Let that sink in, it was a bad loss to a bad Maryland team, yet the Knights get to go bowling.

Hey, sometimes you find a five-dollar bill laying on the ground.

TaxSlayer Gator Bowl: Wake Forest (10-3) vs. Rutgers (5-7)

Kickoff: Friday, Dec. 31 at 11 a.m. ET
Where: TIAA Bank Field (Jacksonville, Fla.)
TV: ESPN
Spread: Wake Forest -14.5

When Wake Forest Has the Ball

Well, this assignment just got a TON easier. The Demon Deacons were originally heading for a really tough chore, having to face the seventh-ranked defense in the country in Texas A&M, but now they will go up against the 77th-ranked unit in Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights are giving up nearly 400 yards (391.3) per game. Whew! That's a relief. And keep in mind that Wake Forest ranks fifth nationally in scoring at 41.2 points per game. So this is a perfect storm of bad news for the Jersey Boys. 

Quarterback Sam Hartman is among the nation's top passers with 3,924 yards and 36 touchdowns in his 13 games. Look for Jaquarii Roberson (71 rec., 1,078 yds., 8 TDs) and A.T. Perry (61, 1,166, 14) to have plenty of room to roam in that Scarlet Knight defensive backfield.

The Deacons have scored 40-plus points in eight of 13 games this season, utilizing their run-pass option attack. Rutgers has a tall task ahead of it, but if there's any sliver of hope, it is in the fact that this wild, wide-open offense can lead to some mistakes. Wake Forest has turned the ball over 20 times (15 interceptions) and has surrendered 32 sacks.

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When Rutgers Has the Ball

From Nov. 27 to Dec. 24 the Scarlet Knights did not don the pads and helmets and go through any kind of practice or preparation for this game. So, obviously, rust could be an issue following a 27-day break to sit at home, fatten up, and not stay in shape.

If Rutgers has a legit chance in this one, it needs to turn this into a good old-fashioned scorefest. Like a full-court press in basketball, the Knights need to amp up the tempo and make this a back-and-forth affair … that is if their stamina can allow that. Wake Forest's offense can certainly keep up, but can the defense? The Demon Deacons are giving up 423.9 yards and 30.3 points per game. They have been particularly vulnerable to the run, surrendering 202.1 yards per game (114th in the FBS), so Rutgers would be wise to stay grounded as much as possible.

Senior transfer quarterback Noah Vedral (formerly a backup at Nebraska) has had some good points and some bad points. He enters this game ranked 85th nationally in completion rate (59.3 percent) and 100th in yards per game (143.8). So he's one of those solid-but-not-spectacular types in the pocket. Wake has a productive pass rush (35 sacks, fourth in the ACC) and has made plenty of plays behind the line of scrimmage (6.8 tackles for a loss per game, fourth), so look for the game plan on defense to put plenty of pressure on Vedral.

Final Analysis

What we have here is a bowl game desperate not to lose out on the money invested. That's why the stand-in Scarlet Knights were rushed into shape when Texas A&M begged out. And that is unfortunate. I mean, almost as unfortunate as adding "TaxSlayer" onto the Gator Bowl. But that's the corporate world we live in now. Egad.

Anyway, this will be an interesting case study in how much time is actually needed to prepare a team to play a football game. Wake Forest has a chance to tie the program record for wins in a season with the 2006 squad that went 11-2. There's that and the simple fact that the Demon Deacons are a much better football team.

This one is like shooting fish in a barrel.

Prediction: Wake Forest 42, Rutgers 12

Podcast: Previewing Every Bowl Game

— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.