EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – Pitt All-American running back Israel Abanikanda was one of multiple Panther stars that opted out of the 2022 Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl on Monday.

The Panthers are scheduled to play No. 18 UCLA in the 89th Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl on Dec. 30 at noon in El Paso.

Abanikanda was joined by offensive lineman Gabe Houy, plus edge rusher Deslin Alexandre, linebacker SirVocea Dennis and safety Brandon Hill in opting out of the bowl game on Monday afternoon.

The superstar running back rushed for 1,431 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2022 and said on social media that he would begin training for the NFL Draft. Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi was understanding of the decision Abanikanda and others made to opt out.

“It’s a great thing,” Narduzzi said. “We wish those guys luck. We all have decisions to make. It tells you they’ve gotten good reviews from their agents that they either signed with or will sign here in the next couple of days. And they’re going to have an opportunity at the next level. They want to set up and get ready for that pro day, for that combine, Senior Bowl, whatever it may be, that they’ve been invited to and it’s a good thing. We wish all those guys luck. We obviously wish they were playing, but that’s their decision. And all I can do and our staff can do is educate them on what we think, and they’ve got to make a decision about what’s best for them.”

To go along with the five players that opted out, Pitt will also be without starting quarterback Kedon Slovis and defensive end John Morgan III, who both entered the transfer portal. 

Consensus All-American Calijah Kancey will also miss the game due to the injury, which leaves Pitt without five starters – three offensive, five defensive – that won’t play in the Sun Bowl. It’s possible that others could join the list of opt-outs soon, too.

As for UCLA, none of the Bruins’ major players have made any announcements regarding playing – or not playing – in the Sun Bowl. Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson said last Friday that while he was leaning towards playing in the Sun Bowl, he still hadn’t made up his mind.