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Sun Bowl: Quarterbacks in focus when Oregon State faces Notre Dame

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The Sun Bowl could have featured a quarterback battle between Sam Hartman and DJ Uiagalelei.

Instead, two signal-callers making their first starts of the season will be on display when No. 16 Notre Dame battles No. 19 Oregon State on Friday in El Paso, Texas.

Hartman opted out of the contest for Notre Dame to prepare for the NFL draft, while Uiagalelei of Oregon State entered the transfer portal.

Also, Beavers second-string quarterback Aidan Chiles entered the portal and chose Michigan State, the school that just hired Jonathan Smith away from Oregon State to be its coach.

So, when the Beavers (8-4) and Fighting Irish (9-3) line up in the Sun Bowl, it will be Ben Gulbranson (one pass attempt this season) for Oregon State and Steve Angeli (25 attempts) for Notre Dame.

The good news for the Beavers is that Gulbranson went 7-1 as a starter in 2022 before being buried on the sidelines this season. In his last extensive action, he was the MVP of the Las Vegas Bowl when Oregon State routed Florida 30-3 to end last season.

“It’s kind of helped me become a more well-rounded person,” Gulbranson said of the situation. “You realize football is a gift. It’s an opportunity. It’s a privilege to play this game. I think being able to kind of step back and see it like this is pretty sweet. I’m cherishing every snap I get, whether it be in practice, whether it be in a bowl game.”

Angeli threw four touchdown passes in his limited work this season and gets to make his case for being the Notre Dame starter in 2024.

“Obviously, I’m now the starter, but my preparation — the way I’m preparing for the game — doesn’t change,” Angeli said. “Now it’s time for the real bullets to fly. We’ve got a job to do to get to 10 wins (by winning) the Sun Bowl. And that’s my only job, my focus.”

Among the other Notre Dame standouts to opt out of the bowl include running back Audric Estime (1,341 yards, 18 touchdowns rushing) and All-American left tackle Joe Alt.

Oregon State’s list of opt-outs includes star linebacker Easton Mascarenas-Arnold (team-best 107 tackles) and receiver Anthony Gould (718 yards to tie for team lead).

Beavers star running back Damien Martinez is not expected to play despite having a suspension for a DUI arrest lifted by the school. Martinez rushed for 1,185 yards and nine touchdowns during the regular season.

It isn’t just the player front where Oregon State is making adjustments.

After Smith took the Michigan State job, defensive coordinator Trent Bray was promoted to head coach. However, Bray elected to focus on filling out his staff and recruiting and isn’t part of the coaching process for the Sun Bowl.

Instead, wide receivers coach Kefense Hynson is serving as interim coach, and he’s excited about Oregon State’s third all-time meeting with Notre Dame. The Beavers won the first two — a 41-9 shellacking in the Fiesta Bowl to end the 2000 season and a 38-21 victory in the 2004 Insight Bowl.

Hynson wants to finish on a winning note after Oregon State lost to then-No. 5 Washington and then-No. 6 Oregon in its past two outings.

“It’s another test,” Hynson said. “You’ve got a really, really good team, they’re well coached, they’ve got good players. Then obviously, finishing the year the way we finished it, we’re excited to just get back on the grass and try to finish the year with a ‘W.’ ”

Notre Dame enters the contest with a two-game winning streak. It also features Bronko Nagurski winner Xavier Watts as the national defensive player of the year. The junior safety led the nation with seven interceptions during the regular season.

The Fighting Irish are 20-21 all-time in bowl games, including 1-0 at the Sun Bowl. Oregon State is 12-7, including a 2-0 mark in El Paso.

–Field Level Media

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