Well friends, we’ve finally made it to the finale of the 2023 Notre Dame Fighting Irish football season. It’s been a weird, long, and at times really frustrating road, but Marcus Freeman and the Freemanators have an opportunity tomorrow to pick up their 10th win of the season and build some momentum for 2024, taking on an Oregon State Beavers program in the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl who’s lost their coach, numerous key players (especially on offense), and basically their entire conference all in the course of one calendar year. The Irish may be missing plenty of guys too, but this one is still ripe for the taking.
With so much transition happening in Corvallis and knowing this may look like a completely different Beavers squad than what we might have been able to catch throughout this season, we reached out to Building The Dam, SB Nation’s go-to spot for all things Beavers sports. Staff Writer John Severs was generous enough to answer an absolute LAUNDRY LIST of questions we tossed his way about the state of the OSU fanbase, the future of the program, which players are missing and which are playing, and then plenty of goofier questions submitted by you, our loyal OFD fans.
John put together some really insightful and funny responses, so let’s not wait any longer to dive in — the Sun Bowl is just over 24 hours away and we need to make sure we’re all ready for whatever may happen when two teams missing their starting QBs, RBs, TEs, OTs, etc. meet in El Paso.
1. Oregon State has had a wild season — a nice season on the field, but lots of chaos off the field with conference realignment craziness and the off-season departure of head coach Jonathan Smith to MSU.
In as many words as you feel like using (i.e. feel free to ramble, but also feel free to give a one-sentence or even one-word or even a one-GIF/video answer), what’s the vibe of Beaver football fans right now?
John Severs (Building The Dam): The vibes are not good. In fact, I would say they’re pretty grim. There’s definitely a feeling of betrayal in the fanbase; towards the departing Pac-12 members, towards the departing coaches and even toward transferring players, though I think that last sentiment is unfair. With the future of the program in such a questionable state, it’s hard to fault players who want some measure of stability.
There’s been so much talk about conferences, coaches and transfers over the past few weeks that it’s overshadowed any discussion about the actual bowl game. I think part of that is because to a large extent this is not the team people have been watching all season; different coach, different QBs and a lot of other major changes. Rather than being a capstone for the season, it feels more like an early preview for the next stage of Beaver football.
2. How do you feel about new head coach Trent Bray? What does the future of the program look like with the Beavers’ talented defensive coordinator now at the helm?
John Severs (Building The Dam): I think Bray was the best pick for the head coach vacancy considering the circumstances. He did a great job as the linebackers coach, and performed well when he stepped into the defensive coordinator role. I also think that unless the team wants to do a complete rebuild you need some continuity from the Smith era, and the team is not really in a great position for a full rebuild. Of the coaches that didn’t make the move to East Lansing, Bray is definitely the standout.
I imagine under Bray the program will definitely shift to a grindier, defensive focused game of football. Probably even more run focused then the Beavers already are, as it will be difficult to replicate Smith’s skill in recruiting and developing quarterbacks.
3. ND has a laundry list of opt-outs of this game for NFL/Portal reasons, so who are the key guys Oregon State won’t have for this Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl matchup?
John Severs (Building The Dam): Oh boy, where to start. I’m going to include transfer stuff here, since those players will also be absent.
The biggest absences are going to be on the offensive side of the ball. While DJ Uiagalelei was the starting quarterback for most of the season, Aidan Chiles also saw plenty of action, coming in for a drive or two every game. Both players are gone; Chiles went with Coach Smith to Michigan State, while Uiagalelei has yet to find a landing spot, and may just declare for the NFL Draft. That means third stringer Ben Gulbranson will get the start for the Sun Bowl. Gulbranson was the starter for most of 2022, and should be able to handle the job, but it means the offense is going to have to make some big adjustments to suit his skill set.
Tight End Jack Velling is also making the move to MSU, and he’s been one of the Beavers best offensive playmakers. Damien Martinez, the team’s top running back, is also out after picking up a DUI right after the season ended. While ultimately no charges were pressed and the school cleared him to play, he was left off the most recent depth chart and hasn’t been practicing with the team so it seems unlikely he’ll play.
The team is also going to miss their best offensive lineman, with Taliese Fuaga sitting out the game to focus on the draft, where he should be the highest Beaver drafted in a long time.
Defensively the situation is a bit better. The biggest absence is going to be linebacker Easton Mascarenas-Arnold, who led the team in tackles and has now left through the transfer portal. The team has also lost both of its kickers, so that should be a fun thing to watch for the game.
4. What key OSU players WILL be playing in the game from both an offensive and defensive perspective, and are there any reserves for whom you’re excited, to see them get a chance to step into bigger roles with so many guys missing?
John Severs (Building The Dam): A few big performers on the offense are still around.
Running Back Deshaun Fenwick should get a heavy workload with Martinez out of action. Wide receivers Silas Bolden and Jesiah Irish have also stuck around and should work well with Gulbranson. Center Jake Levengood should bring some stability to a suddenly very shaky offensive line.
Defensively things are rosier. Perhaps owing to Bray becoming the head coach, a lot of the top defensive playmakers, particularly linebackers, have remained with the team.
Outside linebackers John McCartan and Andrew Chatfield probably make that unit the strongest one on the team, and safety Kitan Oladapo has been the Beavers best player in the secondary for awhile, though that unit now has a lot of exploitable gaps.
5. Conference Realignment Questions
a. FAN QUESTION:
Since OSU and WSU are the only remaining members of the PAC 12 board, has there been any discussion of banning all other teams from the basketball conference tourney and playing a one-game tourney to guarantee one of your teams an auto bid to March Madness?— Harry Joe (@Joseph_Socks) December 21, 2023
John Severs (Building The Dam): This exact conversation has happened several times in my fevered imagination, but to my knowledge has not yet crossed into the material realm. Here’s hoping.
b. FAN QUESTION:
Thoughts on Oregon State baseball taking a page from ND and going independent despite the WCC affiliation in other sports?— Reed (@Reed60357315) December 21, 2023
John Severs (Building The Dam): I think this is probably what is going to happen. Baseball is one of the school’s strongest programs and if they want to continue to compete nationally they would probably prefer the flexibility of not being tied to a conference in order to make sure they can schedule stronger opponents.
I wouldn’t be shocked if we still saw a lot of WCC teams in the schedule anyway, but until OSU’s conference situation is more settled I think independence is the way to go.
c. FAN QUESTION:
With the Pac-12 upheaval, it seems like a perfect time for a "New Year, New Me" reinvention.— Pat C (@iamthetweeter) December 20, 2023
If you were calling the shots- what would you change about OSU? Colors, mascot, stadiums, etc.
Basically what would you want Oregon State's version of "I have a moustache now" to be?
John Severs (Building The Dam): First off you’ve got to go back to that classic Benny the Beaver logo. The Oregon State logo situation has severely degraded over the decades, and with how closely tied to Nike the program’s current look is I think a clean break is necessary.
I also want a special one-off jersey that goes all-in on chainsaw imagery. Chainsaw stripes, chainsaw logos, chainsaws everywhere.
6. Tony the Tiger/Sun Bowl Questions
a. FAN QUESTION:
Tony the Tiger is listed as 6'3 (shoutout the Kellogg's FAQ section- probably their most Frequently Asked Q)— Pat C (@iamthetweeter) December 20, 2023
With his quick legs and powerful upper body- where do you think Tony would make the most impact if he was on this OSU team?
John Severs (Building The Dam): I think Tony has the potential to be an excellent dual threat quarterback, which would slot in nicely with the Beavers needs.
His intangibles are also off the charts, he’s a born leader. Tigers, after all, are the kings of the jungle (please do not fact check this).
b. FAN QUESTION:
“Did you know the guy who sings ‘you’re a mean one mr. Grinch’ is also the guy who did the voice of Tony the Tiger?”— Ryan Kennedy (@RyanKWrites) December 21, 2023
John Severs (Building The Dam): I didn’t but now that I do I can absolutely hear it.
Can we just talk about how Thurl Arthur Ravenscroft is an absolutely incredible name? The dude should have had a tremendous gothic castle deep in the hinterlands but instead he blessed us with his amazing voice.
c. FAN QUESTION:
To keep up with other bowl-game-name-related postgame celebration traditions like the Mayo bath, cheez it bath, etc, what do we need to do to get the sun bowl organizers to stop being cowards and launch the winning coach into the sun?— Harry Joe (@Joseph_Socks) December 21, 2023
John Severs (Building The Dam): I mean if ratings keep dropping it feels like an inevitability. I’ve got a list of coaches I wouldn’t mind seeing get the ’Outer Wilds’ experience.
7. FAN QUESTION:
Now that he's transferring- How long do you think it will take before your phone stops autocorrecting any misspelled word starting with U into "Uiagalalei"— Pat C (@iamthetweeter) December 20, 2023
John Severs (Building The Dam): Fortunately/unfortunately I do all my writing on PC or laptop, so once this year is over I will probably never have to type that name again.
I’ll miss it in a way; I felt so proud of myself when I managed to start writing it correctly without double checking. Easily my greatest achievement as a writer.
8. FAN QUESTION:
Having endured a season of betrayal, 1st by their PAC12 associates & then by their homegrown HC, do they have any feelings about this (can't find it but there was a video clip of him wearing ND gear roller skating or something too around the same time) https://t.co/GQV6AUHini— Andrew Callan (@acallan1) December 20, 2023
John Severs (Building The Dam): Chad could never betray me, he is free to appreciate players from any school he pleases.
Just not Oregon/Michigan State.
9. FAN QUESTION:
What are your thoughts on the Vatican deciding that for the purposes of not eating meat on Fridays in Lent, Beavers counted as fish?— Harry Joe (@Joseph_Socks) December 21, 2023
John Severs (Building The Dam): I wasn’t aware there was a crisis of Beaver eating that needed to be commented upon, but I’m always in favor of more Beavers in the world so I’m happy with the ruling.
The big question I have now is if Beavers are fish, what else counts as a fish? Platypi obviously, they’re even more fishy than Beavers. What about Otters though? Are they more or less fishy than Beavers?
10. Alright let’s get down to it: who wins this game, what’s the final score, and how do you think it happens?
John Severs (Building The Dam): As much as I hate to say it, I think this one is the Irish’s to lose. I know you all have also had some losses, but it still looks like the program is in a more cohesive place then Oregon State.
I think OSU will start slow while Notre Dame builds a solid lead, and while the Beavers will find a bit of a groove in the second half, it’ll be too little too late.
I’ll say 34-17 Irish, with a lot of the OSU points coming from a frantic 4th quarter.
Alrighty folks, that’s it for this Q&A season. I want to give a massive shout-out to John for taking on every single question I sent him, especially in the midst of a busy holiday season. That’s never easy and yet he gave us some excellent insight and was a great sport with the silly ones.
I encourage you all to head over to Building The Dam ASAP for the coverage John and the team are putting together there in anticipation of tomorrow’s game, and also implore you to give their site Twitter a follow for any late-breaking news and analysis heading into, during, and following Friday afternoon’s matchup.
Otherwise, that’s it for this week and thus that’s it for this year — I hope you all have a lovely New Year’s, can’t wait to get these going again in the fall of ‘24, and as always...GO IRISH, BEAT BEAVERS!!!