Previewing Oregon State Football Ahead Of The 2023-2024 Season – How Will They Do?

After a century of history, the Pac-12 as we know it seems to be on the verge of a tragic collapse: Oregon, Washington, USC, and UCLA are all set to join the Big Ten in 2024, while Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah will join the Big 12. With just four remaining members at the moment, it’s unclear what the future of the conference will look like (if it exists at all).

But even if the future of the Pac-12 looks hazy, its current edition looks incredibly deep, with at least five teams who are serious contenders to win the conference. Perhaps surprisingly, Oregon State is one of them.

The Beavers reached ten wins in 2022, their first such season since 2006 (per Sports Reference). With a relatively light nonconference schedule (San Jose State, UC Davis, San Diego State), combined with home games against Utah and Washington, the door is open for another solid season. Additionally, the Beavers won’t have to play USC this season after narrowly losing 17-14 last year. It’s possible that the toughest game on the schedule doesn’t come until Thanksgiving weekend when they have to travel to Eugene to face the Oregon Ducks. Of course, Washington and Utah still have loaded teams, even if the Beavers get them at home, and OSU could undoubtedly be dealt a few losses during the rest of the Pac-12 schedule.

The Beavers received a big boost with 78% of last year’s offensive production returning (per ESPN). 4 out of 5 starters on the offensive line are back, and so is last season’s Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year, Damien Martinez, who’s already been named to several award watch lists. Martinez and redshirt senior Deshaun Fenwick are set to build off of a combined 1535 yards and 14 touchdowns last year. 

Although season-opening starting quarterback Chance Nolan transferred to TCU, his backup, redshirt sophomore Ben Gulbranson, is staying in Corvallis. Gulbranson was the starting quarterback for most of last season after Nolan suffered a neck strain in the first quarter of the Beavers’ game against Utah and finished the season with 1,455 yards and 9 touchdowns against 5 interceptions in 10 games. He also rushed for five touchdowns, all over the last four games of the season. 

However, Gulbranson wasn’t asked to do too much through the air, making his interception numbers more concerning: With only 195 passing attempts, his interception percentage is 2.6%, 81st in the entire FBS (according to TeamRankings). 

Gulbranson’s status as the starter is not entirely assured. The elephant in the quarterback room is Clemson transfer DJ Uiagalelei. A former five-star, Uiagalelei backed up Trevor Lawrence in 2020, starting games against Boston College and Notre Dame after Lawrence tested positive for COVID-19. He performed well in those games, throwing for a combined 782 yards and 4 touchdowns (per ESPN). His sophomore and junior seasons, however, were significantly rockier. As a sophomore, he threw for a pedestrian 2,059 yards and 9 touchdowns across 13 games compared to 9 interceptions (according to ESPN). His junior season was statistically better, with 2,521 passing yards and 22 touchdowns against 7 interceptions (per ESPN), but poor play led to him getting benched twice (the second time for good). 

Yet Uiagalelei retains the sky-high potential that had him rated as the second-highest recruit in his high school class. He, Gulbranson, and freshman Aidan Chiles are in fierce competition for the starting role, with Joe Freeman from The Oregonian describing it as a “three-way dead heat.” Time will tell who will emerge as the starter.

The offense has a lot fewer question marks to answer than the defense. Just 52% of last year’s defensive production returns, putting OSU at eighth in the Pac-12 in that regard (per ESPN). The biggest loss is inside linebacker Omar Speights, who transferred to LSU. Speights amassed over 80 tackles in each of the last two seasons en route to a first-team all-conference selection last year. Cornerbacks Alex Austin and Rejzohn Wright are both off to the NFL, as is defensive back Jaydon Grant.

However, returning defensive backs Kitan Oladapo and Ryan Cooper Jr. should strengthen the secondary, and Easton Mascarenas-Arnold looks ready to fill the void of graduated senior Kyrei Fisher-Morris. The Beavers will need more than just those players to step up in order to recreate their nationwide 16th-best scoring defense (perSportsReference), but they have plenty of upperclassmen across their roster who they will hope can take the next step.

It’s fair to say that expectations are high for the Beavers to build on their 2022 success, and with a more favorable schedule, they certainly have a good shot at replicating or even surpassing last year’s breakthrough. It’s never wise to predict records before the season starts, especially given the week-to-week vagaries of the Pac-12, but a 9-3 regular season record (perhaps with losses against Utah, Washington, and Oregon) seems entirely reasonable. That likely wouldn’t be enough for a spot in the Pac-12 championship game. However, it would still be a very successful season, and any number of factors (getting to play Utah and Washington at home, other teams losing steam, extra motivation in rivalry games, etc.) could boost their win total. 

And it says something that despite sharing a conference with national contenders like USC, Oregon, Utah, and Washington, the Beavers have a significant chance at placing high and potentially making a run to the conference championship. 

Can the Beavers conclude the Pac-12 conference as we know it with a bang? 

We’ll begin to find out on September 3, when the Beavers kick off against San Jose State.