Player exodus leaves Oregon State and Notre Dame filling holes for Sun Bowl

Ben Gulbranson
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EL PASO, Texas (AP) — The Sun Bowl matching No. 15 Notre Dame and 21st-ranked Oregon State is more about who isn’t playing than who is.

The exodus of players left both coaches answering philosophical questions about the future of bowl games beyond Friday’s meeting.

“I think all postseason play is going to change now that you’re talking about a 12-team playoff,” Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman said, referring to next year’s expansion of the four-team College Football Playoff. “We understand that, and for those teams that don’t make the 12-team playoff, you’re going to have to see how many guys you have available and guys that are going to be willing to play.”

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Freeman and interim Oregon State coach Kefense Hynson are dealing with it now.

The Fighting Irish (9-3) are without quarterback Sam Hartman, but the headliner might be All-American tackle Joe Alt. The other starting tackle, Blake Fisher, also is preparing for the NFL draft along with running back Audric Estime and linebacker Marist Liufau.

The Beavers (8-4) are down to their third QB in Ben Gulbranson after D.J. Uiagalelei and backup Aidan Chiles entered the transfer portal.

Hynson, who has been wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator, is leading Oregon State in the bowl game after Jonathan Smith took the Michigan State job. Trent Bray was promoted from defensive coordinator to be Smith’s permanent replacement.

“I just think for me, the biggest question is in five years, how relevant will the bowls be with the playoff expanded?” Hynson asked. “That to me is the question college football’s got to answer.”

Oregon State also will be without tight end Jack Velling and kicker Atticus Sappington, two more who went to the transfer portal, and linebacker Easton Mascarenas-Arnold. OSU’s leading tackler is preparing for the draft.

“I don’t mean to say this in a callous manner because I love those guys, but they’re not here anymore,” Hynson said. “So I’m not thinking about them in that regard. We got other guys that are going to step up and are going to be better for the opportunity.”

MISSING RB

Oregon State running back Damien Martinez has returned from a suspension over an arrest for driving under the influence. Hynson says he won’t play because he missed too much practice time while away from the team.

“He’s got a whole ‘nother season to play at Oregon State,” Hynson said. “We don’t want to compromise that for one game.”

IRISH UNDER CENTER

Steve Angeli, a redshirt freshman, is set for his first career start at quarterback for Notre Dame. In seven games, he was 19 of 25 for 272 yards with four touchdowns and an interception.

“I think what Steve has done all year has been tremendous in terms of building confidence in the coaching staff,” Freeman said. “We’re going to go with Steve and want to make sure we give him the best opportunity to succeed.”

BACK IN THE SADDLE

Gulbranson gets his first start of the season after making eight, with 10 total appearances, as a redshirt freshman last season. He was 7-1 as the starter, including a 30-3 Las Vegas Bowl victory over Florida when he was named MVP after throwing for 165 yards and a touchdown and rushing for another score.

THREE MEETINGS, THREE BOWLS

This is the third meeting between Oregon State and Notre Dame. All three have been in bowl games. The Beavers won both, capping the 2000 season with a 41-9 victory in the Fiesta Bowl and winning the 2004 Insight Bowl 38-21. It’s the third Sun Bowl for Oregon State and the second for the Irish. They are 3-0 combined.

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