Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl: Oregon State vs Notre Dame
By Stiofán Mac Fhilib
Bowl Season continues! 84 teams, 42 matchups, 35 different cities; if you thought the College Football postseason was restricted to the four teams in the playoffs, think again. In this game preview, we turn our attention to the Sun Bowl:
Where and When
Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl
Location: Sun Bowl, El Paso, TX.
Date: 29th December 2023
Time: 2:00pm (ET)
Story so far…
If the Rose Bowl is considered “the granddaddy of them all” (© broadcasting legend Keith Jackson), then as the second-oldest bowl game, with its origins in the mid-1930s, the Sun Bowl could claim to be the bowl ‘daddy’.
Today, it might not sit in the top tier of bowl games or even in the second. Still, its organisers were certainly delighted to welcome the third-ever matchup of Oregon State and Notre Dame (with the Beavers holding a 2-0 all-time lead in the series). And for all the transfers and opt-outs, it should offer fans of both teams a fascinating insight into how they might look in 2024.
#19 Oregon State finished the final season of the PAC-12 on a two-game losing streak against the conference’s top pair of teams to end up with an 8-4 record. Three of those losses were by three points or fewer. Beavers fans, however, had little time to dwell upon what might have been as Head Coach and OSU alum Jonathan Smith left for the Michigan State job. He also brought with him the OL, TE, and RB coaches, as well as his Directors of Football Operations and Player Personnel. Not ideal bowl preparation.
Smith’s successor, his DC, Trent Bray, won’t coach the team at the Sun Bowl. He has delegated that role to Kefense Hynson, the WR coach, while he concentrates on putting together his new staff. Hynson’s task is made even more difficult by the absence, via transfers, opt-outs, suspension, and injuries of his QB1, QB2, WR2, TE1, RB1, LT, LG, and RG. And that’s just on offense. His defense will be without its best player, a first-team All-PAC 12 LB, as well as a starting S and CB. Oh, and their starting K and P won’t feature either.
#16 Notre Dame has some key opt-outs but significantly fewer than OSU. Audric Estimé, one of the top RBs in college football, is off to the NFL draft. As are both starting OTs, the top tackler on the team at LB, and a top CB. And, of course, QB Sam Hartman, whose absence will afford Steve Angeli his first career start.
The Irish are coming off the back of a 9-3 regular season that saw some excellent offensive displays, except when faced with top defenses. That inability of Gerad Parker’s offense to perform in the biggest games is why ND fans are so excited at the return of new OC, Mike Denbrock, though he won’t coach in the Sun Bowl. QB Coach, Gino Guidugli, will call the plays in El Paso. Al Golden’s defense made a lot of progress in his second year and was particularly impressive against the pass. That may not augur well for the Beaver’s third string QB, as he prepares for his first start in a year.
With DJ Uiagalelei in the transfer portal, and his heir apparent, Aidan Chiles, following Smith to Michigan State, the Beavers will have to turn to Ben Gulbranson. He may have been third string in 2023, but a year earlier he did start eight games for the Beavers, winning seven, including a Las Vegas Bowl MVP performance in the 30-3 rout of the Florida Gators. He threw for almost 1,500 yards, at a 62% completion rate and 9 TDs, 5 INTs. Even if he is a little rusty in El Paso, he will have much more actual game experience – and wins as a starter – than his Irish counterpart.
Notre Dame redshirt freshman, Steve Angeli, threw passes in mop-up duty in six games this season. His 76% completion rate and 4-1 TD-INT statistics were nice but off a very small sample size. And he has never thrown a first half pass in his career. With Riley Leonard due on campus shortly, Angeli’s best path to seeing the field next season may be via the transfer portal, so the Sun Bowl is a perfect opportunity for him to put some good game film out there. He won’t have ND’s leading rusher to hand off to, but a depleted WR room should get several of its best players back from recent injuries.
Prospects to watch…
Silas Bolden, Wide Receiver – The junior from California was the Beaver’s leading WR in 2023 with 51 catches for 718 yards and 5 TDs. He’s also a threat on jet sweeps and end arounds, with a pair of rushing TDs on his nine carries this season.
Andrew Chatfield, Jr, Edge/OLB – The Florida native and transfer from the Gators is OSU’s best pass rusher, logging a career high nine sacks in his senior season. Much more effective against the pass than the run, he had forty pressures in 2023 and two INTs.
Jeremiyah Love, Running Back – After a freshman season as Estimé’s main back up, Love will be the featured back for the Irish in a game where he can expect plenty of touches. His initial burst is very good, and his home run speed is exceptional, if the OL can open up the right hole.
Jack Kiser, Linebacker – One of the few local Indiana players on the team, Kiser was a situational player in 2023 who is expected to become one of the leaders of the defense in 2024 and help the young linebacking core around him to develop. The Sun Bowl will be the start of that process for a player who was third in total tackles this season, with a forced fumble and an INT.
In front of a sold-out crowd (for the first time at the Sun Bowl since ND’s previous trip in 2010), unfortunately, fans won’t get to see what could have been a fascinating encounter had both teams been at full strength. The Beavers’ remaining players and staff have plenty to play for, but a defense built for PAC 12 passing games may struggle against the Irish power-rushing game and multiple TE formations. Expect trick plays from the underdogs, but I feel Notre Dame will ultimately prevail in the fourth quarter.
Notre Dame 20-13 Oregon State
STIOFÁN MAC FHILIB
College Football Analyst
A VERY LONG-DISTANCE SUBWAY ALUMNUS OF NOTRE DAME, COUNTY ANTRIM-BASED STIOFÁN HAS BEEN A FAN OF THE FIGHTING IRISH SINCE 2000. FOLLOW HIM ON TWITTER @SMACFHILIB.