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Sunday, April 21, 2024
The Observer

Who's actually playing in the Sun Bowl? Breaking down key absences and replacements

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Notre Dame quarterbacks Steve Angeli (18) and Sam Hartman (10) warm up before the Aer Lingus Classic between Notre Dame and Navy at Aviva Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 26, 2023.


Thanks to opt-outs and the seemingly endless transfer portal drama, Friday’s Sun Bowl between No. 16 Notre Dame and No. 19 Oregon State will feature lots of young talent on both sides. Both teams will be missing several key players on both sides of the ball, creating opportunities for many underclassmen. Here's a breakdown of all the opt-outs and transfers as well as the players who might replace them.

Notre Dame

The Irish will be down ten starters, including eight on the offensive side of the ball. An additional nine players will be missing from the Irish ranks for the Sun Bowl. Six of those absences are NFL Draft-related opt-outs while the rest are players that entered the transfer portal.
Quarterback Sam Hartman (opt-out) — Steve Angeli (sophomore)
For Notre Dame, the most high-profile opt-out came from its starting quarterback. The grad transfer from Wake Forest seemingly hinted at his participation in the bowl game after the senior day victory over his former team. However, the star quarterback ended up deciding to forgo the bowl game, announcing his decision with a farewell video posted on Instagram on Dec. 11.

Stepping in for Hartman is sophomore Steve Angeli, who played in seven games for Notre Dame this season. He was serviceable in mop-up duty for the Irish this year, completing 76% of his passes for 272 yards and four touchdowns with just one interception. The Sun Bowl will be his first career collegiate start.
Running back Audric Estimé (opt-out) — Jeremiyah Love (freshman)/Jadarian Price (sophomore)
Star running back Audric Estimé declared for the NFL Draft on Dec. 14. He leaves Notre Dame as one of the most productive running backs in program history. After just three years, he racked up 2,321 yards (10th all-time) and 29 touchdowns (fifth best). His 6.2 yards per carry is tied for seventh-best in Notre Dame history (min. 100 carries).

His 2023 season saw him set the single-season rushing touchdown record while putting up 1,341 rushing yards, the fifth most in a single season. His final game as an Irish player was a monster display against Stanford where he ran for 238 yards, the fourth most in a single game, and scored four touchdowns (tied for the third most in a single game).

Atop the depth chart for the bowl game is Jeremiyah Love, who has seen significant playing time this season. The electrifying freshman has played in every game this year, rushing for 346 yards while averaging 6.2 yards per carry. He will likely share the load with the other members of Notre Dame’s loaded running back room, which includes Price, sophomore Gi’Bran Payne and graduate student Devyn Ford.
Left tackle Joe Alt (opt-out) — Charles Jagusah (freshman)
Consensus First Team All-American Joe Alt declared for the NFL Draft and announced his opt-out earlier this month. The junior is likely to be a top-10 selection in the spring. His replacement, freshman Charles Jagusah, took his first collegiate snaps at the end of the Stanford game last month. He was a highly rated four-star prospect (No. 46 nationally per 247Sports) who brings exceptional size to the tackle position at 6-foot-7 and 330 pounds.
Right tackle Blake Fisher (opt-out) — Tosh Baker (senior) or Aamil Wagner (sophomore)
Junior Blake Fisher started every game at right tackle for the last two seasons. He declared for the NFL Draft on Dec. 8. He will likely be replaced at right tackle by senior Tosh Baker, who appeared in 10 games this season for the Irish. There’s also a chance sophomore Aamil Wagner gets significant snaps as the coaching staff looks to see what they have in their young talent. Wagner played in six games this season.
Linebacker Marist Liufau (opt-out) — Jaylen Sneed (sophomore)
Liufau was a Butkus Award semifinalist in 2023 and formed a key part of Notre Dame’s experienced linebacker trio alongside graduate students JD Bertrand and Jack Kiser. While Bertrand and Kiser will play in El Paso, Liufau declared for the NFL Draft on Dec. 5 and opted out of the Sun Bowl. He’ll be replaced by Jaylen Sneed. The sophomore has played in every game this season, including one start in the season opener against Navy.
Cornerback Cam Hart (opt-out) — Jaden Mickey (sophomore)
Graduate student Cam Hart has been a crucial part of Notre Dame’s vaunted secondary this season. Playing opposite sophomore Benjamin Morrison this season, Hart started every game and accounted for 21 tackles, 4 pass breakups and 3 forced fumbles. He declared for the NFL Draft on Dec. 14 and opted out of the bowl game.

Sophomore Jaden Mickey will take Hart’s place as the starting cornerback. Mickey has seen action in every game this year and had a standout moment in Notre Dame’s blowout win over Pittsburgh. In only his second career start, he intercepted a pass and returned it 43 yards for a touchdown. The Irish will be hoping for more big plays from Mickey in his third career start.

Other Notre Dame Roster Changes

Tight end Holden Staes (transfer portal) — Eli Raridon (sophomore)/Cooper Flanagan (freshman)

Center Zeke Correll (transfer portal) — Ashton Craig (sophomore)

Wide receiver Chris Tyree (transfer portal) — Jordan Faison (freshman)

Wide receiver Rico Flores Jr. (transfer portal) — Jaden Greathouse (freshman)

Wide receiver Tobias Merriweather (transfer portal) — Deion Colzie (junior)/KK Smith (freshman)/Matt Salerno (graduate student)

Defensive lineman Nana Osafo-Mensah (transfer portal) — Joshua Burnham (sophomore)

Safety Thomas Harper (opt-out), safety Antonio Carter II (transfer portal) — Adon Shuler (freshman)

Safety Ramon Henderson (transfer portal) — Ben Minich (freshman)

Oregon State

The Beavers enter the Sun Bowl with significant losses on both sides of the ball. They are down seven starters on offense, four on defense and both their kicker and punter. They also bring interim head coach Kefense Hynson to El Paso. He will coach the bowl game before defensive coordinator Trent Bray takes over the head coach position for 2024. He will replace Jonathan Smith who left for Michigan State after six seasons in Corvallis.
Quarterbacks D.J. Uiagalelei (transfer portal), Aidan Chiles (transfer portal) — Ben Gulbranson (junior)
The Beavers are down their top two quarterbacks after Uiagalelei and Chiles both entered the transfer portal. However, third-string Ben Gulbranson played in 10 games a season ago as the team’s primary quarterback throughout a successful 10-3 season. Gulbranson was even named MVP of Oregon State’s 30-3 blowout win in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Right tackle Taliese Fuaga (opt-out) —Tyler Morano (junior)
Fuaga declared for the NFL Draft after an outstanding season where he was named First Team All-Pac 12. He also racked up eight All-American selections, including three first-team selections. Fuaga is one of three absent starting linemen from the Beavers’ excellent offensive line. The group was among the 12 semifinalists for the Joe Moore Award in 2023. Junior Tyler Morano will be taking over for Fuaga. He has played in 14 career games for Oregon State, including 5 appearances this season.
Running back Damien Martinez (unavailable) — Deshaun Fenwick (graduate student)
The team’s leading rusher, Martinez was suspended and ruled out of the bowl game after he was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of intoxicants. Despite this suspension being lifted, Martinez will not play in El Paso.
Wide receiver and kick returner Anthony Gould (opt-out) — Jimmy Valsin III (junior)/Silas Bolden (senior)
The team’s joint-leading receiver this season, Gould declared for the NFL Draft earlier this month. He was the nation’s best punt returner a year ago, earning numerous All-American selections. He averaged 18.6 yards per return and scored 2 punt return touchdowns last season. Valsin III will take over at wide receiver while Bolden will handle punt return duties.
Linebacker Easton Mascarenas-Arnold (transfer portal) — Melvin Jordan IV (sophomore)
Mascarenas-Arnold was the team’s leading tackler in 2023, racking up 107 total tackles. He entered the transfer portal and committed to USC, leaving a gap in the Beavers’ defense. He will be replaced by Jordan IV, who accrued 17 tackles across 12 games this season.

Others:

Tight end Jack Velling (transfer portal) — Jermaine Terry II (junior)

Safety Akili Arnold (transfer portal) — Ryan Cooper Jr. (senior)

Left tackle Joshua Gray (injury) — Jacob Strand (sophomore)

Right tackle Heneli Bloomfield (injury) — Grant Starck (junior)

Linebacker Calvin Hart Jr. (undisclosed) — Isaiah Chisom (freshman)

Defensive tackle Isaac Hodgins (undisclosed) — Semisi Saluni (junior)

Kicker Atticus Sappington (transfer portal) — Everett Hayes (senior)

Punter Josh Green (undisclosed) — AJ Winsor (freshman)