3 Things That Will Make Or Break the Oregon State Beavers 2023 Season

By T.J. Mathewson

Contributor, 750 The Game

After four rigorous weeks of fall camp that felt much longer amid conference realignment chaos, Oregon State finally opens a much-anticipated 2023 football season on Sunday in San Jose, Calif.

The Beavers have preached that there’s nothing they can do besides focusing on this upcoming season in which they expect to contend for the last-ever Pac-12 championship.

What will allow Oregon State to make or break that expectation? Let’s look at three key questions.


The Beavers have to replace 36 starts worth of experience from last year’s unit that was best in the Pac-12. The good news: their new starters don’t lack experience themselves. Sixth-year senior Jaden Robinson entrenched himself as the starting left cornerback from what we saw in fall camp, while senior Ryan Cooper Jr., who played in all 13 games a year ago (including 10 starts) will most likely line up across from him. Redshirt junior Akili Arnold, who also appeared in all 13 games in 2022, will take a spot at safety.

Don’t be surprised to see a rotation of younger guys in there, too. Freshman Jermod McCoy earned high praise during fall camp, and so did freshman Noble Thomas, JUCO transfer Tyrice Ivy Jr., and redshirt sophomore Jack Kane. Don’t forget Alton Julian, one of the best players on the 2021 defense who is still working his way back from injury. 

It’s a deep group, but how will they play together? The Beavers ranked just outside the top 15 in the country in passing yards allowed per attempt in 2022 (6.4) and in the top 35 in opponent completion percentage. Those are pretty high marks to match, and they’ll have the task of competing with the likes of returning QBs Cam Rising, Michael Penix Jr., and Bo Nix. Even if this secondary gets off to a slow start, they have the benefit of a softer non-conference schedule (SJSU, UC Davis, San Diego State) and a MUCH-improved pass rush in front of them that could be a top-three unit in the Pac-12. 


You can make an argument that the Beavers have never had a QB talent of this caliber under center.

DJ Uiagalelei, a former five-star recruit, comes to Corvallis after a tough three-year stint in Clemson that concluded with him getting benched in the ACC title game.

Less than a year later, DJ has been named the starter at Oregon State, and for good reason. He outplayed incumbent starter Ben Gulbranson and blue-chip freshman Aidan Chiles by a solid margin in training camp. Jonathan Smith wasn’t just going to hand the starting QB job over to a transfer —  the So Cal native was going to have to earn it, and he absolutely did. The jump in play from spring where Uiagalelei looked hesitant, inaccurate, and ineffective to now where he has shown near-complete control of the first-team offense should give Beaver fans the notion that the offense should improve. 

The junior quarterback cited many things as reasons for choosing OSU: the pro-style offense, his brother playing down the road in Eugene, being back on the West Coast, and maybe most importantly, getting out of the pressure cooker that is college football in the south.

Despite all of that, the pressure is still on DJ to perform at a level that we only saw glimpses of at Clemson. The Beavers know what the team is capable of with an elite offensive line, deep running game, and swarming defense. How much does the ceiling go up with potentially elite QB play mixed in? That’s up to DJ to dictate. 


The Beavers kicking game was ineffective in 2022. Everett Hayes went just 6/13 on field goals and missed a kick in every single game he attempted one. That can’t happen again for Oregon State to reach their ceiling in 2023.

Hayes injured his groin right before the start of the 2022 season and spent the year battling through it. A year later, the Beavers arrive at game week and Everett Hayes did not kick for the final week and a half of fall camp due to a groin issue. While Jonathan Smith didn’t make it sound serious, his availability for week one is up in the air. Behind Hayes is Atticus Sappington, who had a good camp from an accuracy perspective, but his range is shaky beyond 40 yards.

The three-point swing of a field goal is huge in big conference games — look at Hayes missing a 46-yarder in the 17-14 loss to USC at Reser, his only attempted kick of the game. Say the Beavers make that kick and get one more defensive stop, that could be the difference between playing in the Las Vegas Bowl or a New Year’s Six bowl. In 2023, after Jonathan Smith doubled down on his current kickers, the hope is that a kick won’t cost them a chance at a Pac-12 title.

T.J. Mathewson is an Oregon State Beavers football contributor for 750 The Game. He also covers the Beavers for KEJO 1240 in Corvallis and has work featured throughout the season here.