Predicting 2023: Oregon State, D.J. Uiagalelei and the run to the College Football Playoff
As we charge full steam into 2023, The I-5 Corridor offers up our predictions for the coming year.
Predicting 2023 is a series that will run on The I-5 Corridor over the next two weeks featuring stories with our predictions for the upcoming year. Today we continue with Oregon State’s run to the 2023 College Football Playoff.
The day I met D.J. Uiagalelei, Chip Kelly had just gone out the door.
It was just before early signing day in 2018 and The Athletic had sent me down on a trip to Southern California to write a story about the Ducks’ strong recruiting efforts in the area. Those were the #CaliFlock days for the Ducks, and on the day before driving over to Calabasas to speak with four-star commit Mycah Pittman, I ventured over to St. John Bosco to try and figure out why everyone wanted a piece of the 2020 5-star quarterback nicknamed DJ U.
A handful of national profiles had already hailed the 6-foot-4, 240-pound junior quarterback as the next Cam Newton. And the stats seemed to back it up: Playing for one of high school football’s powerhouse programs, Uiagalelei had just finished up a season with 3,366 passing yards and 48 touchdowns. And when walking into the football offices of the all-boys Catholic school, they have their quarterback history proudly on display with a framed Josh Rosen All-American jersey behind coach Jason Negro’s desk.
The coach said I had just missed Kelly, then in his first offseason with the Bruins. Then again, with Uiagalelei on campus you never had to wait long to bump into another recognizable face.
“He handles it well,” Negro said of the attention. “One thing I’ve noticed is everybody wants him to be a part of something they’re doing, so they can claim him. That’s the thing I think we’ve had the most conversations about. I don’t want him to do this camp so they can say, ‘Oh, you know, we created this.’ He doesn’t need to do that. They just want to put it all over social media and use him to make dollars down the road.
“We need to be careful.”
When talking with Uiagalelei, I found him to be a relatively shy and humble kid who really just wanted to get over to baseball practice.
Added Negro: “He wants to be liked, and that’s a tough spot because whatever decision he makes, he’s going to be letting a lot of people down. It’s going to be hard for him,” Negro said.
About six months later, Uiagalelei picked Clemson over Oregon, a team which catered its entire 2019 spring game toward landing Justin Herbert’s replacement — only to watch him end up with the defending national champions.
And the expectations were, well, high for a player at a university that just earned a ring with the true freshman Lawrence under center.
From The Athletic1:
For Clemson, Uiagalelei could be the player to continue this modern-day dynasty. The Tigers have made four consecutive appearances in the College Football Playoff. They’ve won two of the past three national titles behind top-level quarterbacks DeShaun Watson and, most recently, Trevor Lawrence. With Uiagalelei’s 6-foot-4, 240-pound frame, strong arm and mobility, he’s got all the potential to keep the Tigers right where they are at the head of the table.
Certainly he is talented enough to land the starting gig the minute Lawrence walks out the door…
He went 22-6 as Clemson’s starter before being benched in the ACC Championship game for Cade Klubnik, another 5-star recruit. There were times when he looked every bit the part of his former No. 1-recruit status — like September’s 371 yards and 5 touchdowns in a win over No. 21 Wake Forest. And there were others when he really struggled — he had more interceptions than touchdowns in 2021, and his final two starts with the Tigers in 2022 accounted for 199 yards on 10 of 34 completions.
He entered the portal two days after the conference title game, looking for a team needing a quarterback with a high-ceiling and a lot of room to improve.
We said it all season and we’re not going to back down now: If Oregon State even got average play from a quarterback in 2022, the Beavers might’ve been in the playoff.
Let’s look at Oregon State’s three losses in 2022: