Oregon State football: Nolan, Gebbia lead the Beaver quarterbacks
This story is the second of six in a summer series breaking down Oregon State football by position group leading up to the first official practices before the season.
There's an old adage in football which is generally credited to John Madden, the late coaching legend: "If you have two quarterbacks, you actually have none."
In the case of Oregon State head coach Jonathan Smith — a former college gunslinger himself — one major challenge heading into the season will be deciding on his starting quarterback. There are a few intriguing options on the roster, including two players with starting experience under their belts and two more who could present a challenge.
Chance Nolan is the most likely candidate to win the QB1 job, having already wrestled it away from teammate Sam Noyer last season while staving off another in-state prospect, freshman Sam Vidlak. This time around, with Noyer and Vidlak both gone, the internal competition will come from the likes of Tristan Gebbia — who previously held the starting job — as well as Ben Gulbranson and Jake Blair.
Nolan, a 6-foot-3 redshirt junior hailing from Menifee, California, entered the past two seasons in a backup role for the Beavers. However, circumstances thrust him into the limelight in both years — first, a gruesome injury to Gebbia in November 2020 that kept him out all last season, and then, a lackluster first-half performance from Noyer in the 2021 season opener against Purdue.
In both cases, once Nolan got the starting job, he held onto it for the remainder of the season. The team went 0-3 in his three starts in 2020, but the Beavers turned a corner last year with Nolan under center. Though he couldn't salvage the Purdue game, Nolan led Oregon State to victory in each of the next four games on the way to the team's first bowl game since 2013.
All told, he completed over 64% of his passes for 2,677 yards and 19 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions. Nolan also showed prowess in the ground game, rushing the ball 70 times for 286 yards and three touchdowns.
Now, he will look to be QB1 on opening day for the first time.
KICKING IT WITH THE BEAVS: OSU brings back some record breakers in the kicking game
As for Gebbia, the former Nebraska transfer has not appeared in a game since Nov. 27, 2020, when he suffered a torn hamstring after driving OSU down the field late in the fourth quarter against Oregon. Nolan came in and got the Beavers across the finish line — literally — with his only snap coming on a fourth-and-goal opportunity that resulted in a successful QB sneak for a game-winning touchdown.
Since then, the 6-foot-2 Gebbia has been a positive presence around the locker room; this season, he will try to bring that positivity back to the playing field. During his four-game stretch as Oregon State's starter, Gebbia completed 62 percent of his passes for 824 yards, throwing three touchdowns and three interceptions. Past his individual statistics, Gebbia also led the team to a 2-2 record — including throwing for 263 yards and accounting for two touchdowns in the upset win over the Ducks.
If Gebbia is back to 100-percent health, he and Nolan could have an interesting battle for the top spot on the depth chart. As for who else is in the quarterback room for 2022, redshirt freshmen Ben Gulbranson and Jake Blair are also in the mix.
Gulbranson has appeared in just one game during his time at Oregon State, which began in 2020. He came in against Arizona State in the season finale that year, throwing 6-for-9 for 64 yards and a touchdown. The 6-foot-3 former three-star recruit did not play at all last year. Neither did Blair, who led his high school team in Camas, Washington, to a state title in 2019. With their redshirts removed, both quarterbacks could be dark horses in the race for the starting job.
If Oregon State wants to continue its momentum from last year, starting Nolan in the season opener makes the most sense on paper — however, games aren't played on paper, and neither are practices. Gebbia, Gulbranson and Blair could all conceivably win favor with Jonathan Smith ahead of the 2022 campaign. Ideally, Smith will break camp with a clear favorite for the job, rather than feeling like he has a couple solid options.
After all, if you have two quarterbacks, you may actually have none.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.