Uiagalelei, a former ESPN top-50 recruit who went 22-6 as a starter at Clemson, is one of the most talented players in the NCAA transfer portal.
Uiagalelei hails from Southern California, and his decision to head back West will connect him with one of West Coast’s ascending programs. Oregon State is coming off a 10-3 season, which included a 30-3 blowout of Florida in the Las Vegas Bowl.
At 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, Uiagalelei has elite arm talent, but he completed less than 60% of his passes in his Clemson career, throwing 36 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.
Oregon State returns all five starters on the offensive line and has one of the top young tailbacks in the country in Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year Damien Martinez, who ran for 982 yards.
Uiagalelei will have to beat out incumbent starter Ben Gulbranson, who went 7-1 as a starter for the Beavers this season. Chance Nolan, who began the season as Oregon State’s starter, is in the transfer portal.
Uiagalelei entered Clemson as one of the country’s top quarterback recruits in 2020. He teased stardom in his freshman year, throwing for 439 yards in a double-overtime loss at Notre Dame. It marked the most yards by an opposing quarterback at Notre Dame Stadium.
But from there, Uiagalelei never quite fulfilled the prodigious expectations. He played solidly for extended stretches, but Clemson missed the College Football Playoff in both of his seasons as the school’s primary starter, 2021 and 2022. That two-year stretch came on the heels of Clemson reaching the CFP six straight times.
Uiagalelei got pulled from the starting job in the first quarter of the ACC title game, leading to what appeared to be a changing of the guard with talented freshman Cade Klubnik. Uiagalelei entered the portal a few days later.
Uiagalelei has two years of eligibility remaining. And while he has veered from the three-and-done path that has become an expectation for most top prospects, he has found a program that has a strong track record of developing quarterbacks.
Oregon State head coach Jonathan Smith and offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren will attempt to unlock the arm talent of Uiagalelei, who showed distinct improvement this year after he lost weight and ran more designed quarterback run plays. He set career highs in passing yards (2,521) and passing touchdowns (22) as well as in rushing yards (545) and rushing touchdowns (7).
Smith is a former college star at Oregon State, and Lindgren has coached quarterbacks in college since 2008. The Beavers’ strong offensive line and run game will take some pressure off Uiagalelei if he wins the job.
Uiagalelei will be one of the highest-regarded recruits to play at Oregon State in recent years. He was the No. 43 overall recruit in the Class of 2020. Oregon State has signed just three ESPN 300 players since 2006, with guard Isaac Seumalo, ranked No. 19 in 2012, being the highest.
The presence of Uiagalelei in Corvallis will spice up the rivalry with Oregon that’s known as “The Civil War.” His younger brother Matayo, an ESPN 300 defensive end prospect, committed to Oregon this week. That means the brothers could be lining up across from each other next season in one of the Pac-12’s biggest rivalries.