There are several what-ifs to Colorado’s current football season.
What if the Buffaloes had been able to finish off then-No. 5 Texas A&M on Sept. 11, instead of suffering a heartbreaking 10-7 defeat? What if quarterback JT Shrout hadn’t injured his knee during August camp? What if the Buffs had elected to make a change of offensive line coaches early in the season, instead of after game No. 7?
Had any of those scenarios played out differently, the Buffs (2-6, 1-4 Pac-12) might not be sitting near the bottom of the conference yet again as resurgent Oregon State (5-3, 3-2) comes to Boulder on Saturday (5:10 p.m., TV: Pac-12 Network).
Another scenario that might have changed the season: What if Sam Noyer was still playing quarterback for the Buffs?
On Saturday, about five months after he chose to leave CU as a transfer, Noyer will return to Folsom Field as a backup for Oregon State.
“I’m stoked,” he told BuffZone.com this week. “I haven’t been back to Boulder since I left in June, so I think just going back to the city of Boulder, the beautiful city of Boulder, and playing in front of Buff Nation and seeing all my buddies and all my former teammates and coaches and even the staff members, I mean, it’ll just be good to see the familiar faces and give them all hugs and catch up a little bit.”
A year ago, he was a fifth-year senior who finally earned the starting job. He ran with the opportunity, leading the Buffs through a COVID-19 pandemic-shortened schedule to go 4-1 in the regular season and earn a trip to the Valero Alamo Bowl. They were routed by Texas, 55-23, but it was just the second bowl appearance for CU in 13 years.
“Absolutely that was one of the craziest seasons, with COVID and everything,” said Noyer, who earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2020. “But the way it turned out and the way it played out, I was very happy with the way that season went – up until the end, obviously.”
Following two consecutive losses to end the campaign, Noyer had shoulder surgery that kept him out of spring practices. That left Shrout, a transfer from Tennessee, and freshman Brendon Lewis competing for the starting job. (Lewis has started every game, but CU’s offense has struggled throughout the campaign.)
Granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA because of the pandemic, Noyer knew that CU’s coaches had an eye on the future, but he also knew he could have stayed and competed for the job.
Ultimately, he wound up close to where he grew up in Beaverton, Ore.
“I felt like I had given CU everything; I had given them all that I’ve got and obviously had some success and struggled at times in my earlier years and moved positions,” he said. “When I opened up my recruitment and Oregon State reached out, it kind of just worked out perfectly with wanting to be closer to home and be on the team with some familiar faces already. But, let me tell you, it was not an easy decision for me to make.
“Ultimately, it was just me kind of wanting a change and wanting to be somewhere where I was needed and wanted. Not that CU wasn’t at all that the way, but I just really felt that the opportunity could arise somewhere else.”
Noyer reunited with Beavers’ offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren, who recruited him to CU in 2016. In fall camp, Noyer won the starting job, but struggled in a season-opening 30-21 loss at Purdue. He completed just 10-of-21 passes for 94 yards and an interception and was benched with the Beavers trailing 16-7 in the third quarter. Chance Nolan took over and Noyer has played in just one game since, on Sept. 18.
“The grass isn’t always greener (elsewhere), but at the same time, I’m happy with where I am now,” Noyer said. “Obviously, I’m not happy that I’m not playing, but at the same time I don’t think I would ever change any of the decisions that I’ve made up to this point. I’m here and I’m happy to be here and I’m happy to be closer to home. … Change is something that happens, especially in this game.”
Noyer has dinner with family every week and isn’t far from his parents in Portland. He’s also got a chance to end his career with two consecutive bowl appearances if the Beavers can win one more game.
It has, however, been tough returning to a backup role after playing nearly every snap of the 2020 season.
“Mentally, there’s been some things that I’ve been trying to get over, but at the same time I’ve adapted and I’ve taken on this role, and I’m just going to continue to be the best support I can to my teammates, and Chance especially,” he said.
Returning to Boulder this week is a nice reminder to Noyer that he did at least get the 2020 season to shine.
“Just getting that opportunity, I’m very thankful for (head coach Karl Dorrell) and that whole entire staff, coach (Darrin) Chiaverini and Danny Langsdorf,” he said. “Those are people that I’ll have relationships with for the rest of my life. I’ll be friends with everybody out there until the end. That was a fun opportunity and it was a special season up until those last couple of games.”
Dorrell said Noyer’s role in 2020 will be remembered and he’s eager to see him Saturday.
“There’s no question that I feel a great deal of gratitude for what he’s done and his sacrifice for us, so yeah, I’m looking forward to seeing Sam, just get a chance to shake his hand, give him a hug and see how he’s doing,” Dorrell said. “I think a lot of our players would probably have the same type of feeling and reaction when they see him.”
Tight end Brady Russell knows it will be weird seeing Noyer in orange and black, but said, “I’ll definitely go talk to Sam and see him after the game. There’s not many of us that have been through this whole ride of what CU football has been for the last four or five years. Sam was one of the few, so we definitely have that connection from being together so long.”
Noyer feels that connection not only with his former teammates but with the Boulder community, the fans and Folsom Field. Barring an injury to Nolan or some late-game mop-up duty, Noyer may not play on Saturday, but he would like an opportunity to take snaps in front of CU’s fans – something he didn’t get to do in 2020 as the Buffs played in empty stadiums.
“That’s why I wish I was playing, to hear, OK, am I gonna get some boos, am I gonna get some cheers? I’m excited,” he said.
He’s also excited to see Ralphie VI for the first time but knows his sideline view will be new.
“I think the weird thing is gonna be walking out into that stadium on the opposing sideline,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t know if I’ve ever even stepped foot on that sideline. That’s probably going to be, I’d say, the weirdest part.
“But it’s always fun to go down memory lane and look back at the success that we had last year and realize that it was a team effort and that I was a part of that and it was a great ride.”