MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Mike Gundy’s taste in hairstyle may be questionable, but his first-hand knowledge of great running backs is unparalleled.
As Oklahoma State’s quarterback in the 1980s, Gundy was paired with perhaps the most talented backfield tandem in college football history — Thurman Thomas and Barry Sanders, both of whom are Pro Football Hall of Famers.
So when Gundy talks up Cowboys sophomore running back Chuba Hubbard, it would be foolish not to take him at his word.
“I don’t think there’s any question he’ll go down as one of the best ever,” Gundy said. “And he’s just in his first full season.”
Gundy didn’t specify whether that means Hubbard will go down as one of the best ever at Oklahoma State or everywhere, though he didn’t really have to. Given the Cowboys’ lineage at the position, that distinction is one and the same.
Hubbard comes to Milan Puskar Stadium on Saturday with a chance to seal up this year’s national rushing crown. Averaging 172.6 yards per game, he’s well ahead of Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor for the lead. Taylor is averaging 146.3 yards per game.
Oklahoma State’s reliance on Hubbard figures to be heavier than ever against the Mountaineers.
Cowboys starting quarterback Spencer Sanders is confirmed to be done for the regular season after undergoing hand surgery. Combined with a recent season-ending injury to star wide receiver Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State’s usually dynamic offense is looking surprisingly one-dimensional.
Fortunately for the Cowboys, Hubbard is a pretty good dimension to be relying on. Though the growing consensus is that LSU quarterback Joe Burrow will run away with the Heisman Trophy, at least a couple other players will be joining him in New York City. And with 20 touchdowns to go along with his 1,726 yards, Hubbard is firmly in consideration to be on that stage.
“I see no reason why not,” said West Virginia coach Neal Brown. “He’s definitely deserving of going to New York. I wish him luck. Just not on Saturday. And I hope he goes straight to the NFL.”
Brown was laughing when he said the second part of that statement, though he may not have been joking.
One of Hubbard’s first breakthrough performances came at West Virginia’s expense a year ago when he gained 134 yards on 26 carries in Oklahoma State’s come-from-behind 45-41 win that ultimately cost the Mountaineers a place in the Big 12 title game.
As a redshirt sophomore, Hubbard would be able to enter the draft after this season. He’d even have his choice of leagues.
The reason Hubbard redshirted his freshman season was because he had to learn how to play American football. Hubbard grew up in Alberta, Canada, where he played with 12 players on 110-yard fields and three downs. Therefore it’s likely he hasn’t even come close to peaking.
Vic Koenning ran through of laundry list of what makes Hubbard so great.
“Strength, speed, balance, a really good burst. And he’s got really good vision,” Koenning said. “A lot of times they have seven or eight gaps and it seems like he finds them. When he goes, if the phone booth opens, he will get through it before you can close it. Once he breaks into secondary, I don’t know that we’ve got anybody who runs faster than him.”
After facing back-to-back Heisman winners the past two years, Mountaineers defensive end Reese Donahue enjoys the prospect of going up against another top talent.
“These are the games that you really, really prepare for,” Donahue said. “When you have the opportunity to play against one of the better offensive lines in college football, one of the better backs in college football, one of the better programs in college football, that’s something to be excited about.”