It’s early, and yes, this may seem reactionary.
But saying — today, at least, given current information — that Oklahoma State will win the Big 12 Conference in 2020 does not seem like a classic “hot sports take.”
The Cowboys received the news today, just after 5 p.m., that they’ll once again have the services of running back Chuba Hubbard in the upcoming season.
Hubbard announced his decision to come back for his junior year in a somewhat understated video on Twitter that simply showed a few highlights over a music bed and concluded with the words, “Returning. In. 2020. #CanadasCowboy”
Hubbard’s return was unexpected. He led the nation in rushing this season with 2,094 yards (161.08 per game) and also scored 21 touchdowns. It was widely anticipated that he would forego the rest of his college eligibility and head to the NFL. Seemed like the smart thing to do. The native of Alberta, Canada, had been projected as a first-round draft pick.
Instead, he returns to Stillwater a unanimous All-American.
Hubbard’s news, along with wide receiver Tylan Wallace’s announcement on New Year’s Day that he also was coming back for his senior season, gives Oklahoma State possibly the most explosive run-pass combo in the country.
Wallace was a Biletnikoff Award finalist in 2018 and seemed headed toward at least a repeat (if not a win) in 2019 when he went down with a torn ACL, which cost him the final six games.
As a sophomore, Wallace led the nation in numerous categories and finished the year with 1,491 receiving yards (114.1 per game) on 86 catches with 12 touchdowns. This season, Wallace caught 53 passes for 903 yards and eight TDs before the injury.
Add to the Cowboys’ dynamic duo a quarterback in Spencer Sanders who got a season under his belt as the starter (he threw for 2,065 yards and 16 TDs and rushed for 628 yards and two scores before missing the final three regular-season games with a thumb injury) and OSU’s skill position talent is the most formidable in the Big 12.
OSU has a new offensive coordinator, but that should be a good thing. Wide receivers coach Kasey Dunn takes over for Sean Gleeson, who never seemed a good fit in Stillwater. Gleeson went back to his home state to call plays for Rutgers, a move that should benefit both parties. Gleeson never appeared to have full control of the play-calling in his one season at OSU, but insiders say Dunn — who’s been on Mike Gundy’s staff since 2011 — has earned a greater degree of trust from his boss and will have full control of all play-calling.
Also, Tim Rattay takes over for Gleeson as the quarterbacks coach, meaning Sanders’ growth from this point will be under the guidance of an experienced mentor who was a record-setting passer at Louisiana Tech and has worked with quarterbacks since 2015 (he coached J’Mar Smith at Louisiana Tech, where he was Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year) and just arrived in Stillwater after a one-year stint with the Washington Redskins.
It’s been a steady run of good news for Gundy and the OSU program — especially the offense.
But the Cowboy defense should be better in 2019, too.
Cornerback Rodarius Williams announced just two days ago that he would return to OSU for his junior season. Safety Kolby Harvell-Peel is back, as are linebackers Amen Ogbongbemiga and Malcolm Rodriguez. That’s a lot of big play ability back for Jim Knowles’ third season in Stillwater.
There will be plenty to replace, such as cornerback A.J. Green and offensive lineman Marcus Keyes. But the entire Big 12 Conference seems in flux next year — starting with five-time champ Oklahoma.
The Sooners got a massive boost to their cause on Saturday when center Creed Humphrey announced his decision to return to school. He anchors a line that brings back all five starters and will be a year more seasoned in 2020.
But the Sooners must replace dynamic skill position thrillers like CeeDee Lamb and Jalen Hurts, likely with players who were true freshmen in 2019. Spencer Rattler has shown plenty of raw ability, but after he officially beats out Tanner Mordecai, he’ll have to learn how to be QB1 at a place like Oklahoma.
While Kennedy Brooks is back at running back, Trey Sermon is coming off an ACL injury, and Rhamondre Stevenson will likely miss five games because of the NCAA suspension for failing a drug test. Suspension also looms for the Sooners’ best pass rusher (Ronnie Perkins), and the Sooners graduated their three best defensive players — one on each level — in noseguard Neville Gallimore (senior), linebacker Kenneth Murray (NFL) and cornerback Parnell Motley (senior).
Runner-up Baylor will have a new coach (Matt Rhule left for the NFL) and could have a new quarterback (Charlie Brewer’s status is uncertain after his third concussion), plus All-American defensive end James Lynch bolted to the NFL, and most of the Bears’ two-deep was senior dominated.
Kansas State had a senior-oriented team in 2019. Texas may or may not be capable of contending for the Big 12 title, but don’t count on it — it would be just the Longhorns’ fourth in 25 seasons. TCU could be a candidate. Iowa State has talent and experience in the right positions, but the Cyclones historically underachieve when there are high expectations on the program.
The Big 12 belongs to Oklahoma until somebody else takes it away. They’ve proven that — and they’ve earned it.
But with Chuba Hubbard’s return on top of Tylan Wallace and the changes Mike Gundy has made to his coaching staff, Oklahoma State appears to be the team that’s most equipped to take it away.
Formerly co-host of “Further Review” and “The Franchise Drive,” columnist John E. Hoover is a college football insider on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Hoover co-hosts The Franchise “Inside OU” Podcast with Brady Trantham and Rufus Alexander, and the Locked oN Sooners podcast on the Locked oN Podcast Network. He also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his YouTube channel at YouTube.com/c/JohnHoover, and his personal page at johnehoover.com.