In Barry Sanders’ incredible 1988 season, when he rushed for 2,850 yards and 42 touchdowns on the season (including Oklahoma State’s appearance in the Holiday Bowl), the eventual Heisman Trophy winner rushed for 1,154 yards and scored 19 touchdowns through the Cowboys’ first six games.
Sanders’ junior season is widely regarded as one of the greatest individual seasons in college football history, if not the best ever.
Guess what? Current Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard’s production at the midpoint of the regular season isn’t too far behind that of Sanders in ’88.
Hubbard has 1,094 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on 6.75 yards per carry, giving him a 268-yard advantage over the nation’s second-leading rusher, Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins.
For perspective, Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor, who’s in the Heisman conversation, is one yard behind Dobbins. Bovada lists Taylor and Dobbins among the players with the nine best odds to win the award, while there’s no mention of Hubbard.
While Oklahoma State is 4-2 and tied for sixth place in the Big 12 entering Week 8, there’s no reason that Hubbard shouldn’t get the same attention as Taylor and Dobbins, even though the latter two play for undefeated, top-10 teams.
Even Wayne Gretzky is giving praise to the running back from Edmonton, Canada.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) October 16, 2019
Here’s a statistical breakdown of Hubbard’s production by down.
|Down||Att.||Yards||YPC||First Down + TD||First Down + TD %|
Hubbard has rushed for 728 yards on first down this season at nearly eight yards per carry and his first down plus touchdown percentage increases with each successive down. Almost two-thirds of his 23 carries on third down have resulted in a first down or touchdown. So have three of his four fourth down attempts.
For every run in which the Oklahoma State sophomore is stopped for no gain or a loss of yards, he has a carry of at least 10 yards. Hubbard has been tackled for a loss just 13 times this season (eight percent of his carries), and he’s been stopped at the line of scrimmage 12 times — totaling 25 carries of zero or negative yards.
But he had 26 runs of at least 10 yards, including 12 of 20-plus yards.
So for every time he’s tackled for a loss, the percentages say he’ll also rip off a run of at least 20 yards.
Hubbard is first nationally (or tied for first) in runs of at least 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50 yards.
He’s arguably most dangerous between the 30s, where 58 of his 162 attempts have come from and resulted in 7.86 yards per carry, 26 first downs (44.8% of those 58 carries have resulted in a first down) and three touchdowns.
When Hubbard has received a handoff between Oklahoma State’s 30-yard line and the opponent’s 30-yard line, he picks up a first down or scores a touchdown half of the time.
He’s also lethal when the Cowboys are backed up inside their own 30-yard line and when they’re in the red zone. He’s averaging 8.33 yards per carry on attempts inside Oklahoma State’s own 30, which is an incredible stimulus for the team’s offense after kickoffs or when the Pokes are pinned deep in their own territory after a punt.
While Hubbard’s yards per carry average predictably declines inside the red zone (3.18 ypc), he has turned 34 red zone carries into eight touchdowns (23.5% of his red zone carries), plus three first downs, meaning roughly a third of his red zone carries have resulted in a first down or touchdown.
|Part of Field||Att.||Yards||YPC||First Downs||TDs||First Down + TD %|
|Inside Own 30||54||450||8.33||12||2||25.9%|
|Between the 30s||58||456||7.86||26||3||50.0%|
It’s hard to make an apples-to-apples comparison between Hubbard and past running backs who were top finishers in the Heisman voting (based on things like team strength, the value of playing for a brand-name school and the strength of the overall Heisman field in a given year), but here’s a look at how Hubbard’s stats through six games compare to running backs who have finished in the top two in Heisman Trophy voting since 2000.
|Player||School||Year||Att.||Yards||YPC||Total TDs||Heisman Finish|
|Chuba Hubbard||Oklahoma State||2019||162||1,094||6.75||13||TBD|
Hubbard’s workload has been considerably higher than any of those other running backs listed above (his 162 carries through six games are 45 percent more than Mark Ingram during his Heisman campaign), but he has also been more productive on a per-carry basis than all but Bryce Love, Melvin Gordon and
Only Gordon had more touchdowns than Hubbard through the midpoint of the regular season.
While Oklahoma State has embarked on a Heisman push for Hubbard with hashtags like #HubbardForHeisman and #CanadasCowboy, his Heisman campaign will be hindered by two things: Oklahoma State’s status as a borderline top-25 team (unranked in the AP Top 25, No. 26 in SP+) and the prevalence of big-name, highly productive quarterbacks this season.
It’s no secret that the Heisman Trophy favors quarterbacks in the modern era of college football and with the quarterbacks of four of the top five teams in the latest AP Top 25 poll marking their territory as the top tier of Heisman contenders, Hubbard is left on the outside of the conversation, despite his remarkable production.
It seems likely that Hubbard will finish in the top 10 of Heisman Trophy voting, maybe somewhere between fourth and seventh, but if he can repeat his first-half performance over the next six games — safely clearing the 2,000-yard mark and scoring 20-plus touchdowns — as part of a nine- or 10-win season then maybe, just maybe, he can earn an invite to New York as a Heisman finalist.
The Cowboys host No. 18 Baylor in Week 8, then host No. 5 Oklahoma in their regular season finale.
A sweep of those two schools, along with another 200-yard performance in both games (Hubbard already has three this season), could give Oklahoma State’s running back the late-season platform he needs to force the Heisman-voting populace to seriously consider him among the top contenders.
But regardless of what Heisman voters, who often display a regional bias on their ballots, think of Hubbard’s 2019, we see what #CanadasCowboy is doing in Stillwater, and it’s worth commending.