Column: Pep rally takes Cowboy football in new – and fun – direction

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Chuba Hubbard answers questions from the media during the Oklahoma State football pep rally on January 21, 2020 at the Student Union in Stillwater.

The lunchtime crowd at the Student Union was larger and more lively than it is on a typical weekday.

People gathered on all levels of the atrium and clapped along to “Ride ‘Em Cowboys,” welcoming the guests of honor. Public address announcer Larry Reece’s voice boomed into the microphone as he interviewed Chuba Hubbard, Tylan Wallace and Amen Ogbongbemiga. From the third-floor balcony, coach Mike Gundy watched the scene unfold, standing above players and fans who were cheering and showing their enthusiasm about Cowboy football.

The pep rally on Tuesday was something unusual for Gundy’s program. It was fresh and different from the norm; it was a smart public relations step for a team that had already been receiving a notable amount of positive attention.

Typically, during the offseason, OSU football isn’t thrown in the spotlight. Reporters and fans chatter about the next season or discuss players going to the NFL, but the Cowboys generally don’t, in the middle of winter, place themselves at the center of public events that are intended for building excitement about the future.

But this isn’t a normal time for the Cowboys.

Since wide receiver Tylan Wallace and running back Chuba Hubbard have announced that they are returning to OSU for the 2020 season, the hype surrounding the program has increased to a level possibly greater than it was when Brandon Weeden was tossing touchdown passes to Justin Blackmon. The Cowboys have entered conversations about the Big 12 championship next season, and Hubbard, usually soft-spoken, took the big dreams a step further, declaring that OSU is “bringing the national championship to Stillwater.”

It’s a bold statement, but the Cowboys might as well have this level of confidence during a year in which they have the personnel who could help them achieve lofty goals. Although Hubbard and Wallace are the All-Americans whose return has fueled this excitement, they aren’t the only stars. The defense brings back every starter except cornerback A.J. Green. Quarterback Spencer Sanders is eager to keep learning and growing. The Cowboys have talented receivers to back up Wallace, and former receivers coach Kasey Dunn brings coaching experience and skill to the offensive coordinator position.

“They’re special, and I believe they can win a national championship with or without me,” Hubbard said. “I’m just coming back to help them put all the puzzle pieces together.”

The hype brings plenty of pressure, and it’s tough to predict how a season will go, but there is no doubt people are talking about the Cowboys. People are celebrating the return of two nationally recognized offensive leaders. And, yes, some are even using the word “championship” in sentences about them.

The pep rally was a fun way to capitalize on the energy buzzing around OSU, but now that the event is done, so is Hubbard’s national championship talk.

“That’s probably the last time you’re gonna hear that from me,” Hubbard said. “I don’t like talking about that stuff. I like acting on it.”

sports.ed@ocolly.com