Joe Hubener has been through so much as Kansas State’s quarterback this season that it’s easy to forget he was supposed to be the backup.
The junior from Cheney, Kan., has seen it all during this crazy year. He went from reserve to starter when Jesse Ertz suffered a season-ending knee injury on his first play of the season. Then he became Bill Snyder’s only true quarterback option when Alex Delton and Jonathan Banks were also deemed unfit to play.
There have been good times, such as Hubener winning his first three games and leading the Wildcats to a pair of thrilling, last-second victories. But he also lost six in a row, posting the worst completion percentage in the Big 12 along the way. Now he is trying to guide the Wildcats to a 6-6 finish and a traditional bowl berth in the final game of the regular season against West Virginia.
“It’s been rough waters to navigate,” Snyder said. “But I am very proud of Joe.”
Hubener has some stories to tell. In a loss at Texas Tech, he attempted 40 passes. In a loss to Baylor, he ran 29 times. He has played in a rainstorm and under clear skies. He has thrown in the heat and run in the cold. Hubener has seen seemingly everything a quarterback can in a single season.
“Overall, it is an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything,” Hubener said.
Indeed, Hubener has tried to appreciate every moment.
Why? There is no guarantee he will get the same opportunity next year.
A victory over West Virginia would validate K-State as a resilient team and serve as proof that Hubener can lead an offense through difficult times. Believe it or not, a bowl win and a 7-6 record would meet preseason expectations. Still, unless he channels Michael Bishop the rest of the way, he will be right back in a position battle this spring.
When Banks, Delton and Ertz are healthy and four-star recruit Skylar Thompson arrives, Hubener will have to prove himself all over again.
“Certainly my experience will be beneficial, but they are going to come back and they are going to fight for the spot just like they did last year,” Hubener said. “I have just got to use the experience I have gained and learn from it.”
Does he think what he has done this season might give him an early lead over the competition?
“We’ll see,” he said. “I don’t know that I know the answer to that. Obviously, experience is going to help. There have certainly been positives, but there have been a lot of negatives, too.”
Hubener has completed 125 of 255 passes for 1,752 yards and nine touchdowns, while losing seven interceptions, this season. He has also rushed for 598 yards and 13 touchdowns on 168 carries.
He was at his best late against Louisiana Tech, guiding K-State to a come-from-behind victory that lasted three overtimes. A 31-yard touchdown pass to Kody Cook served as the winning score. Hubener says that game is his fondest memory as a starter, but he also put up good numbers in losses to Baylor, TCU and Texas Tech.
His ugliest moments came against Oklahoma — K-State’s first shutout loss since 1996 — and Texas in the middle of the season. Bouncing back from those efforts wasn’t easy.
“He goes through a pretty heavy critique on a very regular basis,” Snyder said. “He has been able to manage that well, and I appreciate him for that. He also works diligently to try to overcome whatever problems he has had, in regards to execution or any other aspect of the game. I have said so many times, Joe is a bright young guy who works very hard and is a good decisionmaker.”
There’s no telling what next year brings.
For now, teammates say he might be one of the most improved players on the roster.
“He has grown so much from the first game,” linebacker Will Davis said. “Having to go in there when Jesse went down to now, you see so much more maturity. I think everyone else has seen it, too.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett