Weber betting on himself to run it up for Ohio State

Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire

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Ohio State sophomore Mike Weber believes he will be the best running back in college football this fall.

In fact, he’s betting on it.

Literally.

OK, no need to alert the NCAA police. Weber’s wager was a friendly boast on Twitter, where he playfully challenged Penn State’s Saquon Barkley and LSU’s Derrius Guice.

“Whoever rush(es) for less yards this year buys the other two dinner? Ya’ll down?’’ Weber tweeted.

The responses?

“Sounds like a free meal to me,’’ Barkley tweeted.

“Free meal for me too,’’ Guice tweeted.

So I guess it’s officially on.

Weber, who missed the 2015 season with a torn meniscus but answered with formidable rushing credentials last season as a freshman (1,096 yards), seemingly has proven himself worthy of entering college football’s inner circle or running backs.

Ohio State fans would probably pose two questions:

  1. Are we looking at another sophomore jinx?
  2. What the heck happened to Weber at the end of last season?

First, the so-called sophomore jinx.

Last season, Weber became only the third running back in Ohio State history to rush for 1,000 yards as a freshman, joining Robert Smith (1,126 yards and 18 touchdowns in 1990) and Maurice Clarett (1,237 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2002)

It’s fairly mind-blowing to think that Archie Griffin, Eddie George and Ezekiel Elliott — Buckeyes royalty — didn’t achieve 1,000-yard rushing seasons as freshmen.

Now Weber can become the first Ohio State runner to rush for 1,000 yards as a freshman and sophomore.

What happened in the follow-up seasons for Smith and Clarett? After opening with 1,000-yard performances, neither player was even on the team during the following season.

After an argument with an assistant coach, Smith quit the team and ran track in 1991. However, Buckeyes coach John Cooper allowed Smith to return in 1992 (when he rushed for 819 yards).

Meanwhile, Clarett was the driving force behind Ohio State’s 14–0 national championship team. But after a series of legal problems, Clarett was dismissed and never played again for the Buckeyes.

Weber is hopeful that his sophomore season will be clean and productive.

But that leads to the second question: What did happen to Weber at the end of last season?

In the 31–0 loss against Clemson at the Fiesta Bowl’s national semifinals, Weber had just five carries for 24 yards (and two fumbles). In the double-overtime victory against Michigan to close the regular season, he had only 11 carries for 26 yards. And this disappearance was after he averaged 124 yards rushing in the season’s opening month.

Overall, Weber had 182 carries. J.T. Barrett, the quarterback, had 205.

Weber, who didn’t complain and diplomatically pointed out that his carries were a coaching decision, will undoubtedly get more backfield attention after Curtis Samuel, an intriguing H-back hybrid, bolted for the NFL. And the presence of new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, who had a good track record of developing running backs at Indiana, is another positive sign.

In retrospect, Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer had no answers for why Weber was practically ignored down the stretch. He admitted that Ohio State did not follow its game plan during the Fiesta Bowl — or maybe it was forced into a different strategy with Clemson bolting to a lead — so expect Weber to get a respectable amount of work.

Will Weber be the first Ohio State runner ever to open with back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons? Will he be the program’s next great running back?

Weber’s confidence is reflected in his Twitter feed.

You can bet on it.