SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — J.K. Dobbins tilted his head, smiled sheepishly and laughed.
As the questions about his lack of individual awards despite a monster season came his way Tuesday, what else could he do, really?
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Dobbins isn’t a brash guy by nature. And the Ohio State junior has respect for other elite running backs. It’s not like Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor, who won Big Ten running back of the year and the Doak Walker Award given to the country’s top runner, isn’t special, too.
But to come away empty-handed on the awards circuit stung, including falling short of earning an invitation to New York City as a Heisman finalist. He finished sixth.
So when Dobbins was asked about all of that, he just laughed it off. Besides, whatever disappointment he endured will vanish if Ohio State can defeat Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinals Saturday night at the Fiesta Bowl and win the national title in January.
"The trophies would have been cool for like my grandkids and stuff like that, but deep down I know that I had a great season," he said. "So having that validation of the trophies and stuff like that, it would have meant a lot, but I still keep moving on and getting better."
Dobbins entered 2019 determined to rebound from what he described as a failure of a sophomore season. He averaged only 4.6 yards per carry in 2018. With Mike Weber gone, Dobbins knew he’d be the featured back. He worked hard to make his body even more chiseled and his mind right for the load he’d carry.
He has gained 1,829 yards (6.5 per carry) despite sitting out most of the second half in several Ohio State blowouts.
Yet Dobbins remains unsatisfied.
"I always had always envisioned myself having this type of a year, but I felt like I could have had a better year," he said. "A lot of people probably look at me crazy for saying that, but I do. I’m going to try to keep improving and hopefully on Saturday I can have my best game, because I haven't had my best game yet."
With quarterback Justin Fields’ sprained knee still not 100 percent healed, the Buckeyes could lean heavily on Dobbins, as they did late in the year. He carried the ball at least 31 times in Ohio State’s last three games.
"I love doing that," he said of the big workload, "especially because at the beginning of the season, I didn’t play in most second halves."
With 4,285 rushing yards in his three seasons, Dobbins trails only two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin in career yardage at Ohio State. If he stays for his senior season, Dobbins would have a chance to break Griffin’s mark of 5,589.
But it seems highly unlikely that Dobbins will stay. So he wants to make the most of this season. He was a high school senior when Clemson blanked Ohio State 31-0 in the CFP semifinals at the Fiesta Bowl three years ago.
"Clemson had a great game and beat us pretty bad," Dobbins said. "My goal was to come in and hopefully be able to change that."
The Buckeyes came up just short of being selected for the playoff his first two seasons. Dobbins would love to cap his career the way Ezekiel Elliott did for the 2014 CFP championship team when he became a dominant runner during the postseason stretch.
Elliott was often overlooked until then. Dobbins can identify.
"I just feel like guys are doubting me," he said. "So until I feel like I've proven that point wrong, I'm going to keep working super hard. I won’t be satisfied for a while."
Sounds like somebody eager to have the last laugh.