The ACC will have the best crop of quarterbacks the league has seen in a long time. Ten teams return their starters, the most ever.
With such a talented group of passers, the running game is expected to take a back seat in 2012, but don’t expect to see an AFL game break out at ACC stadiums this year. There are plenty of ball carriers who will have an impact on their teams’ seasons.
Here’s a look at the five best ACC running backs for 2012:
- Giovani Bernard, North Carolina: Bernard set a school freshman record for rushing yards (1253) and led ACC RBs with 13 rushing touchdowns. That was before new coach Larry Fedora brought the spread offense to Chapel Hill, however. The high-octane offense puts the ball in the air, which would seem to mean fewer carries for Bernard. He’s not worried. “Gio’s very intelligent,” Fedora said. “He knows that we (Fedora’s 2011 Southern Mississippi team) were one of only two teams to rush for 200 yards a game and throw for 250. Over the past nine or 10 years, we’ve averaged 190 yards rushing. He sees the opportunity to touch the ball often.”
- Andre Ellington, Clemson: The only other returning back who rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season, Ellington ran for 1,178 despite battling injuries in two games. He’s a speedy runner capable of putting up big plays, but he needs to prove he can stay healthy. “A healthy Andre Ellington is something we’ve been waiting to see for a long time,” center Dalton Freeman said.
- Perry Jones, Virginia: He’s half of the Cavaliers’ RB platoon and will split time with Kevin Parks. The duo combined for more than 1,600 rushing yards last season, and Clifton Richardson added another 366. Jones is a dual threat. His 506 receiving yards were the most by an ACC RB last season.
- Orwin Smith, Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets’ A-back averaged more than 10 yards per carry. He also scored a touchdown once every six times he carried the ball. Smith also was a big-play threat catching the ball out of the backfield. He averaged 23.5 yards per catch. He and QB Tevin Washington are seniors this season, and they’ll be expected to pace the Yellow Jackets offense.
- James Washington , NC State : He’s not always mentioned in the top tier of ACC RBs, but Washington had 897 yards last season and will have one of the most experienced lines in the league clearing the way for him.
For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis from ACC bloggers Shawn Krest and Sean Bielawski, follow @CBSSportsACC.