The Atlantic Coast Conference came into the 2012 season like a lamb, but the conference’s teams collectively came out of it like a lion. No college football experts or casual fans of the game had put the ACC’s top teams anywhere near the levels as those within the Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and especially the SEC.
However, when all was said and done, Florida State had earned a BCS bowl win, Clemson had beaten SEC powerhouse LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, and several other schools proved their worth against the biggest and best of the nation.
Miami’s Duke Johnson, in his true freshman year, was unfortunately not able to flex any postseason muscle. However, the Canes face no issues in terms of earning a bowl game invite in 2013. After compiling 947 yards and 10 touchdowns on a massive 6.8 yards per carry average, The Duke is expected to lead the way.
But will he lead the way in the ACC?
Another freshman, NC State’s Shadrach Thornton, also made waves in his first year on campus. Thornton finished sixth in the entire league with 694 yards on the ground — despite sitting out the Wolfpack’s first three games behind other NC State backs. Of course, with new head coach Dave Doeren heading over from Northern Illinois, everyone will be getting a fresh start. However, if Thorton earns the starting nod as expected, it will be game on for the 6-foot-1, 200-pound dynamo.
North Carolina’s Giovanni Bernard is headed to the NFL after leading the conference with 1,228 yards in his redshirt sophomore season. Like The Duke, Bernard and the Tar Heels were unable to play in the postseason in 2012. However, Bernard is replaced by AJ Blue, who is headed into his final season in Chapel Hill. Blue has set a personal goal of 1,000 yards and 15 rushing touchdowns in 2013.
Should he succeed, would he be the conference’s top back?
Virginia’s Kevin Parks may have been one of the most underrated playmakers in the conference in 2012. As a sophomore, the 5-foot-8, 200-pound wrecking ball piled up 734 yards on a mere 160 carries, while also catching 24 passes for another 189 yards.
Georgia Tech boasts one of the most potent, triple-option rushing attacks in the country. In 2012, that wishbone rush was predicated upon the play of three different guys. However, Yellow Jackets lose senior quarterback Tevin Washington and his 20 rushing touchdowns, as well as Orwin Smith’s 682 yards and stupid-good 8.6 yards per carry average.
That leaves the team’s leading rusher in soon-to-be junior Zach Laskey. Should he earn feature-back status, he will certainly improve upon his 697 yards and 5.2-per carry average.
If this were a ‘best names in the ACC’ contest, Duke and Shadrach would have a tough time against Jela Duncan of Duke. Another studly ACC freshman, Jela rushed for 553 yards on a mere 109 carries. He is one of the young stars expected to carry the Blue Devils’ football program into the modern era — you know, where teams are expected to actually win games.
Finally, we come to the two premier programs in the conference: Florida State and Clemson. Both of the team’s leading rushers from a year ago, Chris Thompson of FSU and Andre Ellington for the Tigers, have graduated out and are trying their luck at the professional level.
The Seminoles also gave plenty of carries to sophomore Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr.; the two can both make moves and will both receive playing time in 2013. This especially after coach Jimbo Fisher gave Freeman 111 rushing attempts (for 660 yards) while providing Wilder with 110 (for 635 yards).
Clemson still has superstar dual-threat quarterback Tajh Boyd, so some of the team’s rushing yards will be sucked up by him. However, with all the talent Roderick “Hot Rod” McDowell possesses, the soon-to-be senior should keep the Tigers’ rushing offense humming in his final opportunity to impress coaches, fans, teammates, and NFL scouts.
But, of course, whether or not his talent translates in to massive yardage totals remains to be seen. Will he, the senior, finally enjoy time in the limelight?
Will any number of the ACC’s star young backs carry the ball straight out of the end zone and into the national conversation?
We here at Gamedayr simply do not know the answer.
But you might, so we’re going to leave it up to you, the erstwhile member of Gamedayr Nation.
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