2014 ACC Preview: Running Back Unit Rankings

Posted Aug 13, 2014

Preview 2014 - Atlantic Coast Running Back Unit Rankings

Running Backs


- 2014 ACC Preview
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- CFN All-ACC Team & Top 30 Players
- 2014 ACC Atlantic Team Looks & Predicted Finish   
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Unit Rankings QB | RB | WR | OL
DL | LB | DB | ST | Coaches

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- 2014 NC State Preview   
- 2014 Louisville Preview 
- 2014 Syracuse Preview
- 2014 Wake Forest Preview 
- 2014 Duke Preview  
- 2014 Georgia Tech Preview 
- 2014 Miami Preview
- 2014 North Carolina Preview
- 2014 Pitt Preview
- 2014 Virginia Preview  
- 2014 Virginia Tech Preview  
1. Miami
The Canes may not boast the deepest backfield in the ACC. But it has the best individual runner, Duke Johnson. The junior is healthy again after breaking his ankle last November, and he’s prepared to make a dash for national honors. Johnson is one of the most explosive all-around weapons in the country, requiring just one timely block to bust into through the secondary. Behind the franchise are unknowns. Since Dallas Crawford was moved to safety, Miami expects more from sophomore Gus Edwards. And five-star recruit Joseph Yearby will get every opportunity to earn a spot in the rotation.
Unit Ranking: 9

2. Florida State
Even after losing two quality backs, Devonta Freeman and James Wilder, Jr., to the lure of the NFL, the ‘Noles are confident about their backfield situation. Karlos Williams is set to seize his opportunity for more snaps after exploding on to the scene in his first year on offense. The former safety’s combination of size and speed is as good as any ACC back. It’ll be interesting to see how Williams handles the transition from role player to every-down back. Ryan Green, Mario Ponder and Dalvin Cook are former blue-chippers jockeying for the opportunity to earn carries as Williams’ backup.
Unit Ranking: 8.5

3. Pittsburgh
Two potential feature backs for one starting spot. It’s a luxury that the Panthers will enjoy in 2014. Both Isaac Bennett and James Conner nearly cracked the 800-yard mark on the ground in 2013, solidifying Pitt’s identity as a power running team. Bennett is the steady veteran. Conner is the emerging star, whose monster performance in last year’s Little Caesars Pizza Bowl has quickly escalated expectations this offseason. He’s an old-school battering ram who runs with an attitude. Durability, though, will need to monitored, since injuries kept Bennett and Conner from completing spring drills.
Unit Ranking: 7.5

4. Clemson
Under Dabo Swinney, the Tigers have produced a 1,000-yard rusher in three consecutive seasons, and four of the last five years. For that trend to continue, either senior D.J. Howard or junior Zac Brooks will have to deliver a career year. Entering the summer, Howard tops a depth chart that also includes track star C.J. Davidson and rising Wayne Gallman in the picture for touches. Is there a C.J. Spiller on the roster? No. But Clemson has recruited the position well enough to ensure a diverse mix of options that gives QB Cole Stoudt the balance the program is seeking.
Unit Ranking: 7.5

5. Virginia
For all of the problems facing the Cavaliers’ offense, an every-down back isn’t one of them. Kevin Parks is a returning all-star and 1,000-yard rusher, who will also contribute to the passing game. He’s the one player Virginia can count on all three downs. And he’d be even more effective with some support from the passing game. Joining Parks on the depth chart will be second-leading rusher Khalek Shepherd and Taquan Mizzell. Expectations are particularly high for Mizzell, the 2013 mega-recruit who turned down offers from some of college football’s powerbrokers to play in Charlottesville.
Unit Ranking: 7.5

6. North Carolina
Just because QB Marquise Williams led the Heels in rushing a year ago doesn’t mean that the program won’t have options out of the backfield. Sophomore T.J. Logan led the running backs in rushing last year, and he solidified his starting spot with a terrific spring. Still, more than one player, like Khris Francis or speedy Romar Morris would thrive in an expanded role. And four-star standout Elijah Hood has been on campus since January. Carolina boasts depth and talent at running back, which should cut down on the amount of punishment Williams absorbs in the fall.
Unit Ranking: 7.5

7. Syracuse
The Orange’s penchant for grinding out yards on the ground in recent years doesn’t figure to end in 2014. Except this year, the team should be more explosive on the ground. Prince-Tyson Gulley is back for a fifth year after earning a medical redshirt for a lost season in 2011. He’s more of a homerun hitter than a workhorse, which is just fine, because Syracuse also plans to employ the services of George Morris and Devante McFarlane, who combined for 626 yards on the ground in 2013. Backfield depth won’t be a concern this season.
Unit Ranking: 7.5

8. Louisville
If the Michael Dyer who ripped through the D in the spring game is available this fall, the Cardinals will boast one of the league’s top backfields. He looked like the Auburn Dyer, but this is the same back who’s had a career filled with physical and self-inflicted setbacks. Either way, assertive senior Dominique Brown will likely receive the bulk of the carries after pacing the team in rushing. He and rookie L.J. Scott are pile-drivers who do their best work between the tackles. What Louisville now needs is someone who can bounce outside every now and again.
Unit Ranking: 7

9. Duke
The Devils are coming off an improbably productive season on the ground, averaging 178 yards per game. Maintaining that balance, though, will require the team to replace three of last year’s top five rushers. Jela Duncan was suspended for the year, Juwan Thompson graduated and situational QB Brandon Connette transferred to Fresno State. Tasked with picking up the slack will be Josh Snead and Shaquille Powell, who combined for 995 yards and four scores last year. Snead is looking to become the first Duke back since Chris Douglas in 2003 to rush for 1,000 yards.
Unit Ranking: 7

10. Virginia Tech
For the third year in a row, the Hokies are in the market for a feature back. The school that once perennially spit out 1,000-yard rushers hasn’t produced one since 2011. While the Gobblers have a gaggle of contenders, frontrunner Trey Edmunds is still working his way back from a broken left tibia. Behind Edmunds, J.C. Coleman is a serviceable backup, with the experience to pitch in when needed. It’ll be worth keeping tabs on rookie Marshawn Williams this summer. He’s buried on the depth chart today, but Tech could use his blend of power and burst.
Unit Ranking: 7

11. Georgia Tech
For the Yellow Jackets to succeed on offense, they need quality backs. Lots of quality backs. Unfortunately for Paul Johnson and his staff, last year’s top three rushers are gone. And four-star recruit Travis Custis has been declared ineligible for the 2014 season. B-Back Zach Laskey is a valuable battering ram between the tackles who’ll likely lead the team in carries and yards. But Georgia Tech needs at least one A-back out of Synjyn Days, B.J. Bostic, Charles Perkins and Tony Zenon to provide a big-play spark along with QB Justin Thomas.
Unit Ranking: 6.5

12. Boston College
Myles Willis has one of the tougher jobs in the ACC this season. He’s the guy being counted on to replace 2013 FBS rushing leader Andre Williams. It’s a very tall order, particularly for such a young player. But the Eagles like what they’ve seen from their sophomore, who rushed for 346 yards on 60 carries coming off the bench. Willis is a darting runner, who will also contribute as a safety valve coming out of the backfield. He has 1,000-yard potential in this offense, provided classmate Tyler Rouse doesn’t pilfer too many touches.
Unit Ranking: 6.5

13. NC State
2002. That was the last time the Wolfpack produced a 1,000-yard rusher, T.A. McClendon. Shadrach Thornton is capable of snapping the streak, but only if he resolves legal issues and the O-line blocks much better. Neither stipulation can be counted on with much certainty. Thornton is a talented back, as evidenced by last year’s 173-yard effort versus Florida State. And Matt Dayes flashed potential as a rookie last September. But the Pack will continue to be one of the ACC’s worst rushing teams if a collaborative effort can’t be achieved this fall.
Unit Ranking: 6.5

14. Wake Forest
So dire is the situation in the Demon Deacon backfield that Orville Reynolds is atop the depth chart after playing flanker a season ago. The senior is a nice athlete, who’ll pop off a big play every now and again, but he’s unlikely to incite a struggling ground game that hasn’t produced a 1,000-yard rusher in nine years. Reynolds will be backed up by Dominique Gibson, who was recruited as a linebacker, and converted S James Ward. Incoming freshmen Isaiah Robinson and Tyler Henderson chose the right school to earn immediate playing time.
Unit Ranking: 5