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College Football: Top 5 Running Backs in the ACC for 2013

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ACC Football: Top 5 Running Backs for 2013

Robert Mayer-USA Today Sports

While the ACC will feature a number of tremendous playmakers this season, interestingly, there aren’t many dynamic running backs in the conference. In fact, no running back coming back in 2013 had 1,000 yards rushing last season, other than Syracuse running back Jerome Smith, who didn’t do it against ACC competition.

One obvious explanation for this is that offenses in the ACC are throwing the ball now more than ever before. That’s not rare in today’s college game; it’s a trend that’s been increasing over the last decade or so in all conferences. As a result, running backs are not getting consistent carries and sometimes struggle to establish a rhythm in the run game.

Also, teams now often feature at least two running backs that split the carries throughout the game. For example, at Florida State last year, three backs had at least 90 carries, and quarterback E.J. Manuel added another 103 himself.

The days of a back carrying the ball 30-35 times a game are more or less gone. Yes, there are a few teams that still try to do it, but in general, teams try to be much more balanced. Also, with so many teams going uptempo for portions of the game, it would be nearly impossible for the same back to carry the ball that frequently and stay fresh.

That’s not to say there isn’t the potential for a few breakout stars, however. Here’s a list of the Top 5 running backs in the ACC for 2013.

B.L. is a ACC football writer for Rant Sports and can be followed @coachlip.

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5.) Kevin Parks, Virginia

Peter Casey-USA Today Sports

Some people wondered if Parks was too small to contribute as a running back in the ACC, but through two seasons, he’s proven the doubters wrong.

Last season, as a sophomore, Parks ran for a team high 734 yards and five touchdowns for the Cavaliers. In addition, he caught 24 balls out of the backfield for nearly 200 more yards. The rugged 5’8” 200 pounder doesn’t have a flashy running style, but he’s produced.

He’ll need to be a bit more reliable in 2013 if Virginia wants to improve on their 4-8 record. The offensive line wasn’t consistent at all last year, and his numbers slipped against the better competition in the ACC.

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4.) Jerome Smith, Syracuse

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Syracuse is a newcomer to the ACC but will have a veteran back to lean on in 2013. Jerome Smith had an outstanding junior season for the Orangemen, rushing for 1,171 yards. He ended the season in style, tearing through a West Virginia Mountaineer defense for 152 yards in an upset victory in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

Smith had other great moments throughout the season, particularly during a four game stretch in the middle of the season. He rushed for over 100 yards in four consecutive game in Big East play, including 144 in a shocking win over no. 9 ranked Louisville.

The ACC will be a new test for Smith, but he should still rack up yardage. At 215 pounds, he’s a tough guy to tackle, often making most of his yards after contact. He doesn’t have breakaway speed, but he does have a nice first step once he finds a hole. I don’t think he’ll be quite as productive in Syracuse’s first season in the ACC, but he’ll make a name for himself around the conference.

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3.) James Wilder Jr., Florida State

Jeremy Brevard-USA Today Sports

Jimbo Fisher loves powerful running backs that can churn out yards to grind out wins late in games. That’s exactly what sophomore running back James Wilder Jr. gives the Seminoles.

At 6’2” 225 pounds, Wilder Jr. is a physical, downhill runner who finishes off runs as well as anyone in the country, let alone the ACC. He’s also a viable threat in the pass game thanks to his overall athleticism and ability to play in space. In 2012, he grabbed 19 passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns.

The one part of his game that needs to improve if he wants to earn more playing time is his vision. He has quick feet for a bigger back but sometimes struggles to find the right hole. In reality, there isn’t much to separate him from his teammate Devonta Freeman.

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2.) Devonta Freeman, Florida State

Mitch Stringer-USA Today Sports

Freeman will once again be sharing the load with teammate James Wilder Jr., but he’ll get enough carries to warrant attention from the ACC. The rising junior ran for 660 yards and eight scores despite missing time in the middle of the season.

His biggest game of the season came on the road against Maryland when he ran for a season-high 148 yards and two touchdowns. It was one of only two games where the stocky 5’9” 209 pounder went over 100 yards rushing. In order to earn more carries, Freeman will have to display more consistency, especially against good run defenses.

Heading into 2013, head coach Jimbo Fisher will have two great options in the backfield. However, Freeman’s vision and balance will give him a slight advantage over Wilder Jr. and more yards over the course of the season.

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1.) Duke Johnson, Miami

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Johnson very well could end up as a dark horse candidate in the Heisman Trophy race if Miami can contend in the ACC. He’s a threat to take it the distance any time he touches the ball and is looking to build on a record-setting freshman campaign.

Last year, Johnson set a Miami freshman record when he ran for 947 yards and ten touchdowns. He racked up an impressive 2,060 all-purpose yards, thanks in part to his versatility as a pass catcher and talents in the return game. This year he will be operating behind an experienced offensive line and could add to those remarkable numbers.

Additionally, Johnson won’t have to split carries like he did last season with senior Mike James. With an increased workload, improved offensive line and passing attack that defenses have to respect, it’s a real possibility that Johnson emerges as a superstar in the college game.

Is the Heisman a little farfetched? Perhaps, but there is no question that he is the best running back in the ACC for 2013.

Other ACC rankings

Top 5 Wide Receivers

Top 5 Coaches in the ACC

Top 5 Heisman Candidates in 2013