As Dave Doeren takes over as head coach of the NC State Wolfpack in 2013, he has plenty of questions to answer this offseason before he can turn the Wolfpack into an ACC contender. He has a void at quarterback that he is trying to fill and questions in the receiving corps and across the defense. One spot he should feel very secure in, however, is the running game where Shadrach Thornton is poised to stake his claim for the best running back in the ACC.
As a freshman in 2012, Thornton put his talents on display and gave Pack fans plenty to look forward to in the running game. He led the team with 694 yards and three touchdowns in his first year out of high school and wasn’t even the main back for most of the year. He only started four games and missed the first three contests of the season. He rushed for over 100 yards four times in 2012, the first NC State back to do that in a season since T.A. McClendon in 2002.
With a full offseason of training under his belt, Thornton should step right into the No. 1 job this fall and benefit from his new coach’s run-heavy philosophy. Last season, when Doeren was still head coach of the Northern Illinois Huskies, NIU scored 38.6 points per game while averaging 238.2 yards on the ground per game (good for the No. 12 rushing attack in college football). NC State is going to run the ball in 2013 under Doeren and Thornton will be the man getting the bulk of the touches.
What he does with those touches remains to be seen, but he will have to be pretty special to be counted as the best back in the ACC. 2013 should provide a number of star backs in the conference that will all have legitimate claims to the conference rushing title. Duke Johnson of the Miami Hurricanes returns after winning the ACC’s Rookie of the Year in 2012 when he rushed for 947 yards and 10 touchdowns as a true freshman. He’ll be getting his entire offensive line back this season as well, making him an early favorite for top running back in the ACC.
But he won’t be the only one with a shot to become the king of this running back class. Jerome Smith should lead a rushing attack for the Syracuse Orange that could be one of the best in the conference. A.J. Blue appears ready to step into the shoes of Giovani Bernard for the North Carolina Tar Heels. Or one of the members of the Florida State Seminoles’ running back duo of James Wilder Jr. or Davonte Freeman could break out and run away with the title of top running back.
Thornton undoubtedly has his work cut out for him if he wants to rank as the best running back in the ACC in 2013 but he has the talent and the opportunity to get it done next season. Will he finish the year as the best back in the conference?