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ACC Returns Quality Tailbacks
by Chris Coleman, TechSideline.com, TSLMail #435 June 4, 2010

Last month we went over the returning quarterbacks in the ACC, noting that there will be a lot of experience returning. Today we'll take a look at the tailbacks, and except for a few schools, the running games did not exactly flourish last season.

Ryan Williams, Montel Harris and C.J. Spiller were the running stars. Spiller is off to the NFL, and it's up to Williams and Harris to keep things going. There are other talented runners in the league, and if offensive line play can improve this year, we should see improved rushing numbers.

Top Returning Running Backs
Player Team Car. Yards YPC TD
Ryan Williams VT 293 1,655 5.6 21
Montel Harris BC 308 1,457 4.7 15
Jermaine Thomas FSU 163 832 5.1 9
Ryan Houston UNC 191 713 3.7 9
Graig Cooper Miami 134 695 5.2 4
Anthony Allen GT 64 618 9.7 6
Josh Adams Wake 113 541 4.8 4
Andre Ellington Clemson 68 491 7.2 4
Da'Rel Scott Maryland 85 425 5 4
Desmond Scott Duke 70 262 3.7 1
Brandon Barnes NC State 25 79 3.2 1
Torrey Mack UVA 23 73 3.2 0

Williams and Harris had huge seasons last year, with Williams rushing for twice as many yards as the #3 returning rusher on the list. The only teams that don't return a back with much experience are NC State and Virginia. Everyone else will have reliable ball carriers on the field this season.

You might not have heard of Jermaine Thomas at Florida State, simply because the Noles are known as a passing team. However, with their recently revamped offensive line, Florida State is now capable of running the football. Thomas should be one of the top backs in the league this year. He's deceptively strong and very fast.

Some teams will have running backs by committee. In Virginia Tech's case, it's a very talented committee. Besides Ryan Williams, the Hokies return Darren Evans, who ran for over 1,200 yards as a r-freshman in 2008. If they don't choose to redshirt David Wilson, they will also have the talented sophomore as an option.

UNC will play Ryan Houston and Shaun Draughn. Houston is a big, physical back, while Draughn is a bit more explosive. Miami returns Graig Cooper, but their best back might be Damien Berry. Wake Forest will use a couple of experienced runners in Josh Adams and Brandon Pendergrass, while Clemson's Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper should form a solid duo. Maryland's backfield is also solid with Da'Rel Scott and David Meggett.

Look for NC State and UVA to form a committee approach as well. With no proven running backs on either team, it's likely that multiple players will get a chance, particularly early in the season.

Here are my preseason All-ACC running back selections.

Preseason All-ACC Tailbacks
Depth Name School
1st Ryan Williams Virginia Tech
1st Montel Harris Boston College
2nd Jermaine Thomas Florida State
2nd Anthony Allen Georgia Tech
3rd Darren Evans Virginia Tech
3rd Damien Berry Miami

Williams and Harris are easy choices. The two talented runners combined to rush for over 3,000 yards last season, and no one else in the league came close to their production. Jermaine Thomas and Anthony Allen have real chances to break 1,000 yards this year, as their carries are expected to go up.

Darren Evans had a great year in 2008, but he's a question mark because it's not certain that he'll get a lot of carries in 2010. He probably won't put up huge numbers, simply because Ryan Williams is on the team. However, he's still one of the most talented running backs in the ACC.

With nine full-time starters returning at quarterback, as well as a number of talented tailbacks throughout the league, the one missing piece is offensive line play. If offensive lines throughout the league improve, then the ACC offenses should have the advantage over ACC defenses this season. That would be the first time in a long time that has happened.



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