The ACC’s top two rushers from a year ago -- UNC’s Giovani Bernard and Clemson’s Andre Ellington, were the only players in the conference to reach the 1,000-yard mark in 2012, and both of them have to be replaced this season.
The ACC does, however, welcome a 1,000-yard rusher to the league. Meet Jerome Smith from Syracuse, who ran for 1,171 yards and technically is the ACC’s leading returning rusher. Will he be the ACC’s top running back in 2013?
Check out the league’s top candidates to reach the 1,000-yard mark this fall and cast your votes for which one will be the best. Florida State is deep at running back with James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman, and Georgia Tech also has plenty of options, but with a by-committee approach, it’s difficult to produce a 1,000-yard rusher.
Cast your votes for who you think will be the best this year:
1. Jerome Smith, Syracuse: He averaged 90.08 yards per game, 5.16 yards a carry and topped the 100-yard mark five times last fall, including four straight games against Connecticut, South Florida, Cincinnati and Louisville. Smith leads a deep, talented group of running backs that also includes Prince-Tyson Gulley, who started three games last year and was named the MVP of the Pinstripe Bowl after he racked up a career-high 213 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries against West Virginia.
Spring quote: “We have a lot of playmakers at every position on the offense,” Smith said. “As you saw last year, we’re a fast team. We like to get on the ball and go fast. As Coach [Scott] Shafer said, you go to the bathroom, you might miss something big from our offense this year.”
2. Duke Johnson, Miami: The ACC’s Rookie of the Year had 947 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns, and a 6.81 per-play average as a true freshman. His entire offensive line returns. Johnson also set a school single-season record with 892 kick return yards and two touchdowns. He finished with 2,060 all-purpose yards, the second most in program history.
Spring quote: “As a kid, I always wanted to come here and do great things and be a Miami Hurricane,” Johnson said. “Now that I’m doing it, and doing it to the best of my ability, it makes it even more special.”
3. Shadrach Thornton, NC State: He was a pleasant surprise for the Pack, as Thornton led the Wolfpack with 694 yards and three touchdowns as a true freshman -- and he only started four games and missed the first three of the year. He rushed for over 100 yards in four games -- something no Pack back had done since T.A. McClendon in 2002.
Spring quote: “Yeah, he had a very good freshman year,” NC State offensive coordinator Matt Canada said. “And Tony Creecy is a great kid, a very durable, solid guy who had a very, very good spring. Those two guys certainly carried most of the load this spring.”
4. Andre Williams, Boston College: He had 584 yards last year, but there are high expectations for him to carry the running game this fall under first-year coach Steve Addazio. BC is thin at the position, so his health and durability will be critical.
Spring quote: “I thought Andre had one of the best springs of anybody,” Addazio said. “The kid is a wonderful guy. I mean, he's bright and he's a terrific person. But I tell you what, he's powerful, he's fast, he's a physical back, and I think the complement of that style of back with the development of our offensive line and the ability to throw the ball with Chase Rettig is a nice little combination."
5. A.J. Blue, North Carolina: He is the heir apparent to Bernard, who left early for the NFL draft. The senior had 433 yards last year, but could share time with Romar Morris and true freshman Khris Francis, who had a great spring game.
Spring quote: “A.J. Blue has emerged as a team leader, not just on the offensive side of the ball, but the entire team,” coach Larry Fedora said. “A.J. is about 215, 220 pounds, a guy that is going to finish off all his runs. He's going to be the bruiser type of runner, do a nice job of being physical, does a great job in pass protection and can catch the ball well. A.J. is a guy that's really come on for us.”