ACC Football Standout Senior 2012: Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh RB Ray Graham Returns From Injury This Season, Hoping to Make His Senior Season a Special One

While we won’t be naive (and/or like Rick Reilly/Peter King/insert-your-own-cliched-columnist) and claim there’s some sort of pristine or pure honor in playing out your four years that other players just don’t get to experience, we’d still like to point out the senior players that are likely to stand out in 2012. These players have put in the time during their college careers, and now serve as the cornerstones of their respective teams’ potential success this season.

We’ll be going team-by-team in the ACC to identify the “standout senior” that’s key to his team, and why. Have a different thought on the matter? Feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments.

When healthy, Pittsburgh running back Ray Graham has been a force — arguably one of the best backs in the country last year, and the motor that guides the Panthers offense. But that key word, healthy, has also been a bit of an issue; or at least it was in 2011, which was supposed to be his last season in college before his assumed first-round selection. Now, 2012 is all about redemption for Graham. Both for him, and the team that desperately needs a full 12 games out of him if they hope to contend for a Big East title.

Graham started off 2011 on the sort of roll that Heisman campaigns are made of: 322 yards, nearly seven yards-per-carry and six rushing touchdowns all in the Panthers’ first two games (both victories). But after flying out of the gate, there were questions, and inconsistency and then his eventual knee injury in the season’s eight game. While we can chalk some of that up to the faulty gameplans of former Pitt coach Todd “Fraud” Graham, the up-and-down production also gives us cause to wonder about Ray, and which version of him we’ll see this season. Will we be looking at the workhorse from weeks one and two, and the South Florida game?

We’re unsure, to be honest. But unfortunately for Pitt and Ray Graham, there’s not a whole lot of time to wait and find out. Facing off with Virginia Tech in just the season’s second game, any lag in production by Graham may result in a quick change in the backfield. Incoming freshman Rushell Shell, along with sophomore Isaac Bennett are both capable substitutes, and new head coach Paul Chryst understands the pressure he’s under to produce a winning team at Pitt. For what it’s worth, I hope Graham does get the chance to return and be productive in a starting role. But even if he’s splitting carries, fans should still expect a notable impact both on the field and off.

Previously: Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Miami (FL), NC State, North Carolina

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