ACC Football Positional Rankings 2013: Running Backs

Devonta Freeman and Florida State Headline the ACC's Running Backs for the 2013 Season

Devonta Freeman and Florida State Headline the ACC’s Running Backs for the 2013 Season

While we’re still over two months away from the season, it does indeed seem to be that time of year — when college football blogs like this one and so many others start churning out season preview materials. We’ll be holding off till July and August for the team-by-team season previews, but in the meantime, there’s nothing wrong with taking a look at each position on the field and evaluating ACC squads’ respective strengths and weaknesses.

This week, we’re on to the running backs (you can check out last week’s feature on quarterbacks, too). Though there’s not a whole lot of experience at the position — just one returning back (Syracuse’s Jerome Smith) rushed for 1,000 yards last year — this group makes up for a lot of that in potential. Many of the most talented runners this year will be sophomores or juniors, so that aforementioned experience will come with time. As for those who are seniors, many possess a significant leg-up, which you’ll find reflected here as well.

Keep in mind that these are full unit rankings — not just one player — so just because one individual quarterback is better than another, it doesn’t necessarily mean the team’s entire crop of passers is. Still, disagree with any of these picks? Share your own selections below.

ACC Positional Rankings 2013: Running Backs

1. Florida State Seminoles: Injuries ravaged the Florida State backfield in 2012. But because of that, the team’s top two returning rushers, Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr., actually have quite a bit of experience under their respective belts (221 carries between them last year). They’re both vertical runners for the most part, doing most of their work in the middle of the line, but Wilder, in particular, also has some pass-catching ability out of the backfield (19 catches for 136 yards and two scores last year). Expect that role to expand this year, while also incorporating Mario Pender, who’s the quickest back on the roster and anxious to contribute after red-shirting last season.

2. Miami Hurricanes: Miami’s ranking here is purely on the strength of sophomore Duke Johnson, and his success is likely to decide how far the ‘Canes go this season. Despite splitting carries with Mike James last year, Johnson still ran for 947 yards and 10 scores, while tacking on another 1,133 yards from receiving and kick returns. With that on his resume in just one season, he’s now being listed among the most dynamic players in the country and will be the focal point of every gameplan against Miami. He won’t be acting alone in the backfield, but there’s no telling what to expect from backups Dallas Crawford or Eduardo Clements either.

3. Syracuse Orange: SU’s offense was largely seen as a pass-first attack in 2012, but its success in the season’s second half was heavily reliant on the running game. The Orange bring back everybody this year, and arguably have one of the deepest backfields in the country. The group will be guided by Jerome Smith (1,171 yards last year), but this will be a multi-back, run-first system. Expect Prince-Tyson Gulley to approach the 200-carry mark as well, while the team gets additional contributions from short-yardage specialist Adonis Ameen-Moore and jack-of-all-trades Ashton Broyld in hybrid WR/RB slot role.

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ACC Football Standout Senior 2013: Virginia

Morgan Moses Has a Chance to Lead The Hoos' Offense in 2013; Will He Take It?

Morgan Moses Has a Chance to Lead The Hoos’ Offense in 2013; Will He Take It?

Last season’s juniors are now this season’s seniors, and with that comes extra responsibility and expectations. In the ACC, while there were plenty of players selected in the NFL Draft, the conference still returns a strong group of seniors — many of whom are set to make a strong impact in their final seasons of eligibility.

Over these few weeks, we’re going team-by-team in the ACC to identify the “standout senior” that’s key to his respective squad, and why he’s so important. Think we should’ve featured another player, though? Feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments.

Virginia Cavaliers: Morgan Moses, OT

We’ll get this out of the way first: With the news today that Phillip Sims is no longer enrolled at Virginia, Moses’s job does get a bit harder, as there’s no established passer for the UVa offense. But that said, Sims was not the end-all, be-all of the Hoos attack. He simply had the most in-game experience. There will be a learning curve for whichever of David Watford or Greyson Lambert wins the starting job now, but that’s why Moses is so important. As the quarterback situation figures itself out, the Hoos will largely be relying on the running game.

Physically, Moses is just an imposing individual. Standing at 6’6″ and 325 pounds, he’s the type of O-line prospect pro scouts would kill for, and he’s making strides to increase his speed as well. In the meantime though, the weight loss he underwent last year (dropped 20 pounds prior to his junior year) put him at a disadvantage at times, as he’d get manhandled by larger defenders. This was addressed as the 2012 season went on, but without another anchor on the line like Oday Aboushi, the onus will be entirely on Moses for the first time.

And without playing a game this year, he appears off to a strong start. Phil Steele named him first-team All-ACC yesterday, he captained the blue team at the Hoos’ spring game and has impressed coaches with the work he’s willing to put in as a leader on this team. But results-wise, he’ll have his work cut out for him as Virginia tries to resurrect its running game. After finishing 53rd in the nation in 2011 with 162 yards per game, UVa fell to 98th last year, with just under 128 per game. As starting back Kevin Parks looks to take advantage of his new, more-featured role, he’s got to have a competent offensive line in front of him in order to succeed.

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NFL Draft 2013 Preview: Virginia Prospects

Oday Aboushi Took a Step Back Last Season, But Is Still Slated to Be Picked This Weekend

Oday Aboushi Took a Step Back Last Season, But Is Still Slated to Be Picked This Weekend

Leading up to this month’s NFL Draft, we’ll be taking a look at each ACC‘s school’s prospects and where they’re slated to be chosen. While 50 ACC players were invited to the NFL Draft Combine, those not in attendance also have ample opportunity to hear their name called between April 25 through 27.

Virginia‘s program is loaded with young talent, but lucky for them, most of it is still on-campus. For the few departing Hoos, however, there will be plenty of uncertainty at the pro level. Several players could be drafted this weekend, but where they go is mostly a mystery. As Mike London’s image continues to form for the UVa football team, this draft is giving us the final remnants of Al Groh’s talent pool — with some returns greater than others.

Oday Aboushi, OT, Senior (Projected: Fourth Round)

Aboushi’s strength lies primarily in his size (6’6″ and 308 pounds), which he uses to his advantage against smaller defenders. As far as athleticism, however, scouts have knocked him for not being overly fast (5.45 40-yard dash time) or quick with his hands or feet. As SB Nation’s Streaking the Lawn has also noted, he can find himself a bit outmatched with NFL-caliber talent and struggles with secondary moves from relentless defenders. He’s both a competent pass- and run-blocker, but ideally, his driving ability makes him more of a major asset in the running game. Obviously, the rough year for UVa and its running game didn’t help Aboushi’s stock, though he’s still doing well on many boards around the league due to the aforementioned size as well as his aggressive style.

Steve Greer, ILB, Senior (Projected: Undrafted)

Undersized at 6’2″ and 230 pounds, Greer projects as a ‘tweener at the next level — failing to really fit the mold of any one position. He’s not large enough to be a pro linebacker and not fast enough (5.04 40-yard dash) or experienced enough in coverage to transition to the secondary. But that said, he’s still a tenacious defender who’s garnered a reputation as an effective run-stopper with a knack for making solid first contact. Starting out as a special-teamer in camp this summer, he’ll have ample opportunities to make a roster, and eventually work himself into special packages on defense, too.

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ACC 2013 Spring Football Preview: Virginia Cavaliers

Virginia QB Phillip Simms Won't Be Handed the Starting Job This Spring, Making for an Interesting Early Position Battle

Virginia QB Phillip Sims Won’t Be Handed the Starting Job This Spring, Making for an Interesting Early Position Battle

As the ACC‘s spring practices get under way, we’ll be previewing the big storylines for each of the league’s 14 (15, in this case) teams. Check back on weekdays for what to look out for during your school’s spring practices and spring game.

Team: Virginia Cavaliers

Spring Practice Start Date: March 18

Spring Game Date: April 6

Head coach Mike London felt some heat after a disappointing third season, replacing both his offensive and defensive coordinators in the hopes of sparking a new fire with his players. Now, he’ll need to hope that does the trick for a group returning 14 starters from last season; a decent amount of leadership coming back that should at least give the team a leg up compared to last year’s project (especially on defense). Virginia has also elected to schedule pretty aggressively this year (and for the foreseeable future), meaning progress may end up being tougher to spot in clear sight.

With a strong group of receivers returning, along with leading rusher Kevin Parks and most of the offensive line (four of five), you’d think the Hoos’ offense would be largely settled. Unfortunately, though, that’s not the case. Last year’s quarterback platoon of incumbent starter Michael Rocco and Alabama transfer Phillip Sims led to Rocco leaving the program, yet that doesn’t mean Simms automatically has the job. Junior David Watford‘s been around the program longer, though that may not matter in new O-coordinator Steve Fairchild’s system. As a former quarterback himself, Fairchild’s likely to favor the best arm, meaning Simms’s dual-threat capabilities may not be as important. It’s likely the offense sees some additional pro-style influence from former NC State head coach Tom O’Brien, now an offensive assistant with UVa. This spring will be a telling sign toward the direction the squad takes this fall, but at this point, expect anything — Watford or Simms as the starter, or maybe even both. While there are certainly critics of how London ran a two-passer system last year, I’m unsure whether that’ll deter him from doing so again if the two players are in a close competition.

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2012 ACC Football Season Recap: Virginia Cavaliers

Virginia's 2012 Season Was About as Tumultuous as They Come; But Is There Hope on the Horizon?

Virginia’s 2012 Season Was About as Tumultuous as They Come; But Is There Hope on the Horizon?

Team: Virginia Cavaliers

W-L: 4-8 (2-6)

Postseason: None

Top Offensive Performer: Oday Aboushi, OT

Top Defensive Performer: Steve Greer, LB

Coming off a breakout 2011 season, and another big recruiting class, Mike London’s Virginia team was poised to take the leap in 2012; or so many thought. Rather than progression, what the Hoos saw this past fall was a severe regression. Not only was the team’s win total cut in half when compared to the year before, but a squad that appeared built on continuity was suddenly in a tumultuous state. The Cavaliers’ secondary — as young as expected, took nearly two months to truly get their acts together. The running game, a formidable two-back system, was suddenly as unproductive as they come. And most glaring was the quarterback issue which would shape every narrative for Virginia, from August, all the way through the final, excruciating loss.

One would assume the thought process when bringing in Alabama QB transfer Phillip Sims was that he’d sit this season before taking the reigns in 2013. With returning starter Michael Rocco at the helm, that route seemed to make the most sense — until Sims was granted a waiver allowing him to suit up this season. With a quarterback controversy brewing, Rocco held onto the job, but never quite stopped looking over his shoulder, and the results were mostly hazardous. Thought the UVA passing game would finish a very respectable 37th in the FBS (in terms of yardage), it sorely lacked for efficiency or success. Rocco and Sims combined for 15 interceptions on the season (93rd in the country) and both passers’ accuracy turned out a staggered curve of inconsistency. For each game Rocco would have like the 41-40 upset of Miami (in which he threw for four scores), he’d have another like the 27-7 loss to TCU (126 passing yards, 2 INTs). And with so much riding on quarterback play, the ground game suffered as well. Regularly faced with dire straits, or simply two quarterbacks splitting snaps for the same job, their strong run game was suddenly pass-first. UVA was 98th in the country in both overall carries (417) and yards per game (128.5), and this with two highly skilled backs in Kevin Parks and Perry Jones. While no one would call them a high-flying group in 2011 (23.8 points per game), 2012 was absolutely dreadful from a scoring standpoint (22.8 points per game) — especially without a strong defense to bail them out.

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Way-Too-Early 2013 ACC Football Power Rankings

An Early Look at 2013 Shows Clemson to Be at the Head of the Class in the ACC

An Early Look at 2013 Shows Clemson to Be at the Head of the Class in the ACC

When we last left our teams, there appeared to be hope on the horizon. Though the 2012 season was a difficult one, the bowls showed some real glimmers of great things to come, as the ACC racked up its first winning postseason record in seven years. Beyond some long-awaited hope for greater success, 2013 also brings some change to these rankings. Syracuse and Pittsburgh will now actually be participating in the conference, after two seasons appearing in the power rankings despite not doing so. And Louisville, our newest pals set to join in 2014, will also be joining the party — meaning 15 teams will be listed for the remainder of this calendar year (and slightly beyond into bowl season 2014). Cheer up! It’s less than 230 days ’till kickoff.

1. Clemson Tigers (Last Year: 2): Tajh Boyd‘s back, and the defense is improving steadily. So even without DeAndre Hopkins and Andre Ellington, this team will still be fine in 2013. In year two under defensive coordinator Brent Venables, expect an even more aggressive front-seven as the coach works on improving linebacker play in particular. That secondary will still get burned, but be certain they’ve also learned some lessons from last year, too.

2. Louisville Cardinals (LY: NR): After the show Teddy Bridgewater put on during the Sugar Bowl this year, the Cardinals are an extremely hot commodity, and are likely to start strong in their final season of Big East football. It’ll be interesting to see how coach Charlie Strong and his team respond to having a target on their backs from week one, when they’ll likely be handed a top-10 ranking to start the year.

3. Florida State Seminoles (LY: 1): They’re losing a lot on the defensive side of the football, along with QB and senior leader, EJ Manuel. But like those old, Bobby Bowden-coached teams of teams of the 90s, this ‘Noles squad has already reloaded. The offense may take a few to warm up, but the defense will still be very much their strength heading into next season.

4. Miami (FL) Hurricanes (LY: 5): After sitting out two straight years of postseason berths, the ‘Canes are really hoping they’re given a break from the NCAA in terms of leniency. With a ton of young talent eager to get a shot at a conference title, and arguably the best QB/RB tandem in the ACC in Stephen Morris and Duke Johnson, Miami could very well be out for blood come opening kickoff this fall.

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ACC Football Power Rankings: Week Nine

Florida State Defeats Miami, Referee Issues and Remains Atop the Power Rankings

Yet another crazy weekend of ACC football, and we still find ourselves no closer to figuring out who’ll be playing in Charlotte for the league championship. The one thing we may be getting a handle on, though? Who is NOT playing in that game. And if eventually that list allows us to fill out the who IS list, then so be it (pray this isn’t what actually happens). Jimbo Fisher’s team deserves to be on top of these rankings, but I’m scared he’d have me suspended if that weren’t the case…

1. Florida State Seminoles (7-1) (4-1) (LW: 1): Never a good thing to hear your best running back is out for the season (again). But when you’re Florida State, you’ve got two more great options ready to go. Referees aside, the ‘Noles looked sloppy for a good portion of their Saturday night matchup with Miami — something that should concern them since the ‘Canes have no defense to speak of. It’s fine if EJ Manuel‘s taking more risks, but he must also keep the rest of the offense focused. Those fumbles were unforgivable, and could cause some real damage against a better team.

2. Clemson Tigers (6-1) (3-1) (LW: 2): The story of the game somehow ended up being the Tigers’ defense, which forced four turnovers and scored a touchdown of its own against Virginia Tech. So was this the turning point Brent Venables seemed to promise when he took over as defensive coordinator? Perhaps, though let’s give it a few more games. The Hokies’ offense has been putrid all season, and Clemson’s had their number these past two seasons. Still, it’s something they can potentially build off of.

3. NC State Wolfpack (5-2) (2-1) (LW: 4): State got very lucky at the end of this weekend’s game, due to a missed field goal — so don’t mistake their one-spot promotion as a ringing endorsement. But nonetheless, this is a Woflpack team that seems to know how to get the job done in crunch time. After their respective rocky starts, both Mike Glennon and David Amerson may have finally turned things around. The biggest issue now is how they’ll get by over the course of the season if they can’t run the ball.

4. Duke Blue Devils (6-2) (3-1) (LW: 7): Make no mistake about it, this Duke team is a legitimate threat to win the down-and-out Coastal division after their big comeback the other night. While there are certainly some kinks still to work out, this is a group that came into its own on that final 87-yard touchdown drive, and now look prepared for anything. That theory will be put to the test immediately against FSU this coming weekend. All eyes will be on Sean Renfree and how he reacts to the constant pressure the ‘Noles bring on D.

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