ATLANTA - SEPTEMBER 24: Giovani Bernard #26 of the North Carolina Tar Heels celebrates with Ryan Houston #32 after scoring against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Bobby Dodd Field on September 24, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Last week BCI brought you a look at the returning ACC quarterbacks, ranking them in order. As we saw, unfortunately due to his previous accomplishments Chase Rettig fell near the bottom of the pack. Today let's move on and see where returning running backs fall on a similar list. Again we are only going to use previous data, which won't take into effect things such as new recruits, offensive coordinators and changes to offensive/blocking schemes.
1. North Carolina Tar Heels (Giovani Bernard) - Bernard is probably the most polished running back in the ACC. A strong physical back, Bernard was the first Tar Heel to eclipse the 1k yard mark since 1997, and was 21st in the country in rushing yards. UNC has all the tools to have a strong offense this year, and Bernard could be the center piece.
2. Clemson Tigers (Andre Ellington) - Overshadowed by a dominant passing game, Ellington put together a great junior campaign for the Tigers. He is an electric back with big game potential, as he took off for 212 yards and 2 touchdowns against Maryland. What will AE have in store for his final season with Dabo Swinney?
3. Virginia Cavaliers (Perry Jones) - Last year Jones led the Cavs with 914 yards of rushing, while averaging almost 5 yards a carry. Did not finish much near the end zone, only scoring 5 touchdowns, he is expected to again shoulder the load for Mike London. Could the senior HB eclipse the 1,000 yard mark this year?
4. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (Orwin Smith/Tevin Washington) - Obviously GT's heavily reliance on the option makes having a solid core of running backs essential for an effective offense. Orwin Smith will be returning for senior year, after having a fantastic senior year averaging nearly 10.0 yards a carry. It's hard to not include Tevin Washington on this list as well as he basically plays a running back as well, last year Washington was fifth in the conference in rushing averaging roughly 75 yards a game.
5. Boston College Eagles (Deuce Finch/Andre Williams/Tajh Kimble) - Offensive line play decimated what was once a proud running attack in 2011. Finch was the most consistent out of the bunch, running for 700 yards (240 were against Maryland). Possibly the most talented and deepest group in the ACC, their production will only be limited by the play of the line and play calling by new offensive coordinator Doug Martin and improvements created by o-line coach Jim Bollman.
6. Florida St. Seminoles (Chris Thompson/Devonta Freeman) - Before Seminoles fans shoot me for this, let me explain my rationale. I know Thompson is "healthy", but serious back injuries can be hard to shake, especially with a position that is as physically demanding as a running back. He does have a tremendous upside (846 yards in 2010), but that question about reinjuring his back pushed him down my list. Freeman is a serviceable back as well, scoring eight touchdowns for FSU in 2011.
7. N.C. State Wolfpack (Mustafa Greene) - Although he did not play in 2011 with a foot injury, Greene has to be put on this list for the work he did in 2010 rushing for 597 yards for Tom O'Brien and the Wolfpack. I am always hesitant to put injured guys near the top of the list though, yet you have to wonder how NC States strong passing attack and solid offensive line could help Greene thrive this year.
8. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (Josh Harris) - With the graduation of Brandon Pendergrass, the weight of the running game will fall to the junior. Harris is no light weight, as he ran for 136 yards against FSU last year, but missed the end of the season due to a hamstring injury. He finished the season with 400 yards rushing and 3 TD's. The potential is there, but how will Harris handle an entire season as the primary back for the Demon Deacons.
9. Miami Hurricanes (Mike James) - Losing Lamar Miler is a big loss for the U, as he was easily their most talented offensive player in 2011. James hasn't yet shown that he can be a feature back, not rushing for more than 400 yards in a season to date, but much of that could be due to being stuck behind Miller on the depth chart. He has shown a propensity for getting the ball in the end zone though, scoring 8 TDs for the Hurricanes last season.
10. Duke Blue Devils (Juwan Thompson/Desmond Scott) - Due to the fact that Duke plays so many games from behind, and their offense strength is their QB and WR, they have had to rely less heavily on their running backs. The duo combines for an average of 78 yards and it's hard to imagine given the Blue Devil's offensive line woes and difficult schedule that this will improve.
11 & 12 (Tied) Maryland Terrapins and Virginia Tech Hokies - Both teams lost most of their production at halfback this offseason with the graduation of Davin Meggett and the ACC's leading rusher David Wilson. I would give VT the nod because they always seem to have a solid running back in the pipeline, but again just basing it off of last years stats, who knows?
So there you have it, the rankings of the ACC running backs. Do you agree with my list? Do you hate it? Let your thoughts be heard in the comments!