Predicting The All-ACC Team: Running Back

This is the third in a series on the 2011 All-ACC team. First, we profiled the players returning from the 2010 All-ACC team. Then we discussed quarterbacks.  Today, we'll discuss the running backs.

Aside from being really good, how can a running back get on the All-ACC team?

Run for many yards regardless of how many times he touches the ball, score a lot of touchdowns even if he did nothing to get his team to the goal-line, or have notable highlights while playing for a very good team.

Remember, running backs, many of the ACC writers are too lazy to look at your receiving stats. Don't even bother catching the ball.

But do make sure to rack up lots of stats while playing garbage non-conference competition. Because as we know, many ACC writers are too lazy to separate ACC performance from total performance when voting on an ACC award.  

There are many capable backs this year and this process was quite tough.

The only returning runner from the 2010 All-ACC team is Boston College's Montel Harris.  Let's start there.  Harris has made the team the last few years.  He's a good back who looks even better than he is because BC had an excellent run-blocking oline in 2007 and 2008, and because the Boston College Eagles run him to death.  They will do it again, meaning the only thing separating him from another All-ACC selection is health.   

You can pretty much bet that either Lamar Miller and/or Mike James of the Miami Hurricanes will be on this team.  Both would be the best back on most ACC teams and the offensive line should be excellent. Perhaps most importantly, however, is the coaching staff's desire to run, run, run in order to take the ball out of QB Jacory Harris' hands and milk the clock to hide a talented, but thin defense.  But as is often the case with teams that split carries, will Miller or James get enough touches to wow voters?  

David Wilson of the Virginia Tech Hokies gained 619 yards on only 113 carries and 234 yards receiving on only 15 catches.  That as as the #2/#3 back.  He's the man this year.  VT is breaking in a new QB, meaning they will lean on the run game even more.  And the schedule is an absolute joke.  He could have All-ACC honors locked up before November. The only concern here is health.  Can Wilson handle the workload? 

The Clemson Tigers have an intriguing case for landing a player on the All-ACC team.  Andre Ellington is an elite talent and gained 684 yards on 117 carries for the Tigers, but there are questions here.  Can Ellington stay healthy?  He missed many games last season.  The other question is workload.  Clemson's new turbo-speed offense will look to spread the wealth.  You'll see many receivers carrying the ball, and backs catching the ball.  How many carries will Ellington get?  Will ACC writers give him due credit for his receiving?  

How about the Florida State Seminoles?  FSU should again have one of, if not the best run games in the ACC.  But that run game will likely be a product of QB E.J. Manuel, RB Chris Thompson, RB Jermaine Thomas, RB Ty Jones, FB Lonnie Pryor, RB Devonta Freeman and RB James Wilder, Jr.  FSU has a lot of good backs and zero proven special backs.  They will earn carries and nobody is likely to get enough work to make the all-conference team.  Not that FSU fans should care, of course, as long as FSU rolls out another excellent rushing attack.  One thing that could help is Fisher's desire to run in the red zone.  That means touchdowns.

With each passing year Tom O'Brien's N.C. State Wolfpack resembles the Boston College teams he left just a little bit more.  Out with the mobile quarterback and in with the NFL-style 6'6" pocket passer.  Out with the athletic offensive line and in with the bigger, less athletic bodies.  N.C. State is going to run the ball much more this year thanks to the aforementioned QB situation (which may or may be a downgrade) and the complete overhaul of the receiving corps. Last year N.C. State threw 100 more times than they ran.  This year those numbers could flip-flop.  The most likely recipient is Mustafa Greene.  Greene carried 134 times for 597 yards.  The sophomore is a good back.  Russel Wilson ran 144 times last season.  120 of those carries will likely go to backs.  In all, the Wolfpack gave its backs 314 carries last season.  I expect close to 500 this season.  Greene could get 225 carries this year.  If he does, he could make an All-ACC team behind a bigger line.  Unfortunately for Greene, there are other backs on this team that will also steal carries.  The schedule is very favorable for lots of running as well.

The Wake Forest Demon Deacons have an excellent back in Josh Harris. The sophomore ran for 720 yards on 125 carries and added 8 catches for 69 yards.  Harris is a big talent.  The questions are not about him, but rather about Wake as a team.  Wake is a bad football team and they so often find themselves down quickly and forced to pass.  If Harris is to make the All-ACC team Wake must have more opportunities where running the ball makes sense.  

Staying in the Atlantic now where the Maryland Terrapins have a new head coach who is expected to improve upon what was really a flukish good season in College Park.  The head coach loves to run, run, run.  The offensive coordinator wants to throw.  Who will win out?  Probably the head coach as Maryland loses more at receiver than anyone in the conference.  Davin Meggett rushed for 720 yards on 126 carries last season and he should get more carries this year thanks to the graduation of Da'rel Scott.  

The North Carolina Tar Heels could surprise and place a running back on the list.  Ryan Houston missed last season due to academics and a redshirt, but he is a capable back.  As discussed in the quarterback preview, the offensive line of the heels is quite good.  And as a big back, he'll likely grab a lot of touchdowns in the red zone.  The question is how much UNC will run (last year they threw the ball a bunch), and whether Houston can get all the carries.  Redshirt-freshman Gio Bernard may fit the offense better as he is a better receiver.  200 carries, 900 yards and 12 touchdowns is an All-ACC season if UNC gives Houston the ball often enough.

The option offense of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets is always interesting to watch.  Each year a different player is featured and makes an All-ACC team.  First it was Jonathan Dwyer.  Then it was Anthony Allen.  Both of those players played fullback.  This year the star will likely be Orwin Smith, who plays wingback.  Last year he gained 513 rushing yards on only 56 carries.  An explosive threat, if his carries increase from 56 to 120 and his average stays high (say, 7.5), he could have a 900yd/10 td season.  But will he get the carries and stay healthy?

Last year Perry Jones gained 646 yards on 137 carries for the Virginia Cavaliers.  Keith Payne and his 160 carries are gone.  Perry Jones also gained 224 yards on 31 receptions.  If he gets 175 carries and his receptions stay static, he can make the All-ACC team.  But how much will teams key on him this season as UVA has lost two of its biggest four weapons and its quarterback?

Duke does not run enough to land a player on the All-ACC team.  

Here are my projections:

Pre-Season Post-Season
1st Team Montel Harris David Wilson David Wilson Lamar Miller
2nd Team Lamar Miller Josh Harris Montel Harris Mustafa Greene
Hon Mention Andre Ellington Chris Thompson Josh Harris Andre Ellington

-The guys are worried about Harris' knee.  That's enough for me to drop him to second team.

-David Wilson is the easy slam dunk for the first team, but the other guy was much more difficult.

There are probably 15 backs who can make a legitimate argument that they have a shot to make the team.  That made this exercise quite difficult.

What is your pre and post-season All-ACC running back team?

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