ACC RB Rankings: Bernard leads the field

If North Carolina’s coaches hadn’t been so cautious using Giovanni
Bernard at the outset of last season, his numbers would have been
significantly more impressive than they were. And they were darn good.

Bernard
missed his first season at UNC after tearing his ACL just a couple of
days into fall camp in 2010. Despite reports of him running as fast and
cutting as well as he had before the injury, last year’s interim staff
led by head coach Everett Withers, who took over after Butch Davis was
fired, did their best to ease him into the lineup.

But Bernard,
one of the top recruits in Florida in the class of 2010, eventually
forced the staff to make him the go-to guy on the ground for the Tar
Heels.

The 5-foot-10, 205-pound mighty mite with breathless
breakaway speed ran the ball just nine times in the opener, and then 16,
12 and 17 times in the next three games, respectively. But with yard
totals of 64, 81, 102 and 155 yards in those contests, respectively, it
was obvious the kid could play.

Bernard finished with 1,253
yards and 13 touchdowns on 239 carries for an average of 5.2 yards per
carry. He zipped past the 100-yard mark seven times and even hauled in
45 passes for 362 yards and another score.

With UNC moving to a
spread offense this season, Bernard should get more touches, especially
with room around him as he gets his wheels churning. Expect more big
plays than a year ago and an All-American kind of season from the Tar
Heel.

Clemson’s Andre Ellington, the ACC’s only other returning
1,000-yard rusher, could give Bernard a run for the top spot in the ACC.
N.C. State’s James Washington surprised a lot of folks a year ago.
Virginia’s Perry Jones is reliable, and someone one from Virginia Tech
will jump into the top five or six, though it’s impossible to guess who
will do that.

Here are the ACC’s top 10 tailbacks going into the season.