ACC RB Rankings: Bernard leads the field

Giovanni Bernard showed all the signs of becoming a dominant running back in 2012.

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.