Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich
Before the season started, there was much anticipation surrounding the expected strength of running backs throughout the ACC, but so far, only one has shined brighter than all the rest -- Virginia Tech redshirt freshman Ryan Williams.
The ACC expected to return three 1,000-yard rushers for the first time in conference history in Georgia Tech’s Jonathan Dwyer, Maryland’s Da’Rel Scott, and Virginia Tech’s Darren Evans, who suffered a season-ending knee injury. Clemson started a Heisman campaign for running back C.J. Spiller, a promotion which has since grown quiet despite his continued accomplishments.
Williams, the one player who hadn’t taken a snap in 2008, is leading all of them, but this track meet isn’t over yet, ACC fans:
THE PRESEASON PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Dwyer is averaging more yards per carry (6.7) than Williams (5.9) and broke loose for 158 yards rushing -- just 1 yard shy of tying a career high -- last week against North Carolina. Now that’s the ACC Player of the Year we remember, and he’s now got over 2,000 career rushing yards. He ranks second in the ACC and 38th nationally in rushing (81.5 ypg) despite sitting out the second half of the Jacksonville State and Miami games.
"The offense hasn’t changed," said Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson. "It hasn’t changed from Game 1 to Game 5. We have just played a little better. ... If you can outrush somebody the way we did on Saturday, I think you’ll find that you’re going to win the game with that kind of disparity in rushing yardage."
Spiller doesn’t have the rushing numbers of Dwyer and Williams (he’s ranked fifth in the ACC in rushing yards with 72 per game), but you can’t discount his other contributions. Spiller needs just 64 all-purpose running yards to become the ACC’s career leader. He needs five receptions to reach 100 for his career. Spiller has 1,534 career kickoff return yards and needs just 19 to become Clemson’s career leader. You can argue who is the best pure runner, but you can’t argue who is the most versatile.
Spiller is now just the second player in the history of FBS football to accumulate at least 2,500 yards rushing, 1,500 yards in kickoff returns, 1,000 yards receiving and 500 punt return yards in a career. Reggie Bush was the only the player to reach all four levels.
"C.J. Spiller has been phenomenal," said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. "I can't say enough about him. We all know what he has accomplished, and to do something that only one other player has accomplished in college football history is pretty rare air."
Scott has fumbled one too many times and the Terps are a hapless group, so it would take several standout performances for Scott to end the season as the best back in the ACC. He currently ranks fourth in the ACC in rushing behind Williams, Dwyer and Georgia Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt. And of the three teams, Scott has the least dependable offensive line to block for him.
"Da’Rel is hurting," said Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen. "I thought he practiced very hard last night and I didn’t see any remorse but I saw more determination. That’s what I would expect out of Da’Rel. I was pleased with his work last night and I think more than anything else this is going to be a conscious thing for Da’Rel. When you are a running back, sometimes things like this happen."
Williams is sixth in the country in rushing yards per game and tied for second in touchdowns scored. He is just the second Tech freshman running back to rush for 100 or more yards in three consecutive games. He leads the ACC with 123 yards per game and he’s played well against two ranked teams in Nebraska and Miami.
“He runs tough,” Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. “He can make you miss, but he hurts you when he runs. He has power and he can make you miss, and he has speed. Those are good qualities for a running back, and he is dependable.”
You already knew that, though. Here's something on RW you might not have known: He owns nearly100 different pairs of Nike shoes, including old-school Air Jordans and Air Force Ones. He also has a tattoo on his arm that reads “#34 Lil’ Sweetness” in honor of the late Walter Payton, who he idolized growing up and for whom he wears No. 34 for.
The aforementioned players are the only backs in the ACC averaging at least 70 yards per game, so those are the ones we’ll keep in the conversation for now. And after one month of football, Williams is leading them all.