ACC: Josh Harris

The 2013 signing class has already made its mark on the ACC, from Tyler Boyd and Stacy Coley shining on offense to Jalen Ramsey and Kendall Fuller starring on defense to Ryan Switzer racking up All-America honors on special teams. But for most players, the transition from high school to college takes a little time, and it’s not until Year 2 that they truly shine. With that in mind, we’re taking a look at the best candidates for second-year stardom in the conference — the players who didn’t quite hit the big time as true freshmen, but are poised for a breakthrough in 2014.

See our previous projections here.

[+] EnlargeMarquel Lee
Frederick Breedon/Getty ImagesMarquel Lee posted 14 tackles as a true freshman.
Last up: Wake Forest

Class recap: Jim Grobe’s final recruiting class at Wake Forest included 19 three-star players and one four-star prospect (linebacker Lance Virgile), and for the first time in the former coach’s tenure with the Deacons, a number of true freshmen saw early action. Tyree Harris finished fourth on the team with 17 catches. Cory Helms was the first true freshman to start on the O line for Wake Forest since 1987, and he was joined by Josh Harris, who got a starting nod against Florida State. A handful of defenders saw limited action and work on special teams, too, and those roles promise to increase significantly under first-year coach Dave Clawson in 2014.

Second-year star: ILB Marquel Lee (6-3, 205)

Recruiting stock: A versatile athlete who played quarterback and linebacker in high school, Lee arrived as a three-star early enrollee last January. Rangy, with good speed, Lee was rated the No. 59 inside linebacker in the country by ESPN. He was solid against the run in high school, but adding size was a priority.

2013 in review: By enrolling early, Lee assured himself a shot at playing time as a true freshman, but with a veteran defense -- including Mike Olson, a redshirt senior at WLB -- there wasn’t room for a starting job. Lee finished the season having appeared in all but one game for Wake Forest, recording 14 tackles, largely on special teams.

2014 potential: That veteran defense from a year ago has morphed into a particularly green unit for Clawson, and that’s opened up plenty of playing time for Lee. Olson is gone, along with all four starting defensive linemen, and new coordinator Mike Elko has installed a 4-2-5 scheme that reshuffles the deck even further. Lee, however, appears a perfect fit. He can play sideline to sideline, which should allow him to excel in Elko’s system, and he has developed a reputation as a hard worker and a quick study. Lee was one of the major bright spots for the new-look Deacons this spring, and he wrapped things up with nine tackles in the spring game, tops among all defenders. With Lee alongside veteran Brandon Chubb, the linebacking crew could develop into a strength for the Deacons.

Also watch for: Helms and Josh Harris will be full-time starters on the offensive line this year. Helms, in particular, has taken on more of a leadership role on a particularly young offensive, too. Tyree Harris is slotted in as a starting receiver this season, too. Wake has virtually no established players at the offensive skill positions, which should allow Harris ample opportunity to excel. Meanwhile, the rash of departures on the defensive line (including the transfer of 2013 signee James Looney) means a handful of youngsters should get a crack at the rotation, led by ends Wendell Dunn, Duke Ejiofor and Ali Lamot.

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ACC weekend rewind: Week 4

September, 23, 2013
9/23/13
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Here is one last look back at the week that was in the ACC.

The good: Perhaps Clemson teams of the past would have faltered when adversity struck early Thursday in Raleigh, N.C. But the defensive line stood up, and the offense made plays when it needed to, turning a close contest into a more comfortable 26-14 win, allowing the Tigers to remain the ACC's most likely national title contender.

[+] EnlargeTravis Blanks
Ethan Hyman/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT via Getty ImagesThe Clemson defense played well in the win over North Carolina State.
The bad: Pitt's defense avoids this distinction only because Duke's was worse. The Panthers escaped Durham, N.C., with a 58-55 win Saturday for their first ACC victory. The Blue Devils surrendered 598 yards of offense and did not force a single turnover, while committing four themselves. Duke coach David Cutcliffe said Sunday that he had never been a part of any game like it before.

The ugly: Virginia Tech beat Marshall 29-21 in three overtimes to get to 3-1. The first two overtimes featured no scores. The game had five total turnovers. Marshall committed 11 penalties. Oh, and both kickers combined to go 0-for-5 on field goal attempts, with the Hokies' Ethan Keyserling going 0-for-3 while replacing Cody Journell, who was suspended for an unspecified violation of team rules. The one bright spot was Derrick Hopkins coming oh-so-close to a walk-off fat guy touchdown after a Rakeem Cato fumble in overtime No. 2.

The wake me when it's over: The fourth quarter of Miami's 77-7 win over Savannah State was shortened to 12 minutes, as mutually agreed upon by both coaches. What more needs to be said about this matchup?

The wake me when it's over, Parts 2 and 3: In case one FCS beatdown wasn't enough for you, Virginia beat VMI 49-0 and Florida State beat Bethune-Cookman 54-6. For those keeping count, that's a combined 180-13 margin for the three ACC squads against FCS foes this past weekend.

The rebound: Wake Forest needed a win in the worst way, and the Demon Deacons came through Saturday at Army. Josh Harris had two second-half touchdowns and Nikita Whitlock notched 14 tackles, giving the Deacs a 25-11 win before they prepare to head to Clemson this week.

The statement: Nice little stories don't force six turnovers and beat West Virginia 37-0. They don't hold the Mountaineers to six first downs and 175 total yards of offense. And they don't start 4-0. It may be time to take Maryland seriously after its rout of WVU, as the Terrapins are two wins shy of their previous two-year total under Randy Edsall, who refused to call the win a signature one but is surely pleased with his team's start this season.

The what-could-have-been: Hindsight is 20/20. We don't know how ready Terrel Hunt would have been to start for Syracuse in the season opener. And Wagner and Tulane are not as good as Penn State and Northwestern. That said, the loss to the Nittany Lions was a winnable game. And Hunt's two starts after the Orange's first two losses with Drew Allen under center have been great, as he completed 16 of 21 passes Saturday against the Green Wave for 181 yards and four touchdowns. He added 39 yards and another score on the ground, and he did not turn the ball over. Hunt, as Anish Shroff pointed out, has the highest Total QBR rating in the country, though he has not played enough yet to qualify for the top spot.

The stand: Georgia Tech improved to 2-0 in the conference with a 28-20 home win over North Carolina, and it did it with its defense. The Yellow Jackets trailed by 13 twice in the first half. But they held the Tar Heels without a point over the game's final 39-plus minutes and held UNC to just 319 total yards of offense.

ACC predictions: Week 1

August, 29, 2013
8/29/13
9:05
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The most anticipated post of Week 1 has finally arrived: Prediction time! Heather and I both got out our crystal balls and looked into the future. Here is what each of us sees for opening week in the ACC:

Thursday

North Carolina at No. 6 South Carolina, 6 p.m., ESPN. #UNCvsSC. The headliner in this game is Jadeveon Clowney, for obvious reasons. If North Carolina still had its offensive line from a year ago, I would like its chances in this game more. But with two redshirt freshmen starting on the offensive line and a new starting running back, the Tar Heels have major questions at the two strongest positions on the team in 2012. Defensively, North Carolina is thin at linebacker, so that is a concern, along with replacing Sylvester Williams up front. Bryn Renner will be able to keep North Carolina in the game, but South Carolina will ultimately win because it is stronger on the offensive and defensive lines.

AA picks: South Carolina 34, North Carolina 21

HD picks: South Carolina 24, North Carolina 21

Presbyterian at Wake Forest, 6:30 p.m., ESPN3. #PREvsWAKE. Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe goes into the season needing four victories to become the all-time winningest coach in school history. After this game, that number should shrink to three. Presbyterian won only two games last season, so I am not sure how much of a challenge a bad FCS team will present. Still, a few things to keep an eye on: the Wake Forest running game -- both Josh Harris and the offensive line. How much more will Tanner Price be used in running situations? Wake has a big game in Week 2 against BC, so Grobe is going to want to see what he can build on.

AA picks: Wake Forest 50, Presbyterian 3

HD picks: Wake Forest 45, Presbyterian 10

Friday

FAU at Miami, 8 p.m., ESPNU. #FAUvsMIA. The Hurricanes open the season without a resolution from the NCAA. Shocking, right? But that should not be a distraction. The bigger distraction could be the "look-ahead factor," with Miami playing rival Florida the following week. FAU has a long way to go if it wants to compete with Miami. Simply put, this won't be much of a test for the Hurricanes. The talent gap is too wide. Coach Al Golden just has to make sure his team remains focused on FAU.

AA picks: Miami 45, FAU 10

HD picks: Miami 42, FAU 17

Saturday

Elon at Georgia Tech, noon, ESPN3. #ELONvsGT. This is the schools' first meeting in football. It is not much of a matchup, either. Elon only won three games last year, so the Jackets should not have many problems in this game. They do have some injuries at a few spots, but with a bye the following week, Georgia Tech should be much healthier for its Sept. 14 game at Duke. It will be good to see how Vad Lee plays, what type of backs rotation Paul Johnson uses and how Ted Roof's new defense looks.

AA picks: Georgia Tech 55, Elon 3

HD picks: Georgia Tech 55, Elon 0

Villanova at Boston College, noon, ESPNews. #VILLvsBC. Coach Steve Addazio is pretty familiar with Villanova. When he was head coach at Temple in 2011 and 2012, the Owls opened the season against Villanova and won both games easily. This will be a good early test for the Eagles with Addazio in charge. First priority is to see how much better the offensive line and running game do. Second priority is to see more physicality from both sides of the ball. Both will be important, with the league opener against Wake Forest the following week.

AA picks: Boston College 35, Villanova 13

HD picks: Boston College 35, Villanova 17

FIU at Maryland (12:30 p.m., GamePlan/ESPN3. #FIUvsMD. Maryland has a very favorable nonconference schedule to open the season and kicks things off against an FIU team that took a big step back in 2012. The Panthers have a new head coach and only eight returning starters, to boot. Maryland, meanwhile, has a healthy C.J. Brown ready to open the season and the best player on the field in Stefon Diggs. Three keys to watch for the Terps: 1. How does the retooled offensive line hold up? 2. Will the running game be better? 3. How does the retooled defense with six new starters fare?

AA picks: Maryland 33, FIU 10

HD picks: Maryland 38, FIU 21

Louisiana Tech at NC State, 12:30 p.m., GamePlan/ESPN3. #LATECHvsNCST. The Dave Doeren era begins against one of the better teams from outside the power conferences a year ago. Louisiana Tech has a new coach in Skip Holtz and a first-year starting quarterback, but it also returns 1,000-yard rusher Kenneth Dixon and defensive end IK Enemkpali, a first-team WAC selection a year ago. NC State has not named a starting quarterback yet, and running back Shadrach Thornton is suspended for this one. Plus, the Wolfpack will have new offensive and defensive schemes and return only 11 starters. I expect for it to take some time to work out the kinks. Louisiana Tech upset Virginia a year ago, so this is not a team to overlook. This will be a good first test for Doeren.

AA picks: NC State 35, Louisiana Tech 24

HD picks: NC State 42, Louisiana Tech 7

Syracuse vs. Penn State, 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2. #CUSEvsPSU. Neither team plans on naming a starting quarterback going into this one, so the big unknown is who will be under center when the game kicks off. What is known is that Syracuse should have a powerful running game going into the season with 1,000-yard rusher Jerome Smith returning, along with Prince-Tyson Gulley. There are definite questions for the Orange not only at quarterback, but at receiver, offensive tackle and along the defensive line. But I like what coach Scott Shafer has preached so far. His team is going to be hard-nosed and physical, and I believe it will be able to eke out a very close win.

AA picks: Syracuse 24, Penn State 21

HD picks: Penn State 31, Syracuse 21

BYU at Virginia, 3:30 p.m., ESPNU. #BYUvsUVA. There is no doubt the Cougars go into the game with a stout defense, led by outstanding linebacker Kyle Van Noy. But I am going with the Hoos in this game for a few reasons. First, they are at home and should have an advantage with BYU traveling from the Mountain time zone. Second, I think they will be a much more sound team on offense and defense. David Watford's mobility should help against the Cougars' D. Third, BYU has not been as good on offense in recently. If the Hoos can establish the run the way they did in 2011 and be more aggressive on D, they win. One more note: In his career as a head coach, Mike London has won all five of his openers. This will be his first as UVa coach against an FBS team.

AA picks: Virginia 21, BYU 20

HD picks: BYU 28, Virginia 21

NC Central at Duke, 4 p.m., ESPN3. #NCCUvsDUKE. The Blue Devils should have a relatively easy time against NC Central, the way they did last season. What they want to see is how Anthony Boone plays in his first game as starting quarterback and what types of strides the defense has made since last season. Both are going to be big keys for Duke if it wants to get back to a bowl game.

AA picks: Duke 48, NC Central 13

HD picks: Duke 48, NC Central 10

No. 1 Alabama vs. Virginia Tech, 5:30 p.m., ESPN. #BAMAvsVT. A few months ago, I thought the Hokies might have a fighting chance in this game. But I just don't think they have the personnel to do so now that game week has arrived. Given the uncertainty on the offensive line, at running back and in the secondary, it is going to be tough sledding for Virginia Tech to score more than two touchdowns against one of the best defenses in America. If Virginia Tech finds a way to win, it will be because it was able to establish the run, control the clock and pressure AJ McCarron into mistakes. Not out of the question. But it appears improbable at this point.

AA picks: Alabama 31, Virginia Tech 13

HD picks: Alabama 45, Virginia Tech 20

No. 5 Georgia at No. 8 Clemson, 8 p.m., ABC. #UGAvsCLEM. The game of the year, or at least the game of the week, has finally arrived after months and months of buildup. We finally get to see whether the Tigers can continue the momentum they established in the bowl win over LSU last season. Georgia has a veteran quarterback and the best rushing duo in the country. How Clemson handles Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall is the biggest key for an improving defense. But this is why Clemson wins the game: Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and a veteran offensive line have the upper hand over a defense that only returns three starters, including just one up front.

AA picks: Clemson 35, Georgia 31

HD picks: Clemson 38, Georgia 35

Monday

No. 11 Florida State at Pitt, 8 p.m., ESPN. #FSUvsPITT. A big opening week concludes with a huge game for both teams. Pitt begins its first season in the ACC with a marquee opponent at home, while Florida State begins its quest for another ACC title with a freshman starting at quarterback. Heather put Florida State on preseason upset watch last month, but it's hard for me to see the Panthers pulling the upset for two reasons: 1. They are banged-up at running back and have no depth at the position. 2. Florida State has a big-time advantage on the offensive and defensive lines. Pitt will give Florida State all it can handle, but the talent disparity is too wide for the Panthers to overcome in the opener.

AA picks: Florida State 27, Pitt 17

HD picks: Florida State 31, Pitt 21

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August, 28, 2013
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I have a dream.

Most to prove in the ACC

August, 28, 2013
8/28/13
10:00
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Heading into the season, everyone has something to prove -- some more than others, of course. Here’s a look at which coaches, players and position groups have the most to prove in the ACC heading into Week 1:

[+] EnlargeLogan Thomas
Rob Foldy/USA TODAY SportsQB Logan Thomas and the Virginia Tech offense will face a stiff test from Alabama in Week 1.
1. Virginia Tech’s offense. Hands down, no other group in the conference is facing more doubt, especially going up against Alabama’s defense in the season opener. The Hokies were No. 81 in the country in scoring offense last year at 25.08 points per game. Quarterback Logan Thomas returns and has made strides under first-year coordinator Scot Loeffler, but questions remain with a young supporting cast.

2. Clemson’s secondary. This is one group that has remained a concern for coach Dabo Swinney through the summer, and rightfully so, especially with Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray coming to town on Saturday. Only Duke (29) and Maryland (24) gave up more passing touchdowns in the league last season than Clemson (23).

3. Miami defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio. The Canes’ defense was one of the worst in the country in 2012, ranking No. 116 in total defense and No. 82 in scoring defense. And ranking No. 113 in the country in sacks was well below Miami’s standards. With all four starters returning on the defensive line and such high hopes for the Canes this fall, the pressure to show major improvement is on.

4. Florida State’s staff: Despite the loss of 11 players to the NFL draft, Florida State still abounds with talent, but there are six new assistants on staff tasked with developing it. All of these hires will eventually be a reflection on coach Jimbo Fisher. The Noles will start 2013 with a new defensive coordinator in Jeremy Pruitt, new running backs coach, new quarterbacks coach, new tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator, new defensive ends coach and a new linebackers coach.

5. UNC’s offensive line: Two redshirt freshmen will be in the lineup when the Tar Heels open on Thursday night against South Carolina, which will have arguably the best defensive line in the SEC. While James Hurst has received plenty of preseason hype, he’s going to need some help, especially with so much inexperience around him. How UNC fares without Jonathan Cooper will help determine how it will do without Giovani Bernard, too.

6. Wake Forest running back Josh Harris: He has been plagued by injuries his whole career, and his durability has become a question both inside the program and out. Harris also struggled academically but received a waiver from the NCAA so he is eligible to play. The Deacs could use a big season from Harris to get their running game going.

7. Pitt’s running backs: It went downhill when Rushel Shell decided to transfer. Now, the lead candidate to replace him, Isaac Bennett, has spent most of the summer with an injured knee. Pitt is missing its top two rushers from last fall -- and now the next two in line are question marks heading into the season. The situation is in limbo as the Panthers get set to make their ACC debut against Florida State on Monday, as freshman James Conner was also injured. Malcolm Crockett, who had 12 carries last year, could be the solution.

8. Duke’s defense: This has been the Blue Devils’ Achilles' heel, and it has to improve if Duke is to make back-to-back bowl appearances. It’s a veteran group, and last year was the second season in the 4-2-5 scheme. Still, Duke ranked No. 107 in the country in scoring defense in 2012, No. 105 in total defense and No. 101 in rushing defense. The only way to go is up.

9. Virginia coach Mike London: One year after being named the ACC’s Coach of the Year and taking the team to the Chick-fil-A Bowl, London led the Cavaliers to a 4-8 finish last fall. London made sweeping changes to his staff, including the hires of new coordinators. There have been some critics who have questioned whether the program is still heading in the right direction, but those within the program insist it is. Now is the time to prove it.

10. Maryland coach Randy Edsall: He’s won a total of six games in the past two seasons, and this fall, he has healthy quarterbacks to work with and more playmakers on offense, including one of the best in the country in receiver Stefon Diggs. Maryland also has a favorable schedule -- much more forgiving than the one it'll face next season as members of the Big Ten. There’s no reason Maryland fans shouldn't expect at least six wins.

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August, 12, 2013
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Happy Monday, folks. Get your week started with some ACC reading.
Wake Forest leading rusher Josh Harris had his eligibility restored following an appeal to the NCAA, the school announced on Friday.

Coach Jim Grobe told ESPN.com in July that Harris didn't qualify academically at the end of the spring semester. Harris led the Deacs with 608 yards and five touchdowns last season and was penciled in to start once again this fall. He is expected to join the team for preseason camp within the next few days.

“I am happy that the appeal was approved,” Grobe said in a prepared statement. “I am excited to get Josh into camp.”

Wake Forest has struggled to run the ball consistently over the past several seasons, and last year was no exception as Wake Forest ranked No. 113 in the nation. Harris rushed for 1,760 career yards during his first three seasons as a Demon Deacon, but his durability has also been a question as he has been hampered by injuries throughout his career. He enters this season with 15 career rushing touchdowns.
You want to find a good quarterback in the ACC? Plenty of places to look.

A solid receiver? Plenty of places to look.

A game-changing running back? Well, let's just say this is not a position of strength for the ACC headed into 2013.

Both 1,000-yard rushers from a year ago are gone. So are five of the top 10 rushers in the league. Now factor in recent developments from the offseason:

  • Virginia Tech back Michael Holmes was kicked out of school following his arrest after the spring game.
  • Pitt Rushel Shell decided to transfer, to hated rival West Virginia no less.
  • Maryland back Wes Brown has been suspended for the season after an offseason arrest.
  • Wake Forest leading rusher Josh Harris is not with the team while the Deacs wait for an answer from the NCAA on his eligibility.
  • NC State running back Shadrach Thornton was suspended one game after being charged with misdemeanor assault on a female following a June 6 arrest.
[+] EnlargeRushel Shell
Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Running back Rushel Shell left Pitt for rival West Virginia.
Holmes and Brown were expected to be significant contributors this year; Shell and Harris were expected to start; Thornton led the Wolfpack in rushing last year.

So let us take stock of who remains. Essentially, the ACC has one big-time headliner in Duke Johnson at Miami, and several teams with talent and depth.

Take Florida State. The Noles have a great duo in James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman. Syracuse has a 1,000-yard rusher returning in Jerome Smith, plus more depth than nearly everyone in the league. Duke has its top six rushers back from a year ago.

Still, the league overall has improving to do in this important category. In 2012, the ACC had the fewest 1,000-yard rushers of the five biggest conferences. It also only had two teams ranked in the Top 30 in rushing offense (Georgia Tech and Florida State), tied with the SEC for fewest among the top five conferences.

But here is the big distinction between the two. The SEC only had one team ranked in the bottom 30 in rushing offense last season: Arkansas. The ACC had a whopping six -- Virginia, Duke, NC State, Maryland, Wake Forest, Boston College -- the most among the power five.

Will fortunes improve this season? Let us take a look at one key statistic that could have some bearing. I broke down how many returning carries there are per team headed into 2013.

DUKE

  • Top returners: Jela Duncan, Josh Snead
  • Percent carries returning: 87 percent
  • What it means: Duke has perhaps the best opportunity of any team in the league to boost its rushing numbers this year, with its top six rushers back, a more mobile quarterback in Anthony Boone and four starters returning on the offensive line.
SYRACUSE

  • Top returners: Jerome Smith, Prince-Tyson Gulley
  • Percent carries returning: 82 percent
  • What it means: Syracuse has had a 1,000-yard rusher in five straight seasons, and has pretty terrific depth going into the season. It is a pretty safe bet the Orange will make it six straight 1,000-yard rushers.
BOSTON COLLEGE

  • Top returners: Andre Williams, Dave Dudeck
  • Percent carries returning: 75 percent
  • What it means: Though the Eagles don’t have much in the way of depth, they do have experienced players returning in Williams and Dudeck. Given the way Steve Addazio likes to run the football, expect to see the Eagles much better than No. 115 in the nation in rushing.
VIRGINIA TECH

  • Top returners: Logan Thomas, J.C. Coleman
  • Percent returning carries: 70 percent
  • What it means: Even though this was a weak spot for the Hokies, they do return their top rushers even with Holmes gone. Thomas led the team in carries and rushing last season. Virginia Tech wants to change that this year.
GEORGIA TECH

  • Top returners: Zach Laskey, David Sims
  • Percent returning carries: 68 percent
  • What it means: Tevin Washington and Orwin Smith take nearly all the missing carries (176), meaning the Jackets have plenty of experienced players and depth to fill all their running back spots. Shouldn’t be a drop-off here.
NC STATE

  • Top returners: Shadrach Thornton, Tony Creecy
  • Percent carries returning: 63 percent
  • What it means: Once he returns from suspension, Thornton will carry the load with Creecy, the way they did last season. Given the emphasis Dave Doeren puts on the run in his offense -- Northern Illinois ranked No. 12 in rushing offense last season -- the Wolfpack should not be in the bottom 30 again.
CLEMSON

  • Top returners: Tajh Boyd, Rod McDowell
  • Percent returning carries: 62 percent
  • What it means: Interesting stat here, considering the Tigers lose 1,000-yard rusher Andre Ellington. He is one of the biggest losses this team has to replace on offense. Having Boyd run as much as he does certainly helps these numbers, but there’s no question Clemson has to find a way to replace Ellington’s production.
MIAMI

  • Top returners: Duke Johnson, Eduardo Clements
  • Percent returning carries: 59 percent
  • What it means: Miami loses Mike James, but that just means Johnson moves into a starting role and will get more carries. If he continues the work he did last season, Johnson should be the leading rusher in the ACC this season.
WAKE FOREST

  • Top returner: Deandre Martin
  • Percent returning carries: 57 percent
  • What it means: Wake Forest is still waiting to see whether Harris will be eligible this season. There are serious concerns about this position right now, as coach Jim Grobe has said he still hasn’t seen anybody step up and prove they can be an every-down back.
NORTH CAROLINA

  • Top returners: A.J. Blue, Romar Morris
  • Percent returning carries: 56 percent
  • What it means: The prevailing storyline in Chapel Hill has centered around replacing Giovani Bernard, the other 1,000-yard rusher in the ACC last season. Blue and Morris combined for 151 carries a year ago, so there might not be as big a drop-off in total production as some might anticipate. Each averaged more than 5 yards per carry.
MARYLAND

  • Top returners: Brandon Ross, Albert Reid
  • Percent returning carries: 48 percent
  • What it means: The Terps lost significant carries from Brown (90) and Justus Pickett (69). I also did not count Shawn Petty’s 58 carries, because he went back to defense. Overall, Maryland feels good about Ross and Reid being able to carry the load, but questions still remain about whether this group can be consistent.
FLORIDA STATE

  • Top returners: James Wilder Jr., Devonta Freeman
  • Percent Returning carries:45 percent
  • What it means: This one is the most misleading among all ACC teams, because the Noles do return two terrific talents and expect contributions from a third in Mario Pender. Those lost carries are from Lonnie Pryor and EJ Manuel, along with Chris Thompson (who was out for the second half of the season anyway). Florida State should continue to be an excellent running team.
VIRGINIA

  • Top returners: Kevin Parks, Khalek Shepherd
  • Percent carries returning: 44 percent
  • What it means: UVa lost carries from Clifton Richardson, Perry Jones and Phillip Sims, but the Hoos believe they will be better running the ball this season -- especially if Taquan “Smoke” Mizzell is as good as advertised. He could be a breakout star.
PITT

  • Top returners: Isaac Bennett, Malcolm Crockett
  • Percent returning carries: 9 percent
  • What it means: I thought this number would be low with Shell and Ray Graham gone. But this is actually worse than anticipated. Pitt has little in the way of experienced players or depth at running back, and we are talking about a team that relies heavily on the run.

Wake Forest season preview

August, 6, 2013
8/06/13
10:30
AM ET
Today we’re looking at the Deacs as they try to get back to a bowl game in 2013:

Wake Forest

Coach: Jim Grobe (106-107-1 overall, 73-74 in 12 years at school)

2012 record: 5-7

Key losses: FB Tommy Bohanon, C Garrick Williams, LB Joey Ehrmann, LB Riley Haynes, CB Kenny Okoro

[+] EnlargeMichael Campanaro
Sam Sharpe/USA TODAY SportsWide receiver Michael Campanaro leads a Deacs team looking to rebound from a 5-7 season in 2012.
Key returnees: QB Tanner Price, WR Michael Campanaro, TB Josh Harris, G Frank Souza, G Antonio Ford, CB Kevin Johnson, CB Merrill Noel, FS A.J. Marshall, LB Justin Jackson, LB Mike Olson, NG Nikita Whitlock, DE Zach Thompson

Newcomer to watch: Cory Helms, center. The Alpharetta, Ga., native was recruited by Jonathan Himebauch and chose the Deacs over offers from North Carolina, Syracuse and Florida. He was rated the No. 74 offensive guard in his class by ESPN.com, but the Deacs plan on using him as a center.

Biggest games in 2013: Oct. 5 vs. NC State; Nov. 23 vs. Duke; Nov. 2 at Syracuse

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: The running backs. Top running back Josh Harris is still awaiting word from the NCAA as to whether he will be academically eligible. Harris led the team with 608 yards and five touchdowns last fall. Deandre Martin (484 yards) would be next in line. "That running back group is probably the biggest disaster we've got right now,” Grobe said at ACC media days. “We don't have a dependable guy right now. We'll see how it sorts out.”

Forecast: Things should be looking up for the Deacs, who haven’t had a winning season since 2008. Wake Forest got to a bowl game in 2011, and the goal is to return to the postseason this fall. With a veteran quarterback in Tanner Price, who is entering his fourth season as a starter, and a stingy defense, it’s a realistic goal.

Wake Forest returns 17 starters -- including eight on defense -- and both specialists. The headliner of the group is receiver Michael Campanaro, who leads all active ACC players with 162 catches. The Deacs will need somebody to complement him, and they’ve got to find some depth up front on the offensive line. The Deacs feel good about their starting five, as long as they can all stay healthy. Guard Antonio Ford broke his leg in three places last fall at Maryland, and he was still recovering this spring. Tackle Steven Chase missed spring practices with a torn ACL. Senior center Whit Barnes, senior right guard Frank Souza and Ford, a junior at left guard, will give the group a veteran look, but a freshman or sophomore will likely have to fill in at right tackle.

Defensively, this could be one of the best groups Grobe has had in recent years. The Deacs have put an emphasis on takeaways this offseason -- a trademark of the most successful years under Grobe. Noseguard Nikita Whitlock (three sacks, 5.5 TFLs) returns, along with cornerback Kevin Johnson, who finished eighth nationally last year in passes defended with 18. Two starters also return at linebacker, including Mike Olson and Justin Jackson.

This year’s schedule is conducive to a six-win season for the Deacs, but there’s no margin for error with Clemson and Florida State both in the Atlantic Division. Wake Forest should come out of its nonconference schedule with at least three wins (Presbyterian, Louisiana-Monroe, at Army, at Vanderbilt), and should find a way to steal a few wins against the likes of Boston College, NC State, Maryland, Syracuse and/or Duke.

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Wake Forest could be without leading returning rusher Josh Harris this season because of academic issues.

Coach Jim Grobe said Monday from the ACC Kickoff that he didn't know whether Harris would be eligible to participate when fall practice opens Aug. 2. Grobe said Harris didn't make grades at the end of the spring semester, and now he is awaiting word from the NCAA on Harris' eligibility.

As for when he would have an answer, Grobe said, "Stay tuned."

Harris led the Deacs with 608 yards and five touchdowns last season and was penciled in to start once again. Wake Forest has struggled to run the ball consistently over the past several seasons, and last year was no exception as Wake Forest ranked No. 113 in the nation. Coaches pushed Harris to improve his work habits this past offseason, hoping he could take the next step and be more effective.

Now, the entire running back position is up in the air. Deandre Martin would be next in line, but Grobe says the entire group has a lot of growing up to do. Grobe also said he's still searching for the guy who can be the next Chris Barclay, somebody who can handle the lion's share of the load without any doubts from the coaching staff.

"We've got some guys that aren't showing a lot of maturity right now as far as the workout habits, the classroom habits," Grobe said. "That running back group is probably the biggest disaster we've got right now. We don't have a dependable guy right now. We'll see how it sorts out. We've got a guy in Deandre Martin that could be that guy. He's physically capable of being that guy. But he's got to show us a little bit more resolve off the field to have confidence with him on the field."
The ACC’s top two rushers from a year ago -- UNC’s Giovani Bernard and Clemson’s Andre Ellington, were the only players in the conference to reach the 1,000-yard mark in 2012, and both of them have to be replaced this season.

The ACC does, however, welcome a 1,000-yard rusher to the league. Meet Jerome Smith from Syracuse, who ran for 1,171 yards and technically is the ACC’s leading returning rusher. Will he be the ACC’s top running back in 2013?

Check out the league’s top candidates to reach the 1,000-yard mark this fall and cast your votes for which one will be the best. Florida State is deep at running back with James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman, and Georgia Tech also has plenty of options, but with a by-committee approach, it’s difficult to produce a 1,000-yard rusher.

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Who will be the best running back in 2013?

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Discuss (Total votes: 3,548)

Cast your votes for who you think will be the best this year:

1. Jerome Smith, Syracuse: He averaged 90.08 yards per game, 5.16 yards a carry and topped the 100-yard mark five times last fall, including four straight games against Connecticut, South Florida, Cincinnati and Louisville. Smith leads a deep, talented group of running backs that also includes Prince-Tyson Gulley, who started three games last year and was named the MVP of the Pinstripe Bowl after he racked up a career-high 213 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries against West Virginia.

Spring quote: “We have a lot of playmakers at every position on the offense,” Smith said. “As you saw last year, we’re a fast team. We like to get on the ball and go fast. As Coach [Scott] Shafer said, you go to the bathroom, you might miss something big from our offense this year.”

2. Duke Johnson, Miami: The ACC’s Rookie of the Year had 947 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns, and a 6.81 per-play average as a true freshman. His entire offensive line returns. Johnson also set a school single-season record with 892 kick return yards and two touchdowns. He finished with 2,060 all-purpose yards, the second most in program history.

Spring quote: “As a kid, I always wanted to come here and do great things and be a Miami Hurricane,” Johnson said. “Now that I’m doing it, and doing it to the best of my ability, it makes it even more special.”

3. Shadrach Thornton, NC State: He was a pleasant surprise for the Pack, as Thornton led the Wolfpack with 694 yards and three touchdowns as a true freshman -- and he only started four games and missed the first three of the year. He rushed for over 100 yards in four games -- something no Pack back had done since T.A. McClendon in 2002.

Spring quote: “Yeah, he had a very good freshman year,” NC State offensive coordinator Matt Canada said. “And Tony Creecy is a great kid, a very durable, solid guy who had a very, very good spring. Those two guys certainly carried most of the load this spring.”

4. Andre Williams, Boston College: He had 584 yards last year, but there are high expectations for him to carry the running game this fall under first-year coach Steve Addazio. BC is thin at the position, so his health and durability will be critical.

Spring quote: “I thought Andre had one of the best springs of anybody,” Addazio said. “The kid is a wonderful guy. I mean, he's bright and he's a terrific person. But I tell you what, he's powerful, he's fast, he's a physical back, and I think the complement of that style of back with the development of our offensive line and the ability to throw the ball with Chase Rettig is a nice little combination."

5. A.J. Blue, North Carolina: He is the heir apparent to Bernard, who left early for the NFL draft. The senior had 433 yards last year, but could share time with Romar Morris and true freshman Khris Francis, who had a great spring game.

Spring quote: “A.J. Blue has emerged as a team leader, not just on the offensive side of the ball, but the entire team,” coach Larry Fedora said. “A.J. is about 215, 220 pounds, a guy that is going to finish off all his runs. He's going to be the bruiser type of runner, do a nice job of being physical, does a great job in pass protection and can catch the ball well. A.J. is a guy that's really come on for us.”

Others considered: James Wilder Jr., Devonta Freeman, David Sims, Josh Harris, Kevin Parks.

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