1) FSU - Florida State has one of the most talented running back trios in the country. Leon Washington, Lorenzo Booker, and Jamaal Edwards could be starters at almost any program in the country. Washington will be the starter, and he will get the bulk of the carries. Washington is very effective running between the tackles, and also has the ability to bounce outside and break the long one. Booker brought tremendous accolades to Florida State, but thus far has skated by on his accolades alone. Many compared Booker to former FSU running back Warrick Dunn, but Booker has not shown the physical toughness that made Dunn great. Booker still is a home run threat, but he has not shown the consistency to overtake Washington. Edwards is a combination of the two. All three will have the benefit of two talented fullbacks BJ Dean and James Coleman. Dean and Coleman will blast open running lanes that will make an average back look great.
2)NC State - This is a very close second. The Wolfpack lost T.A. McClendon as an early entry into the NFL draft. This may be a case of addition by subtraction. McClendon was a major distraction on and off the field, and now the way has been cleared for a very talented stable of running backs to step into the forefront. Darrell Blackmon was the starter coming out of spring practice. Blackmon has improved his running in between the tackles to go along with his elusiveness in the open field. Bobby Washington was a highly touted running back coming in last year, but he must improve his blocking before becoming the every down back. He has the intangibles, but he also struggled with fumbles last season. Incoming freshman Toney Baker was one of the most impressive running backs to ever play in the Shrine Bowl. Baker has everything you want in a running back: speed, power, agility, hands, you name it he does it.
3)Virginia Tech - The Hokies are dedicated to running the football. This season they will have a talented mixture of thunder and lightning. Cedric Humes is a bruising back, who started last year slow, but he finished strong. Mike Imoh is one of the faster backs in the ACC. He exploded on the scene against North Carolina last season breaking the school record for rushing yards in a single game. The Hokies believe Brandon Ore will be next in line for stardom in their backfield. He could be put to use this season, as Imoh and Humes both went down with injuries last season. Ore will be challenged by fellow redshirt freshman George Bell. Ore and Bell looked very strong in practice last season, and one is assured of seeing the field this season. Virginia Tech rarely uses a fullback, but Jesse Allen gets the call when needed.
4) Virginia - Wali Lundy looked like the best running back in the ACC at the start of last season. Lundy is a workhorse, who wants the ball 25 times. He has had some problems with fumbles that have limited him from reaching his full potential. Lundy was second in the ACC in scoring last season as he rushed for 17 touchdowns. Lundy is virtually unstoppable in short yardage situations, as he uses a combination of balance and great leg drive to get the job done. Michael Johnson is the backup to Lundy, and he is a track star. Al Groh has said he wants Johnson more involved with Johnson being the fastest player on the Cavaliers roster. The reason Johnson has not seen more action to date is he struggles running in between the tackles. Johnson is effective when he can hit the corner on a sweep, but he struggles when teams force him inside. Fullback Jason Snelling will see a bigger role in the offense, if he is able to stay healthy. Snelling is a bruising fullback, who has surprisingly good hands out of the backfield.
5) Boston College - The Eagles return four experienced running backs. Boston College could not stay healthy at running back last season, and for the first time in seven seasons, the Eagles did not have a 1,000 yard rusher. L.V. Whitworth and Andre Callender should separate themselves from Jeff Ross and A.J. Brooks. Callender finished the year as the leading rusher with 637 yards including a breakout performance against North Carolina in the bowl game (174 yards). Whitworth is a strong in between the tackles runner, but Callender gives the Eagles the best of both worlds. Brooks has the speed, but the Eagles have not seen the consistency on every play they would like. Ross is identical to Whitworth, but he is just not as talented as Whitworth. Utah transfer Mark Palmer will take over duties at fullback. The Eagles use the I-formation frequently, and Palmer will be counted upon to open holes for the running backs.
6) Georgia Tech - PJ Daniels returns for his final season at Georgia Tech. Daniels struggled with injuries last season, but he led the ACC in rushing two seasons ago. Daniels is a powerful runner, who seemingly gets stronger as the game goes on. Chris Woods and Rashaun Grant received valuable experience while filling in for the injured Daniels last season. Woods and Grant are a nice change of pace from the powerful Daniels. Oklahoma transfer Tashard Choice will be available this season after being granted a waiver by the NCAA. Choice was very impressive during the spring, and could push for major playing time this fall. The Yellow Jackets have to replace fullback Jimmy Dixon. Mike Cox and Ajenavi Eziemefe are expected to battle for the starting job at fullback, although Chan Gailey has expressed interest in using more one-back sets this fall.
7) Clemson - Reggie Merriweather was a major reason why Clemson was able to salvage a winning record last season. Merriweather who has been a big play threat since stepping on campus finally became the complete back the staff had been looking for. Merriweather led Clemson to an upset victory over Miami in the Orange Bowl, and he demoralized arch-rival South Carolina in the last game of the year. Merriweather has to prove he can carry the load for a full season. Duane Coleman and Kyle Browning return to provide veteran backups. Coleman is most dangerous as a receiver out of the backfield. Coleman struggled finding running lanes last season, and he lost his starting job to Merriweather. Browning is one of the most respected players on the team, because of his work ethic and huge heart. Everyone is looking over their shoulder for incoming freshman James Davis. Davis is the most highly touted running back Tommy Bowden has signed. Davis will see the field this season, but he must overtake three talented veterans to see the field.
8) Miami - When you look at Miami's history at running back, you find Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee, etc. Those names are gone, and for the first time in over a decade Miami has major questions at running back. Tyrone Moss has the potential, but he has not stepped up his game. While Miami coaches are concerned about Moss's work ethic over the summer, they are overly excited about Charlie Jones. Larry Coker believes Jones can be the next great back at Miami. Jones has a knack for finding yards after contact. He has all the press and hype of the next great Miami running back, but the results have to be there first. Quadtrine Hill returns at fullback. There may not be a better fullback in the country than Hill. Hill will surprise defenses with his speed and hands. Miami has not utilized Hill properly in recent years, and if they look hard enough, Hill could be the answer they are looking for at running back.
9) UNC - North Carolina appeared to be in good shape at running back. Ronnie McGill was set to return and lead the Tar Heels rushing attack. McGill now has gone down with an injury that will keep him out for much of the season. Now, LSU transfer Barrington Edwards will be pushed into the mix. Edwards is a talented back, who was buried on the depth chart at LSU. He is the home run threat they must find to replace Jacque Lewis and Chad Scott. Rikki Cook will fill the void left by Madison Hedgecock at fullback. North Carolina's running backs will have to be successful for the Tar Heels to have any hope in 2005.
10) Wake Forest - Chris Barclay is as good as any running back in the ACC. He is a terror is Jim Grobe's misdirection offense. Although, Barclay is a little undersized, he is as tough as they come. Barclay gives you everything at running back. He can run inside and outside, while being a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield. Micah Andrews has only 43 carries in his career, but he has averaged 6.1 yards per carry. Andrews is a bigger back than Barclay, but there is a major drop off in talent. Damon McWhite returns as the starting fullback.
11) Duke - Cedric Dargan could prove to be a talented back for Duke if he can stay healthy. Dargan had three games where he hit the century mark last season. If Dargan stays healthy, the Duke offense could show a good bit of improvement. Justin Boyle and Ronnie Drummer provide toughness and speed respectively to the depth chart. Malcom Ruff moves back to fullback after playing linebacker. He can provide leadership to an offense that has been lost at times.
12) Maryland - Issues at running back are starting to plague Ralph Friedgen and Maryland. Josh Allen tore his ACL leaving the Terrapins with major question marks at running back. Mario Merrills and Keon Lattimore will be called upon to fill the void. Merrills will get his shot as the senior, but Lattimore is the more talented of the two backs. Lattimore has the size and speed, but he only rushed for 15 yards in his first season. A player to keep an eye on is Vernon Davis. Davis plays a variety of positions for the Terrapins' offense and is by far the best playmaker Friedgen has. If Friedgen gets frustrated early, he could turn to the dependable answer of Davis to ease his frustrations.