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Ranking the ACC Running Back Tandems for 2016

Dalvin Cook

Dalvin Cook

Having two running backs is almost essential for every college football team. While some teams have workhorse options that can handle 275 or 300 carries, most programs want to have at least two (and sometimes three) running backs to split up the workload. The thought process is pretty simple: Take the workload off one player and spread it around to keep everyone fresh. This concept seems to gain more steam each year, as a running game is no longer about just one go-to back. Instead, most teams need at least two solid ball-carriers to lead the way on the ground. 

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The ACC has its share of talented running backs returning in 2016. Which teams have the best tandems (No. 1 and No. 2 backs) returning in the fall? Here are Athlon's rankings of the best running back tandems in the ACC for 2016:

Ranking the ACC RB Tandems for 2016

14. Wake Forest – Tyler Bell and Matt Colburn

The Demon Deacons have finished last in the ACC in rushing offense in three consecutive seasons. However, with the offensive line expected to take a step forward, improvement should be noticeable for the Wake Forest attack in 2016. Tyler Bell (451 yards) is the team’s top returning rusher, but sophomore Matt Colburn and freshmen Rocky Reid and Cade Carney will push for carries.

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13. Syracuse – Dontae Strickland and Jordan Fredericks

Dino Babers is one of the nation’s top offensive minds, and despite his reputation of producing high-powered passing offenses, the ground attack won’t be an afterthought in 2016. Under Babers’ direction, Bowling Green averaged 173 rushing yards per game in 2014 and increased that total to 180 in 2015. Fredericks led the team with 607 yards last season, but Strickland is expected to claim the starting job after spending 2015 as a hybrid running back/receiver.

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12. Virginia – Taquan Mizzell and Daniel Hamm

Taquan Mizzell is one of the ACC’s top all-purpose players and the best weapon on offense for new coordinator Robert Anae. Mizzell averaged 123.4 all purpose yards last year and led the Cavaliers with 75 catches. Albert Reid (360 yards) and Daniel Hamm (249 yards) will compete for the backup job.

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11. Louisville – Brandon Radcliff and Jeremy Smith

Even though Louisville ranks 11th here, coach Bobby Petrino has a solid stable of backs in place. Brandon Radcliff led the team with 737 yards and 12 scores in 2014 and recorded 634 yards on 139 attempts in 2015. He should lead the way for this stable in 2016, with Jeremy Smith (270 yards last year) and L.J. Scott providing support.

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10. Duke – Jela Duncan and Shaun Wilson

With quarterback Thomas Sirk on the mend from a torn Achilles this offseason, the Blue Devils could lean a little more on this duo. Sirk led the team in rushing last year, but Duncan and Wilson combined for 884 yards and seven scores in 2015. Duncan’s 6.9 yards per carry ranked fourth among ACC rushers last fall.

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9. Georgia Tech – Marcus Marshall and Clinton Lynch

Coach Paul Johnson has accumulated a promising stable of backs and plenty of options to take some of the pressure off of quarterback Justin Thomas. Marshall led the team with 654 yards last season and averaged a healthy 7.6 yards per rush. He should lead the running backs in touches, but Clinton Lynch (9.5) is also going to see plenty of work. True freshman Dedrick Mills is a name to watch this fall.

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8. Boston College – Jon Hilliman and Myles Willis

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After finishing second in the ACC in rushing in back-to-back years (2013-14), the Eagles slipped to ninth last season. Injuries and inconsistent play from the offensive line is largely to blame, but this offense should rebound in 2016. Hilliman suffered a foot injury in the fourth game of last season and was limited to just 198 yards and two touchdowns. When healthy, Hilliman is one of the ACC’s top backs. Willis was slowed by mono early in the year and later missed two games in October. He averaged 5.2 yards per rush as Hilliman’s backup in 2014.

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7. Virginia Tech – Travon McMillian and Shai McKenzie

Sorting out the quarterback battle is new coach Justin Fuente’s top priority this fall, but regardless of who starts, the Hokies can lean on their ground attack early (and often) in 2016. Travon McMillian had an impressive debut last season, recording 1,042 yards and seven scores on 200 attempts. Shai McKenzie has battled injuries over the last two seasons but is expected back at full strength in 2016. 

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6. NC State – Matt Dayes and Johnny Frasier

Matt Dayes was well on his way to a 1,000-yard campaign last season but a foot injury ended his year prematurely. Through eight contests, Dayes recorded 865 yards and 12 scores and averaged an impressive 6.5 yards per carry. Dayes will be the No. 1 back once again and should push for All-ACC honors. New play-caller Eliah Drinkwitz has depth to utilize here, starting with talented redshirt freshman Johnny Frasier.

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5. Miami – Joseph Yearby and Mark Walton

Miami finished 13th in the ACC in rushing offense last season. Expect that total to improve significantly under new coach Mark Richt. Joseph Yearby led the team with 1,002 yards and six scores in 2015 but did not reach 100 yards in a contest after Oct. 1. Mark Walton (461 yards and nine touchdowns last year) will push Yearby for the starting job, with junior Gus Edwards also in the mix after missing last season due to injury.

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4. Clemson – Wayne Gallman and Adam Choice

There’s no question quarterback Deshaun Watson is the catalyst for Clemson’s offense, but the ground attack shouldn’t be overlooked. The Tigers have a deep stable of options, starting with Wayne Gallman. As a sophomore in 2015, Gallman rushed for 1,527 yards and 13 touchdowns. Gallman is one of the nation’s top running backs returning in 2016. Adam Choice missed last year due to injury but rushed for 218 yards as a freshman in 2014. He’s expected to battle with C.J. Fuller, Tyshon Dye and incoming recruit (and four-star freshman) Tavien Feaster for the No. 2 role.

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3. North Carolina – Elijah Hood and T.J. Logan

Elijah Hood was one of the ACC’s breakout stars last season, recording 1,463 yards and 17 scores on just 219 attempts. The junior should increase his workload this year behind one of the ACC’s top offensive lines and is an Athlon Sports third-team All-American for 2016. The Tar Heels are in great shape with T.J. Logan (6.1 yards per carry in 2015) handling the No. 2 role.

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2. Pitt – James Conner and Qadree Ollison

James Conner’s return to the gridiron is one of the best storylines surrounding the 2016 season. The junior should quickly knock off the rust and regain the form that propelled him to 1,765 yards and 26 scores in 2014. Conner won’t have to carry the ground attack on his own, as backup Qadree Ollison recorded 1,121 yards and 11 scores as the team’s starter last fall.  

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1. Florida State – Dalvin Cook and Jacques Patrick

Despite a few nagging injuries (hamstring and ankle) and inconsistent play by the offensive line, Dalvin Cook turned in one of the top seasons by a running back in Florida State history. Cook recorded 1,691 yards (a new school record) and 19 scores, while averaging 7.4 yards per rush. Cook also tied for first nationally with four runs of 70 yards or more. Jacques Patrick is listed as the backup here, but Ryan Green made a strong push for the No. 2 role this offseason.

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