This is Part 2 in what is maybe shaping up to be a multi-part series looking at NC State’s 2018 football opponents. Today we’ll be looking at the opposing running backs. Let’s rank and review ‘em!
Projected Starter: Travis Etienne (SO)
Key Reserve(s): Tavien Feaster (JR), Adam Choice (r-SR)
Clemson has a ridiculous wealth of talent at the RB position. Etienne and Feaster are the home run hitting speedsters who can take it to the house either from the handoff or off the pass, while Choice is the bigger bruising and blocking back. True freshman Lyn-J Dixon could also provide another dynamic playmaker, if there are enough meaningful snaps to go around.
2. Florida State
Projected Starter: Cam Akers (SO)
Key Reserve(s): Jacques Patrick (SR), Khalan Laborn (r-FR)
Willie Taggart has a pair of studs in Akers and Patrick, who will provide a formidable 1-2 punch that is just about as good as they come. The issue is the depth after those two as there’s hardly anything by way of proven experience. Laborn should emerge as the #3 back, although it could be any number of guys to take that role.
3. Boston College
Projected Starter: AJ Dillon (SO)
Key Reserve(s): Travis Levy (SO), David Bailey (FR)
Dillon is the best RB in the ACC with the ball in his hands (although nobody knows if he can catch it). Still, the complete lack of proven depth behind him drops the entire RB crew in the rankings. Levy is the only other returning RB on BC’s roster with a career carry to his name (Jon Hilliman and his 638 yards and 5 TDs in 2017 transferred to Rutgers as a graduate student for the 2018 season), and even then Levy ran for just 54 yards on 21 carries.
4. North Carolina
Projected Starter: Micheal Carter (SO)
Key Reserve(s): Jordon Brown (JR), Antonio Williams (JR)
Carter is the most likely to be the first man on the field at the position, but this is likely a three-headed timeshare for the Tar Heels. Williams, the Ohio State transfer, adds another threat to what is easily the best unit on the entire team. If the passing game can hold its own and the line can create even marginal lanes, this unit will put up big numbers.
5. West Virginia
Projected Starter: Kennedy McCoy (JR)
Key Reserve(s): Martell Pettaway (JR), Alec Sinkfield (r-FR)
WVU is having to replace a RB in Justin Crawford who ran for 1,000+ yards in each of the last two seasons. That’s not an easy task. McCoy and Pettaway both have the ability to step in and produce, but both have also shown some “probably not the future guy” moments in their careers to date. Sinkfield is the most likely of a few younger guys who could get a chance to shine early if McCoy and/or Pettaway can’t steadily produce.
6. James Madison
Projected Starter: Marcus Marshall (SR)
Key Reserve(s): Cardon Johnson (r-SR), Trai Sharpe (SR)
James Madison has what is probably the best RB corps in all of D1-AA/FCS ball. Marshall (from Millbrook HS in Raleigh) is a Georgia Tech transfer, while Johnson and Sharpe are program-developed guys. Johnson was a beast each of the last three years, although his 2016 and 2017 seasons were cut short thanks to a pair of Achilles tendon tears. If Johnson comes back healthy, this will be a three-headed beast of a running attack.
Projected Starter: Tyler King (r-SO)
Key Reserve(s): Keion Davis (r-SR), Anthony Anderson (r-SR)
King and Davis shared lead back responsibilities in 2017, but King has the higher upside and more explosive abilities. This is a backfield with a lot of experience and ability that should help to ease the burden on the new Thundering Herd QB. Anderson is a huge bulldozer of a RB and a great blocking back, but he can also prove effective with the ball in his hands, even if he’s not a threat to break off a long run.
8. Wake Forest
Projected Starter: Matt Colburn (SR)
Key Reserve(s): Cade Carney (JR), Christian Beal (r-FR)
Colburn came on late last year and really helped to get the Wake Forest offense moving, which in turn helped them finish the year strong in the Win column. Carney had a good freshman campaign in 2016, but didn’t build off of that at all in 2017; it will be interesting to see if he can take a step forward this year. There’s not much past Colburn and Carney, but Beal is the most likely to get the next crack at carries.
Projected Starter: Dontae Strickland (SR)
Key Reserve(s): Moe Neal (JR), Markenzy Pierre (SO)
Neal deserves the greater chunk of playing time, but Strickland appears to be the starter heading into the season (he was the starter in 2017, too). Pierre is a pretty good ways behind Strickland and Neal, so unless he (as well as Strickland and Neal, for that matter) step up this year, it should open the window for someone like true freshman Jarveon Howard to carve out a significant role.
Projected Starter: Jordan Ellis (SR)
Key Reserve(s): PK Kier (SO), Chris Sharp (JR)
Ellis is the bell-cow back for UVa, but he’s not necessarily a great one. He had a very inefficient 2017 season, but he returns for 2018 as the main man again. Pretty much nobody else got carries for the Wahoos last year, although with the team breaking in a new man at QB, the chance is there for Kier, Sharp, and maybe even sophomore Lamont Atkins or a true freshman to grab some carries and potentially earn a larger role.
Projected Starter: Trey Smith (r-JR)
Key Reserve(s): Dae Williams (r-SO), Colin Wilson (r-FR)
Louisville lost it’s top three rushers from last year, when you include Lamar Jackson, but let’s stay focused on the RBs. The top two RBs from a year ago are gone, and two of the other returnees with experience are gone (one out for the year with an injury, one transferring to Kansas State). The announced starer, Smith, had all of 21 carries last year. While there are a few freshman who could make an impact, that’s not a given. This position is a major area of concern for the Cardinals.
12. Georgia State
Projected Starter: Taz Bateman (r-SR)
Key Reserve(s): Darius Stubbs (r-SO), Destin Coates (FR)
Bateman looked good as a sophomore in 2015, but then missed all of 2016 and looked nothing the same in 2017; he should still be the starter. Stubbs missed all of 2016, although he didn’t really look all that great as a freshman in 2016. Coates is a talented true freshman and the most talented of the group. He should take over the lead RB role before the end of the season.