As part of our 2012 season preview, we’re counting down the top 25 players in the ACC for this season, from 25 to one. Obviously these lists are always completely subjective, so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments.
In a year full of surprises around the ACC, one of the most unexpected happenings was the emergence of then-freshman running back Giovani Bernard. The Florida native burst onto the scene for the Tar Heels, rushing for over 1,200 yards while catching 45 passes for another 362 yards. Stacked up against his conference peers, he was third in rushing, tied for first in touchdowns, and fifth in all-purpose yards. If not for another standout freshman, Clemson‘s Sammy Watkins, all eyes would’ve been on Bernard. But instead, due to a postseason ban this season, he may continue to float under the national radar.
As he continues adjusting to head coach Larry Fedora’s spread offense, Bernard may experience some growing pains, sure. But don’t expect that to last too long. The biggest shift for Bernard in the new system will be running without a lead blocker, and using his elusiveness to his advantage. Standing at 5’10”, he may not seem like a threat, until defenders are scorched by the 210-pound back’s 4.48 40-yard dash speed. In the spread, if he can get to the edge, or find himself open in the flat, look out. Given his pass-catching abilities already on display in just one year of action, don’t be surprised if Bernard becomes even more of a dual-threat for 2012.
And even if his numbers dip slightly, it’ll still be for the benefit of the team. In blocking situations and play-action, Bernard must thrive off his increased role as a decoy. Past success should help him be effective here, earning the respect of a blitzing defensive line. But he must keep it up and remain a home run threat, despite fewer carries and opportunities. If he pulls it off, it’ll set up the passing game for QB Bryn Renner, and allow this offense to operate at maximum efficiency. Expect Bernard to excel this year, growing hype for what should be a really fun (and ban-free) 2013 in Chapel Hill.