We’re less than two months away from the start of the 2013 college football season, and that means preview countdowns! In the past, we’ve limited these lists to just the top 25 players, but this season, we’re upping our game to 50. So just about every day until the season starts, there will be a new player profile up here as we count down to the top ACC player for 2013.
Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus completely bulletproof — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.
After a superb offensive campaign in 2012, there’s worry that North Carolina will fall off a bit without star running back Giovani Bernard. But anyone who’s watched Bernard’s former backup, A.J. Blue, run the ball is likely to disagree with that sentiment. Despite serving in a reserve role last season, Blue still managed 513 total yards and 10 scores on just 91 touches. Obviously it would be a bit difficult to maintain that rate over the course of a full season and extended minutes — however, just think about that scoring rate. That, in a microcosm, is what blue brings to the table. An efficient, explosive mindset.
Blue averaged over five yards per carry in seven of 12 games last season, including his only 100-yard effort of the year: a 19-carry, 106-yard (and one TD) performance versus Wake Forest. Like Bernard, his running will be integral to setting up the team’s dynamic passing attack. However, unlike his predecessor, Blue actually has the physical makeup to wear down opposing defenses. Bernard’s game was mostly about finesse, though he certainly took advantage of a low center of gravity mixed with a decent weight (5’9″ and 208 pounds). Blue isn’t much heavier (215 pounds), though his past experience as a linebacker, greater size (6’2″) and speed (4.5-second 40-yard dash time) all set him up to be much more durable than Bernard. Just like Bernard too, he has the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, making the transition a much simpler one than advertised this fall.
Where he’ll likely excel this season is in the red zone, where the Heels do need a bit of help. Last season’s 80.95 red zone scoring percentage was 70th in the FBS, and that’s with 39 touchdowns converted (tied for 28th in the country). The fact that he can be his own change-of-pace back should give defenses fits as they attempt to figure out which runner they’ll be seeing (bruiser between the tackles or breakaway speed). He’s not an elite pass-catcher just yet, but as he experiences more success with the run, it should allow for him to get more balls thrown his way as well. Between Blue and standout tight end Eric Ebron alone, defenses are going to be consistently frustrated with UNC’s quick-pass attack. With two imposing short-yardage receivers, it’s simply too tough to stop both of them every down. By the end of 2013, Blue will be drawing his own comparisons, leaving thoughts of post-Bernard struggles for the Tar Heels in the rearview.