HOT SPRINGS, Va. - Who will emerge as the Atlantic Coast Conference's top running back in 1996?
North Carolina coach Mack Brown said the conference is so top-heavy in quality running backs that it might have an impact on the national scene.
"The All-ACC running backs just might be the first-team All-American running backs," Brown said. "I don't know if I've ever seen a league with this many experienced running backs."
Only two will make the first-team All-ACC team at the end of the season that includes Florida State's Warrick Dunn, Clemson's Raymond Priester, Virginia's Tiki Barber, North Carolina's Leon Johnson and Georgia Tech's C.J. Williams.
Dunn, Priester, Barber and Williams all went over 1,000 yards rushing while Johnson finished 37 yards short in scoring 12 touchdowns.
There is a mutual respect among the league's featured backs but Johnson, a second team All-ACC selection last season, admits he wants to be a first teamer in 1996.
"I would like to be a first team all-conference running back," Johnson said. "That's one of my goals. This year it's going to be hard because there are a lot of good running backs. I would like to get 1,000 yards, get my degree and break a couple of records."
Dunn doesn't pick up the Sunday paper to see how the rest of the runners in the league are doing but his friends are aware.
"If Tiki gets 150 yards or 200 yards in a game, they let me know," Dunn said.
Dunn, whose Seminoles are the league's favorite, said team success will probably decide the difference between the runners.
"I have to play well and the team has to play well," Dunn said.
Barber expects big games by the individual player to make a difference.
"If I can have big games like I had last year, I'll be recognized," Barber said. "How you play in the big games are what people notice."
Both Dunn and Barber downplayed Heisman aspirations while Johnson thinks his added power, he's gone up from 195 to 210 pounds, will make a difference.
At least, he hopes.
"In the past, I've been more of a finesse runner," Johnson said. "Now, I think I'm more of a finesse/power runner. I think I can run over people now; that's the area I feel I've really improved on in the off-season.
Virginia passed out pens touting Barber as a Heisman candidate.
"I try not to think about it right now," Barber said. "If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, it doesn't. It's something I'm not going to dwell on." Dunn smiled and talked again about how the team has to play well when asked about the Heisman.
"It's (the Heisman talk) not uncomfortable for me and hopefully, it's not uncomfortable for them, Dunn said. "I'm not out for myself. It's a team thing."
GREENE ON GREEN QBS: Clemson quarterback Nealon Greene is the only returning signal caller in the ACC this fall.
He's gone from one of the youngest quarterbacks in the conference in 1995 to the veteran of the group. He has some advice for his fellow ACC fraternity members.
"Division I quarterback is a big step, particularly, in the ACC," Greene said. "They need to remember to work hard because there is always someone behind you pushing you for that spot. And when you play Clemson, I would like some interceptions."
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