RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Reserves have played a leading role in the Atlantic Coast Conference this year, whether keeping their team in the title chase or helping them become bowl eligible.
Most of the ACC’s nine bowl eligible teams at some point were at a crossroads this season when reliable depth _ or lack thereof _ was going to determine what kind of season they would have.
“When you start establishing yourself and getting the recruiting classes and getting the depth on your football team that you need,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said, “that’s when you really start competing for championships in my opinion because the injuries are going to come.”
Seems no position was sparred as teams replaced injured running backs, quarterbacks and linemen.
Some teams had to replace injured running backs for several weeks. E.J. Manuel stepped in while Florida State star Christian Ponder missed a game during the peak of the Atlantic Division race. At North Carolina, coaches juggled the lineup to deal with an NCAA investigation and multiple injuries.
For the players pressed into expanded roles, the mentality is simple.
“Whatever the coaches and the team need,” said Clemson running back Jamie Harper, coming off consecutive 100-yard days while top rusher Andre Ellington is out with a foot injury. “I’m just here to play my role. Whatever opportunity comes up, I’m willing to take.”
Perhaps no team better illustrated that than the 13th-ranked Hokies.
Ryan Williams ran for ACC freshman-records of 1,655 yards and 21 touchdowns last year only to injure his hamstring in the first month. At that point, the Hokies were 1-2 after being picked to win the league.
But Darren Evans _ himself a former ACC record-setter by running for 1,265 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2008 before missing last season with a knee injury _ filled in capably. With Williams out for four games, Evans ran for seven of his nine touchdowns while sharing the workload with David Wilson to help the Hokies pull themselves together again.
Now Williams is back and looks fresh while splitting carries with Evans. And Virginia Tech (9-2, 7-0 ACC) has wrapped up the Coastal Division crown and a spot in the ACC championship game in Charlotte on Dec. 4.
“You know, we’ve got some great play from our tailbacks,” Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. “I mean, you look at it and all of them run hard and all of them got a different style but when you can keep ‘em fresh and eager, that’s a good thing to have. And again, let’s not get ‘em beat up. This time of year, there’s a lot of guys beat up. I think ours are fresh and ready to go.”
There were also a slew of quarterback injuries.
Georgia Tech lost Joshua Nesbitt to a broken arm and turned to Tevin Washington to get its sixth win and become bowl eligible for a 14th straight season. At Miami, coach Randy Shannon now must decide who to play at quarterback this weekend against South Florida: Jacory Harris, who is back after missing three games with a concussion; or backup Stephen Morris, who won two of three starts to keep the Hurricanes in the Coastal Division race until last week.
At Maryland, the Terrapins _ eliminated from the Atlantic Division race last week _ have thrived under Danny O’Brien, who started the season as a reserve but took over as the starter when Jamarr Robinson hurt his shoulder. Robinson is back, but as a reserve.