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Syracuse Football 2016 Preview: Ranking Top Five Opposing Running Backs

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Hope that run defense has improved...

Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

In past years, we've come up with some creative ways to rank ACC players, Syracuse Orange football opponents and more, in the lead-up to the new season. This year, we're going position by position, ranking the top five players SU faces at each. These are obviously just pulled from the 12 scheduled opponents, and only those. So when you ask "where is ACC player X?" or "how can you skip ACC player Y?"... that's how.

Today:

Top Five Opposing Running Backs

1. Dalvin Cook, Florida State Seminoles

Who else but Cook to lead off? In 12 games last season (he missed a game against the Orange), his 1,691 rushing yards had him first in the ACC. As a capable receiving threat, he also caught 24 passes for another 244 yards. Cook's speed in every part of the field is pretty incredible, and it's how you end up averaging 7.4 yards per carry. At 6-feet tall and 203 pounds, he's shifty, but can break tackles and use some power. In short, he's one of college football's best weapons, and one of its toughest to stop. Bill Connelly rightly points out that the quarterback position decides how far FSU goes. But how far that QB (whoever he may be) goes will be assisted, at least in part, by Cook putting in work like he did last year.

2. Wayne Gallman, Clemson Tigers

Gallman was an absolute workhorse for Clemson last year, and him anchoring the rushing attack is what allowed the Tigers' offense to be so effective throwing the ball (along with Deshaun Watson's own skill set, of course). Though his breakout games were rare -- he hit the 150-yard mark just twice -- his consistency was a valuable commodity. Similar to Cook, he possesses a nice combination of speed and power that make him tough to take down at first contact. His 304 touches last year could show some wear this fall. But even if Clemson brings down his carries a bit, he'll still be a very efficient option in the 15-20 touches range. After all, he did average 5.4 yards per carry last year, and just five of his 15 games saw that number under five yards per.

3. James Conner, Pittsburgh Panthers

Perhaps you forgot about just how dominant Conner was after he missed nearly all of 2015 with a torn MCL and then a Hodgkins lymphoma diagnosis (he's since been declared cancer-free). As a refresher: Conner carried the ball 298 times for 1.765 yards and 26 scores in 2014, setting the table for the entire Pitt offense and taking home ACC offensive player of the year honors. We'll have to wait and see if he's back at 100-percent this season, but even cutting back on the workload, he's still a dangerous runner for Pitt (and a tough one for an inexperienced Orange defensive line to stop).

4. Marlon Mack, USF Bulls

You'll probably recall Mack from the time he lit up Syracuse last season. His 184 yards on just 20 carries were really the first sign that the Orange defense was not up to the task last year -- especially when it came to stopping the run. But that's not to isolate the SU game as Mack's only achievement either. Mack's 1,381 rushing yards behind a young offensive line were still a big part of the Bulls' offense, and will be again this season as they return a ton of talent on that side. USF QB Quinton Flowers steers the ship for that attack, but Mack is the reason he's got room to throw. Expect him to improve on his numbers this year.

5. Travon McMillian, Virginia Tech Hokies

Just a freshman last year, McMillian burst onto the scene for an inconsistent Tech offense and rounded himself into a real weapon as the passing game searched for an identity. His numbers aren't stunning if you look at the early box scores, but hitting his stride in the second half leads to a lot more promise for 2016. Beyond his own talents, he'll have an up-tempo offense and an experienced offensive line to help him out as well. New Hokies coach Justin Fuentes's spread may take a year too, so in the transition toward a more aggressive passing attack, the team could still lean on his running ability.

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That's the top five, though obviously many more players we could add here. Pitt's Qadree Ollison is the most obvious absence, but there's a real possibility his opportunities decrease with Conner back.

Anyone else you think we should have here instead? Share below.