|North Carolina RB Giovani Bernard led the ACC with 122.8 rushing yards per game. (US Presswire)|
Almost three years ago as an elite high school recruit in south Florida, North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard changed his mind. He decided to play his college football in Chapel Hill, reneging on his original verbal commitment to Notre Dame after the Irish fired Charlie Weis and hired Brian Kelly.
Part of the reason? Bernard was a little apprehensive about the spread offense Kelly was bringing to South Bend. He wanted to be a feature back in a pro-style attack. So, he committed to coach Butch Davis at North Carolina.
Now, three years into Bernard's collegiate career, he was one of the best backs in the country starring in new coach Larry Fedora's uptempo, spread offense, and he has been named the CBSSports.com ACC Offensive Player of the Year.
Bernard led the ACC in rushing, averaging 122.8 yards per game. His total of 1,228 rushing yards came in just 10 games and was still 197 yards more than Clemson RB Andre Ellington, who finished second on the ACC rushing list.
Fedora didn't just hand the ball to Bernard. He finished third on the team with 47 receptions for 490 yards, and Bernard led the conference, averaging 16.4 yards per punt return.
All totaled, Bernard finished fourth nationally with 198.1 all-purpose yards per game. He led the league in scoring at 11.4 points per game which also was fifth nationally. The Tar Heels were 8-2 with him in the lineup and 0-2 while he was sidelined due to injury in September.
Bernard was at his best in North Carolina's biggest games. He ran for 262 yards in a 48-34 win over Virginia Tech and 177 yards in an 18-14 win at Miami while scoring both of his team's touchdowns.
But no performance was bigger than what he did against rival NC State. Bernard had 304 all-purpose yards, running for 135 yards and catching eight passes for 95 yards. It culminated with a 74-yard punt return for a touchdown with 13 seconds to play to give the Tar Heels a 43-35 win, their first over the Wolfpack since 2006.
Bernard now has a tough decision to make. As a redshirt sophomore, he is eligible to enter the upcoming NFL Draft. He is rated the No. 45 overall prospect and the top-rated running back in CBSSports.com's latest player rankings.
If he decides to return to North Carolina, Bernard will generate plenty of Heisman buzz leading into 2013.
For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis from ACC bloggers Shawn Krest and Sean Bielawski, follow @CBSSportsACC.