While "RussellMania" sweeps Wisconsin and the college football landscape, Mike Glennon quietly has gone about his business as N.C. State's quarterback.
Glennon has put up good numbers in his first six starts, ranking second in the ACC in touchdown passes (16) and fourth in yards per game (247.7), but the Wolfpack takes a disappointing 3-3 record into today's ACC game at Virginia (3:30 p.m., ESPNU).
Would the Wolfpack, 9-4 a year ago, have a better record if Russell Wilson had returned for his final college season, instead of transferring to Wisconsin?
"Probably not, because it hasn't been a lack of offense," coach Tom O'Brien said Thursday. "There isn't anything throw-wise or leadership-wise offensively that would be any different at this point in the season."
N.C. State's problems have been on defense, with a litany of injuries and mistakes. The defense has played without its top two linemen for most of the season and without as many as five linemen at one stretch.
But in a relatively uneventful season, Wilson's story has grown in national stature each week. He was featured on ESPN's "Year of the Quarterback" series Wednesday night. Friday, he was featured in the Wall Street Journal.
Wilson's public split with O'Brien, over the quarterback's decision to play professional baseball instead of reporting to spring football practice, led the three-year Wolfpack starter to finish his career at Wisconsin. With the No. 4 Badgers, Wilson has emerged as a Heisman Trophy favorite playing for an undefeated team in the Bowl Championship Series title mix.
As far as statistical comparisons go, Wilson leads the country in passing efficiency and has more yards (1,557) than Glennon (1,486). He has fewer touchdowns (14, to Glennon's 16) this season, but Wilson has fewer interceptions as well (one to Glennon's four). Wisconsin's 6-0 start with Wilson behind center has led to more than one "what if?" question from an uneasy N.C. State fan base. But Glennon, a fourth-year junior who graduated in May and who also had the opportunity to transfer, hasn't let any of the comparisons distract him.
O'Brien said Glennon was prepared for the scrutiny and learned from his brother Sean Glennon, the former Virginia Tech quarterback who was a popular target from some disgruntled Hokies fans from 2006 to 2008.
Mike "knew how to handle the situation," O'Brien said. "The best way to handle it is what he did - take care of his business himself."
ESPN college football analyst Dan Hawkins, the former Colorado and Boise State coach, has been impressed by how Glennon has handled the comparisons to Wilson.
"You take all that off the board and look at what Mike has done," said Hawkins, who was scheduled to work today's game telecast. "He has been a productive player."
Hawkins said Glennon's intelligence has helped him as a first-year starter. He said Glennon has worked his way through route progressions, finding second and third options, like a more experienced quarterback.
"He has made really good decisions," Hawkins said.
Since a tentative start against Liberty - Glennon's first since a decorated high school career in Virginia - he has shown progress in each game. He threw for 315 yards with three touchdowns in his first ACC game, a loss to Wake Forest, and had 334 yards and two touchdowns, despite getting sacked five times, in a loss to Cincinnati.
"I think I've gotten better," Glennon said. "I feel more comfortable each game."
Like everyone else inside the N.C. State program, Glennon doesn't talk a lot publicly about Wilson, but he understands the comparisons.
Through six games last year, Wilson had better numbers (more yards, more touchdowns), and the Wolfpack started 5-1.
The 3-3 start, with losses to Wake Forest, Cincinnati and Georgia Tech - three teams a Wilson-led N.C. State team beat in 2010 - has bothered Glennon more than the specter of Wilson's continued success.
"Obviously, I visualized winning more," Glennon said.
Given the struggles of the defense, which gave up a combined 89 points in consecutive losses to Cincinnati and Wake Forest before an improved outing in a win against Central Michigan, O'Brien could not have asked for much more from Glennon.
"He has his job figured out," O'Brien said. "His poise has been remarkable. He's unflappable and he has been under duress."
O'Brien also is quick to point out that these are Glennon's first six college starts. As a first-time starter in 2008, Wilson threw for 900 yards with 12 touchdowns and one interception in his first six starts. That team also had a record of 1-5.
The toughest part of the schedule is still in front of Glennon and the Wolfpack. N.C. State needs to go 4-2 to get back to a bowl game, and then there's the matter of a four-year winning streak against North Carolina. Wilson factored heavily in three of those wins.
But Glennon hasn't given up hope on the season. He said the division race is still in play, despite a 0-2 ACC start. Glennon pointed out that the last three Atlantic Division winners have lost at least two ACC games.
"We can be that team this year," Glennon said.
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