Music City Bowl

DeCock: O’Brien’s QB experiment yields varied results

December 30, 2012 

The grand experiment that began in April 2011 is coming to an end. When Tom O’Brien decided he would rather have two seasons of Mike Glennon than one season of Russell Wilson at quarterback, it set in motion a chain of events that concludes Monday and took three careers in radically different directions.

Regardless of his motivation, regardless of whether O’Brien was right or wrong, the final tallying-up comes when Glennon plays his final game for N.C. State in the Franklin American Music City Bowl.

It worked out for Wilson, who won a Big Ten championship in his one mercenary season at Wisconsin, parlayed that high-visibility season into a third-round NFL draft selection, beat out big-money free agent Matt Flynn for the Seattle Seahawks’ starting job and has played his way into rookie-of-the-year contention.

It worked out for Glennon, who led the Wolfpack to two bowl appearances, set all kinds of passing records, completed not only his undergraduate studies but his master’s degree and has impressed NFL scouts to the point where he has an outside shot at becoming the first quarterback drafted in April.

It worked out for everyone but O’Brien, who lost his job in November – but not because of how he handled the quarterback situation.

With the benefit of hindsight, O’Brien had few options. Glennon, like Wilson, had his undergraduate degree in hand, making him a potential college free agent as well. Wilson, his abortive baseball career over, was determined to play football somewhere. The coach was going to lose one quarterback. He could have Wilson for one more year – albeit a potential Heisman Trophy campaign – or turn the keys over to Glennon for two more years.

O’Brien took the long-term view. In the end, he may have been punished for it: One big ten-win season with Wilson in 2011 (it’s hard, although not impossible, to imagine N.C. State losing both of those early games to Wake Forest and Cincinnati with Wilson under center) could have cemented O’Brien’s position no matter what happened in 2012.

Instead, even as Glennon grew out of those early growing pains and became a touchdown machine, N.C. State continued to suffer inexplicable losses – Boston College in 2011, Virginia in 2012 – and finished 8-5 and 7-5, pending Monday’s game against Vanderbilt. That was enough for athletics director Debbie Yow to fire O’Brien and bring in Dave Doeren.

That can’t be tagged on Glennon: In only two seasons, he worked his way into the top four in N.C. State’s record book in nearly every passing category, putting up Philip Rivers-type numbers. He continues to move up NFL draft boards, and a strong performance against Vanderbilt could move him into the first round.

Meanwhile, Wilson is doing the same thing in the NFL he did at N.C. State and Wisconsin: Surpassing expectations, delivering results.

Consider this appraisal of Wilson’s development: “He’s a competitor at quarterback. He’s an athlete at quarterback. He’s a genius at quarterback. So he’s got it all. He’s like, a triple threat. If they probably have a quadruple threat, we’ll find something else Russell can do well, and he’ll be that.”

That’s as true now that he is in the NFL as it was when former Wolfpack running back Jamelle Eugene said it more than three years ago, after Wilson’s first season at N.C. State.

The only sour note in his post-N.C. State career came last weekend, when he was forced to nail down his college choice for NBC’s introductions. His declaration, “from a whole Pack of Badgers,” offended, and satisfied, no one.

It was a fitting conclusion to all the hand-wringing – highly anticipated but inconsequential. For all the attention paid to the decision, for all the personalities involved, quarterback wasn’t the position that held back N.C. State.

DeCock: (919) 829-8947, Twitter: @LukeDeCock

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