RALEIGH — In theory, N.C. State can follow the blueprint Wisconsin used with Russell Wilson to solve its quarterback issues with a graduate transfer this season.
It was N.C. State that let Wilson transfer to Wisconsin in 2011, after he was the Wolfpacks starter for three seasons and led the team to nine wins and a spot in the top 25 in 2010.
Wilson made the transition from one major program to another look easy. He led the Badgers to an 11-win season and the Rose Bowl.
Brandon Mitchell, who is 6-4, 239 pounds, played at Arkansas for three seasons, the last one as a receiver, and graduated this summer and transferred to N.C. State. Either Mitchell or junior Pete Thomas will start Saturday for the Wolfpack in the season-opener against Louisiana Tech.
Mitchell spent the spring at Arkansas with the Razorbacks new coach, Bret Bielema, who also happened to be Wilsons coach at Wisconsin.
That was something coach Bielema told me about, Mitchell said. Its a really tough transition, (but) I feel like I can do it.
How quickly Mitchell has been able to pick up the playbook and earn the trust of his new teammates will likely determine how much he plays against the Bulldogs.
New N.C. State Dave Doeren did not want to tip his hand to Louisiana Tech so he told the team who will start at quarterback Wednesday, but he let everyone else to wait until 12:30 p.m. for the kickoff.
Both Mitchell, who got most of his snaps at quarterback as a backup at Arkansas in 2010 and 11, and Thomas, who started 21 games at Colorado State before transferring to N.C. State last season, have impressed offensive coordinator Matt Canada in training camp.
But there is a difference between theory and reality, especially when it comes to a player like Wilson, Canada said.
Every situation is different, Canada said. To set (Wilson) as the standard is unfair. Those guys dont come along very often in recruiting, they dont come along very often in transfers and they dont come along often in people.
Thats a lesson Canada learned the hard way at Wisconsin last season. Canada was Wisconsins offensive coordinator in 2012 (he was with Doeren at Northern Illinois in 2011 when Wilson was at Wisconsin) and after the success with Wilson, Bielema recruited Danny OBrien from Maryland to be the Badgers quarterback.
The transition for OBrien, who graduated from Maryland, wasnt nearly as smooth or successful as Wilsons. OBrien lost the starting job after three games and decided to transfer to Catawba for his final college season. The Badgers finished the season using three quarterbacks and won three fewer games.
Searching for their Wilson
Wilson as a standard might not be fair, as Canada suggests, but N.C. State has gotten used to a certain level of production at quarterback the past four seasons.
Wilson, 2009 and 10, and Mike Glennon, in 11 and 12, averaged 30 touchdown passes and 3,418 yards per season.
Thats why when the offense, revamped under Doeren and Canada to include more spread principles and run at a faster pace, bogged down in the spring game there were questions about the quarterback situation. Thomas, who started with the first-team offense in the spring, said the offense has come a long way since then.
We were nowhere near as good as we needed to be in the spring and that started with me, said Thomas, a 6-6, 236-pound redshirt junior who was sacked four times in the spring game and did not throw for a touchdown.
You can make all the different excuses, but the idea of it was I just wasnt good enough. I truly think we worked hard this summer and we came out in fall camp and we were night-and-day better.
Thomas said he understood why Doeren recruited Mitchell and that the coaches have been honest with him about his role and the competition.
The great thing about these coaches is they were honest with me from day one, Thomas said.
Mitchell joined the program after spring practice. He has been a quick study with the playbook but also with his teammates, including Thomas.
They both want the job and theyre both competitive, but they work together and get along well, Canada said.
Mitchell has experience in quarterback competitions. At Arkansas, he was a backup to Ryan Mallett and Tyler Wilson, both now in NFL. He also understands the best way to learn is to work together, despite the competition for the same spot.
He transferred here to play and I transferred here to play, so we were both kind of in the same situation, Mitchell said.
It doesnt matter whos in the game. Were going to play the same and command the offense the same. You dont want to have two leaders pulling the team two different ways.