NC State football has struggled for the past five years, coincidentally, the same number of years since Philip Rivers graduated. They have made only two bowl games since that time and have had a combined record of 26-34.
After starting the season off 2-6 last year, it appeared NC State would have another season of bad football, but a new star and potential savior of the program arrived—Russell Wilson.
The NC State football program is now, amazingly, in their sixth season without Philip Rivers in the fold. NC State was 34-17 with Rivers at the helm of the offense, winning three of four bowl games, while leading the Wolfpack to their highest ranking ever, finishing 11th.
When Rivers said goodbye to Raleigh as his home, he was second on the all time college passing yards list. He also held the NCAA record for most consecutive games started with 51. He still holds the NCAA record in yards per attempt.
I guess you can't expect a .750 team to keep winning at that rate without a quarterback who proved himself to be one of the best quarterbacks of the decade. However, the four seasons after Rivers graduated were disastrous for quarterbacks at NC State. Whenever they though they had found a starter, he would do something to blow the game.
Jay Davis, Marcus Stone, Daniel Evans, and sometimes Harrison Beck all showed promise early, only to finish the year with losing seasons three of four years. The only winning season the Wolfpack had in those years was definitely owed to their defense, which featured NFL first round draft picks Mario Williams, Manny Lawson, and John McCargo.
It seemed last year as though NC State would have yet another year of mediocre quarterback play as both Harrison Beck and Russell Wilson struggled through the first three games. How soon that would change though. Russell Wilson and the Wolfpack shocked then number 15 East Carolina with Wilson throwing 3 touchdowns and no picks.
Wilson sat out NC State's game versus the South Florida Bulls only to get crushed 41-10, but the rest of the season was Russell Wilson time. Despite losing his first three starts back, he threw for 586 yards and five touchdowns and kept games against Boston College, Florida State, and Maryland all within 10 points. That's when Wilson really started heating up.
After the Maryland loss the Wolfpack went on their late season winning streak. They won four straight to end the season and clinch a bowl birth, thanks mainly to the play of Russell Wilson. Wilson had great games in wins over Duke and Wake, tossing two touchdowns and no interceptions in each game.
The Carolina game is what really got everybody talking about this guy though. Wilson took the Pack into Chapel Hill to face a ranked Tar Heels squad and just tore them to shreds. He passed for 279 yards, two touchdowns, as well as rushing for 50 yards, and again not throwing an interception. NC State beat Carolina 41-10 in a must win game. Clutch play if I've ever seen it.
Wilson had another very strong game to close things out against Miami with 220 yards passing, two scores, along with 58 yards on the ground and a score (and of course a big ZERO in the interception column).
He came into the bowl game on fire and was tearing up Rutgers defense in the first half. He was having his best game of the year, with 186 yards through the air, before going down with a knee injury that kept him out for the entire second half.
Wilson's amazing second half of the season really shows that he has figured out how to be a great quarterback in the NCAA. In his final eight starts he had a 17-0 TD-interception ratio. He didn't lose them any games, which happens a lot with freshman quarterbacks at such a high level.
The fact that he went on to NC State's arch rival North Carolina's home turf and had his best game attributes that he is already mentally matured like a senior (along with the fact of only throwing one interception all year), not like a freshman.
If Wilson can keep going at the pace where he left off, which there is no reason to believe otherwise, NC State fans should have a very good feeling about this season. Wilson is a unique, matchup problem for any defense, a rare scrambler who is also good throwing the ball and good at making decisions.
There haven't been many players like Wilson in college football. He has his favorite targets back, so chemistry will be even better with Owen Spencer, who really looked good down the stretch.
I don't think anybody can say that Wilson will be more important to NC State football than Rivers ever was. They are impossible to compare as well because of Rivers traditional pocket mentality and Wilson's scrambling philosophy. However, Wilson brings NC State their first taste of a very good quarterback since Philip Rivers and gives them the game-breaking talents that a team needs to succeed.