INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 03: Russell Wilson #16 of the Wisconsin Badgers celebrates after they won 42-39 against the Michigan State Spartans during the Big 10 Conference Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 3, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Which of these quarterbacks would you rather have? Keep your answer in mind for the end.
Wisconsin is playing Oregon in the Rose Bowl today, and a big reason why is Russell Wilson's play at quarterback. He actually sits slightly ahead of Heisman winner Robert Griffin in the passing efficiency standings. It'll take a fantastic game to remain ahead of Griffin and set his own record, but he's put up plenty of those this season. (Ed: He beat Griffin for the all-time record).
Of course, the whole reason Wilson is at Wisconsin is because Tom O'Brien dismissed him for wanting to play baseball in the offseason and not fully committing to football. Given that Wilson was going to be a senior this year and twice made an All-ACC team of some sort, that decision was bound to be controversial. O'Brien thought his team would be fine with another upperclassman signal caller, Mike Glennon. With Wilson interested in Auburn, it was a story we followed over the offseason.
Throughout the season I've seen on TV, Twitter, and other places that O'Brien made a huge mistake. The basis of that reasoning tended to be this: "Look at what Wilson is doing at Wisconsin! How could you let a guy like that go?" It's the epitome of lazy commentary.
Wisconsin has a massive offensive line and a punishing running game led by Heisman finalist Montee Ball. NC State, meanwhile, had no running game to speak of. The Badgers as a team ran for 3,086 yards, more than twice the 1,363 that the Wolfpack rushed for. Those figures include NCSU's bowl but not Wisconsin's, by the way. The leading rusher for O'Brien's bunch was James Washington, who managed just 4.0 yards per carry. Every person who carried the ball for Wisconsin except freshman QB Joe Brennan averaged more yards per carry than that.
Glennon basically had to be the offense. In his seven best performances by passing efficiency, the team went 5-2. In those two losses, the defense gave up 44 and 34 points, respectively.
So did O'Brien make the right choice? Well, think back to which quarterback from the beginning you went with. They were pretty close, no? QB #1 was Wilson's line in 2010 at NC State, while QB #2 was Glennon's line from this season (both without stats against I-AA competition). Aside from Wilson having almost 100 more attempts, the lines are nearly identical.
Wilson's experience and superior mobility to Glennon's would have been a plus, for sure. He probably would have won the team at least one more game, the loss NCSU took to Boston College by a score of 14-10 when Glennon had an iffy day. Glennon was also more inconsistent than Wilson likely would have been, losing to BC one week and then hammering Clemson the next.
In the end though, the difference between the two quarterbacks in the NC State system wasn't huge. It was probably the difference between 8-5 and 9-4, but it wasn't the difference between being a conference title contender or not.
For O'Brien, taking on that extra loss might have been worth it to send a message to his team about commitment. If that's the case, then he made a good decision by telling Wilson to walk. He got to send his message without his team falling off greatly, and Wilson got to have a dream season in Madison. They both win.