That challenge brings opportunity as well, however, which is good news for backup Mike Glennon.
Glennon is no slouch, and was by far the more highly-touted recruit among the quarterbacks on the State roster. But in his true freshman season, the redshirt frosh and former two-star recruit Wilson outplayed the field, got the starting job and, except when sidelined by injuries, has never relinquished it over the past two seasons. Coach Tom O'Brien said that Glennon could compete for the job over the summer with a strong effort this spring, but Wilson's shadow will loom large even in his absence.
The fact that Wilson was the less heralded recruit is not lost on O'Brien, who seemingly gives the same speech every signing day about how he doesn't care about the rankings. Nate Irving, the critical member of the defense this year, was also a two-star recruit and has outperformed most of the linebackers ranked ahead of him.
North Carolina State welcomed 19 new players on signing day on Feb. 3, joining the four newbies who had already enrolled for the spring semester. It nabbed three of the top 10 players in the state, as determined by the Scout.com rankings, and as O'Brien pointed out at his media conference the 23 players made a complete team -- 11 on offense, 11 on defense, and one kicker.
The new guys have a lot of work to do, as do the veterans. It was a disappointing 2009 season for the Wolfpack, who were expected to contend for the ACC title and didn't even qualify for a bowl game. The look for answers on how to get the team to the next level continued to build with the Signing Day announcements, and will only keep building as spring practice looms on the horizon.
--Linebacker Nate Irving missed the entire 2009 season after being severely injured in a car crash during the summer. However, he was able to resume workouts in the offseason, and was expected to be ready to go by the start of spring practice.
--The team is continuing to monitor the health of offensive coordinator Dana Bible. Bible is undergoing chemotherapy treatments, and if all goes well, he may be able to return to his full-time duties by May.
--OT Robert Crisp, Hillsborough, N.C. -- Rated by the Raleigh News & Observer as the second-best football recruit in the state, Crisp was an early commitment who stayed true to his school despite the Wolfpack's struggles in 2009. His footwork is exceptional for a high school athlete, though he still has a lot to learn about technique.
--DE David Akinniyi, Carrollton, Texas -- Akinniyi is far from the traditional college recruit. A three-year starter at Northeastern, he found himself without a place to play when the school suddenly decided to drop football following the 2009 season. He only has one year of eligibility remaining, but enrolled in school in January so he will have a full spring practice schedule to get ready for his senior season.
--WR Anthony Creecy, Durham, N.C. -- Creecy was another big local get for the Wolfpack coaching staff, as the fifth-best player in the state of North Carolina (according to the rivals.com rankings) fills a need at wide receiver and showed that State can take a top player away from the other local schools. The SuperPrep All-America should help the NCSU passing game stretch the field.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't know how it compares. We are happy with who we have signed and we are not worried about their guys. That's the first lesson I learned in recruiting: Worry about your own guys. They are the ones who are going to help you win. You can't do anything about the other people's guys." -- Coach Tom O'Brien, on how his recruiting class compares to the rest of the state's ACC schools.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 LOOK AHEAD: The Wolfpack won't be burdened by the same high expectations as in 2009, but ironically may be better equipped to fulfill them. If Russell Wilson doesn't pursue a professional baseball career, and if Nate Irving returns from his season lost to injury, this team will have impact players on both sides of the ball.
SPRING SNAPSHOT: Practice begins March 9, and ends on April 17. The spring game will take place on April 17, and for the second year in a row will be dedicated to former women's basketball coach Kay Yow. Donations will be collected at the game for charities that include the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund that was set up through the V Foundation for Cancer Research.
The offense will be largely without its coordinator, as Dana Bible is undergoing chemotherapy and won't be at full strength until May. The defense, meanwhile, will look to retool after a brutal 2009 that saw it ravaged by both injuries and most opposing offenses.
PRO POTENTIAL: Willie Young will draw the main interest from NFL teams, and was the only Wolfpack player to get a postseason showcase in an all-star game.
However, other members of the squad will draw some attention, either in later rounds or as undrafted free agents.
-- DE Willie Young -- Looking to become the latest defensive lineman to move from Raleigh to the NFL, Young got a chance to impress by participating in the East-West Shrine Game. He should be the first Wolfpack player taken, likely in the third or fourth round.
--C Ted Larson -- Larson is one of the most highly-rated centers in the draft, but he will see his draft position take a hit because many teams don't prioritize the position on draft day. At 296 pounds, however, he's got good size and will get a look in the later rounds.
--DT Alan-Michael Cash -- Cash might have to go the undrafted free agent route, and at best is probably a late-round pick. He could make a team or a practice squad with a strong camp, and nobody will outwork him in their effort to get there.
--P Jeff Ruiz is among several Wolfpack players who have graduated with eligibity remaining but will not be coming back to the team. Coach Tom O'Brien said in February that Chris Ward will be the punter.
--DB DeAndre Morgan also graduated and left the team rather than seek a final year of eligibility. The Wolfpack are thin in the secondary, but Morgan lost playing time to underclassmen as the 2009 season progressed.