N.C. State’s greatest quarterback*

Russell Wilson's place in N.C. State history is loftier than you think.

If you’re still reading this, you’re at least slightly open to a little heresy. And suggesting that anyone other than Philip Rivers is N.C. State’s all-time best quarterback qualifies.

When he graduated in 2003, Rivers held nearly every N.C. State and Atlantic Coast Conference passing record. He is the all-time conference leader in attempts, completions, yards and touchdowns. He’s second in quarterback rating and adjusted yards per passing attempt, according to sports-reference.com. Listing Rivers’ NCSU records would take up more space than the Internet allows.

Russell Wilson built a more humble legacy. It appears that he’ll leave N.C. State sharing the conference and school single-season records for touchdown responsibility, with 37 last year. He’s sharing that record with, of course, Rivers. Wilson also holds the school records for single-game completions (38 against Boston College in 2010), single-season pass attempts (527 in 2010) and single-season total plays (670 in 2010).

Rivers has a far deeper statistical footprint. But before you dismiss the idea that Wilson was in the same league, consider Quarterback A and Quarterback B:

Comp. % Yards Yds/att TD INT Rushes Yards TD
A 60.2 8993 7.89 61 29 174 -11 14
B 57.8 8545 7.24 76 26 362 1082 17

Quarterback A, of course, is actually Quarterback P: Philip Rivers. And Quarterback B is Quarterback R: Russell Wilson. And you could make a compelling case that, through three years, Wilson was a better quarterback than Rivers. Considering only their passing, Rivers edges Wilson statistically: more passing yards, more yards per attempt and a higher completion percentage.

Also in Rivers’ favor: a 26-12 record, versus Wilson’s 19-14; and the fact that Rivers’ helmed the best Wolfpack team of the last 30-plus years, the 11-3 team from 2001.

Rivers’ advantages erode when you factor in Wilson’s freshman injuries. Wilson played fewer full games (34) than Rivers (38), leaving two freshman-year games early and missing another two. Had Wilson been healthy for those games, it’s reasonable to assume he would hold the upper hand in yards. Add Wilson’s rushing numbers and the comparison becomes a bit one-sided, in his favor.

Even the team success isn’t as fully in Rivers’ favor as it appears. Wilson’s best Pack team was the 9-4 edition in 2010. The ’10 Wolfpack was in the conference title race longer than the ’01 edition, staying alive until the 11th game.

Rivers was brilliant, but his sophomore and junior seasons were only a bit above average. His mind-numbing senior year (4,491 yards, 72.5% completions, 34 TDs, 7 INTs) and his durability cemented his status as one of the top 15 or 20 college quarterbacks ever.

Wilson’s legacy is less certain. Excellent from his first full game, he is, without question, the second greatest quarterback in NCSU history. Had he returned for a fourth season, however, he may have made a run at that number-one spot.

Through three years, he had a slight edge on Rivers.

*after three years

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2 Responses to N.C. State’s greatest quarterback*

  1. James C. says:

    Good stuff Jimmy.

    I think one major factor in why State fans–and probably most media members–recall the Rivers years as more spectacular is that, while Wilson created offense with his legs and extended plays, Rivers was essentially every bit as stiff a pocket passer he is now at San Diego.

    Of course, that alone doesn’t explain it. Why would anyone care pocket passer vs. dual threat? But Rivers’ lack of mobility forced him to rely on his absurdly high accuracy and game IQ to make big plays, and in a way I think more folks can relate to a guy like that versus someone freakishly athletic.

    The other big knock against Wilson’s awe-factor as a QB is just shitty timing, for lack of a better word. We’d gone 40 years since having a quarterback as great as Roman Gabriel, but only had to wait four to discover one as great as Rivers. No one’s fault, really.

    Glad to see some more posts!

    • Jimmy Ryals says:

      I think you’re onto something, Curle. Rivers, odd throwing motion aside, is the prototypical pocket passer: tall, solidly built and (I hate to interject this, but it may have impact for some) white. You’re right — he was at State during a more ambitious time for the program. It’s been a long time since any Pack player talked about winning the national title during a preseason press conference. I recall Levar Fisher doing that in 2001.

      Wilson does have some of the same qualities that made Rivers so popular: he’s intelligent, well-spoken and seems to have great leadership qualities. With his engagement last year and his family story, he’s got the same squeaky-clean image Phil had, before he started taunting fans in the NFL.

      Ryan Hill brought up Gabriel on Facebook — he’s interesting. I made a table of season-by-season and career performance for every Pack QB who’d started for at least 3 years, and the statistical difference between the Gabriel era and the modern one is striking. His ACC POY season (1961), completed a little more than half his passes for roughly 900 yards, 8 TDs and 6 INTs. The ACC passing leaders who immediately preceded and followed him combined for 14 TDs and 30 INTs in their league-leading seasons. I don’t know how to compare that period to today. Some day, I’ll do something interesting with that data.

      Thanks for the comment. We’re rebooting the blog (I’d liken it more to the Edward Norton “Hulk” reboot, than the Eric Bana “Hulk” reboot). We’re going to play our way back onto your blog roll.

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