NC State keeps focus on Champs Bowl
There are few distractions for North Carolina State to deal with these days. All the Wolfpack have to worry about is their bowl game, and that's just how linebacker Audie Cole likes it.
''Not really any injuries, no distractions, nothing going on,'' Cole said Monday. ''Just kind of show up and play football.''
That's certainly not the case for the Wolfpack's opponent in the Champs Sports Bowl. Nearly all of the talk at No. 22 West Virginia (9-3) is about the coaching changes that recently were made public and will begin to take effect next season.
So while the Mountaineers continue to deal with their uncertain future, N.C. State is content to keep its focus on football.
''I think it goes back to, we have to take care of ourselves,'' coach Tom O'Brien said. ''We've prepared the best we can. West Virginia has to handle those questions about who and what they are.''
The only lingering issue for the Wolfpack (8-4) is whether this will be the final football game for quarterback Russell Wilson, who spent much of the summer playing second base in the Colorado Rockies' minor-league system.
Questions about which sport Wilson ultimately will choose have been around all season, and N.C. State's position on them has been constant: O'Brien said the answer won't come until ''sometime after the bowl.''
''Next year is next year,'' he said. ''This is still this year. ... I think we've planned for this, one way or the other, and we're ready to do what we have to do.''
The Wolfpack have had plenty of time to come up with a backup plan in case Wilson opts for baseball, with talented, pocket-passing backup Mike Glennon ready to replace him.
By comparison, the coaching shakeup in Morgantown remains fresh and has been a polarizing topic across West Virginia for the past week.
Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen, a Mike Leach disciple whose only Cowboys team wound up leading the nation in total offense, was named head coach-in-waiting at West Virginia and will run the offense next season before taking over for coach Bill Stewart in 2012.
And while the current Mountaineers certainly can't help but wonder how they'll fit in Holgorsen's system next year, the Wolfpack aren't expecting anything less than their best shot next week in Orlando, Fla.
''I don't really think they're going to be unfocused coming in,'' Cole said. ''They're still 20-year-old guys going to play football, so they're going to be ready to play, and they've got great athletes. But I think we're at a point where we're the best we've been since I've been here. So I think it'll be a good game, regardless of the distractions.''
The matchup might come down to which unit performs better when N.C. State has the ball.
The Wolfpack had the Atlantic Coast Conference's best passing offense, averaging nearly 282 yards, and Wilson was tops in the league, averaging nearly 307 yards of total offense. They'll be tested by a West Virginia defense that ranks in the top three nationally in three of the four major defensive stat categories, and is the only team in the nation that hasn't allowed more than 21 points in any game.
But coordinator Jeff Casteel's unique 3-3-5 alignment isn't entirely unfamiliar to O'Brien. His Boston College teams faced his defenses every year from Casteel's arrival in 2001 until the Eagles left the Big East following the 2004 season.
The Wolfpack coaches ''understand some of the concepts they use now,'' O'Brien said. ''Everybody changes a little bit here and there to suit their personality and their personnel, but having at least game-planned against it for years, it's not back to square one, like you go get ready for the wishbone once a year.''