CHARLOTTE, N.C. — When North Carolina State coach Tom O'Brien parted ways with quarterback Russell Wilson in the spring there were plenty of concerns about the Wolfpack's offense.
Replacement Mike Glennon has taken care of that, and then some.
Glennon has flourished as a junior this season. He threw for 2,790 yards and 28 touchdowns and led N.C. State to a berth in tonight's Belk Bowl against Louisville, a game between 7-5 teams playing very well at the moment.
O'Brien, who coached Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan at Boston College, had a hunch the Wolfpack wouldn't miss a beat.
"We've all made the comparison that he's Matt Ryan reincarnated," O'Brien said. "The way he throws the ball, there's a lot of similarities with Matt. It's just a question of playing and gaining experience. He learned a lot as the year went on. You would expect that. He's a kid that studies the game and works at it."
After a 3-4 start, the Wolfpack won four of their last five games to become bowl eligible.
Glennon threw eight touchdown passes in his final two games, including five in the season finale when he brought the Wolfpack back from a 33-point deficit to beat Maryland and clinch a bowl berth.
Louisville linebacker Dexter Heyman said the Cardinals must slow Glennon if they are to win their second straight bowl game under coach Charlie Strong.
"We have to stop their pass game and make them a run-first offense and that's something people haven't been able to do, particularly late in the year," Heyman said.
Heyman said Glennon has a rocket for an arm, but his skills don't stop there.
"He can really put the ball in a tight window," Heyman said. "And he's smart and savvy. He doesn't throw many interceptions."
Glennon said replacing a team leader like Russell didn't bother him. In fact, he relished the opportunity.
"I felt like I had a lot of confidence in myself and teammates had confidence in me that I could lead us to a lot of victories and get us to a bowl game," Glennon said. "My personality is kind of laid back so I didn't worry about replacing Russell. I just let things play out."
Louisville has a good quarterback of its own in freshman Teddy Bridgewater, although he has a completely different style than Glennon. Gifted with a knack for keeping alive plays with his feet, Bridgewater is the kind of exciting quarterback who could give the Wolfpack fits.
Bridgewater took over as the team's starter the third week of the season against Kentucky. After an initial rough patch he led the Cardinals to wins in five of their final six games and a share of the Big East title. However, because of a tiebreaker West Virginia represented the conference in a BCS bowl.
At Detroit, Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit was thrilled after he found out his team would be playing in a bowl close to home.
The Broncos don't even have to leave the state to play in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl today against Purdue at Detroit's Ford Field.
"It's a perfect situation for us as a university," Cubit said. "Our alumni can get to the game. Our student body can get to the game. Our fans will be able to travel, a lot more families can be at the game than if we went somewhere else."
If last weekend was any indication, Cubit can expect a friendly reception. A contingent from Purdue's team was shown taking in Saturday's Lions-Chargers game at Ford Field and greeted with plenty of boos. Then a group from Western Michigan was introduced to loud cheers.
Still, the Broncos (7-5) will need more than supportive fans to beat Purdue. Western Michigan hasn't beaten a Big Ten team since 2008, although the Broncos did play Illinois tough in a 23-20 defeat in September.
Purdue is returning to a bowl for the first time since 2007, when the Boilermakers beat Central Michigan 51-48 in this same bowl. Another shootout is certainly possible. Western Michigan has scored at least 38 points seven times this season, including a 66-63 loss to Toledo last month.
"Looking at Western Michigan on film, they can score some points," Purdue coach Danny Hope said. "They're obviously on the cutting edge of the spread offense. It's very similar to what we ran at Purdue when I coached there before, and we had Drew Brees. ... It's very similar in a lot of ways — the play calling, the styles, the protections. They're a high-scoring football team, so we'd better be ready to score some points."
Hope is in his third season at the helm for the Boilermakers (6-6) and is taking them to a bowl for the first time. He was rewarded recently with a two-year contract extension through the end of 2016.
Purdue won two of its last three regular-season games, including a victory over Ohio State, to become bowl eligible.
"I think it's a great opportunity for our football team to take another step in our development," Hope said earlier this month. "I hope and anticipate we'll play the best game we've played all year."
Western Michigan is led by wide receiver Jordan White, a third-team All-American who has 127 catches for 1,646 yards and 16 touchdowns on the season. Although he's played in relative obscurity in the Mid-American Conference, this will be a chance for White to shine on a bigger stage.
"We played Michigan and we played Illinois, and we really should have won down there at Illinois. Unfortunately, we came up short down there," White said. "Everybody's happy with where we're at. When we have that kind of confidence, we can take down big-time teams."
Purdue, however, will look at this matchup as a challenge. Cornerback Ricardo Allen and the rest of the defensive backfield will try to stop White. Hope said defensive backs Taylor Richards and Landon Feichter could play more than usual because of Western Michigan's offensive style.
On offense, Caleb TerBush has handled most of the passing this season for the Boilermakers. Third on the depth chart at the beginning of the season, he earned Hope's confidence as the two players ahead of him recovered from injuries. "He has done a fantastic job," Hope said. "He's really grown and developed through the course of the season."