It feels like football season just ended, yet we are already only 56 days away from the first game of the 2018 season. After a 5-7 campaign last fall, the Pitt Panthers have reloaded and are preparing to exceed expectations in a weak Coastal division.
The final game of the 2017 season, a 24-14 victory over the Miami Hurricanes, gave a lot of Pitt fans hope for the future. The outing showcased the Panthers’ defensive improvement from the beginning of the season, but most importantly it showed fans who was going to be the future at the quarterback position.
Every week leading up to the season, I am going to put out a Pitt football positional preview every Saturday at 11:00 a.m. This week we will look at none other than the quarterback situation.
Kenny Pickett is said to have a lock on the starting position, but any football fan knows that backup quarterbacks can make or break a season (looking at you, Eagles and Bama fans). Let’s take a look at the depth chart and see how the rest of the order is shaping up.
THE TOP THREE
We’re going to begin by taking a look a the top three quarterbacks on the roster, which are the ones currently on scholarship and with a real chance at playing time.
Pickett was option number three during most of his freshman year, as he stood behind redshirt senior Max Browne and redshirt sophomore Ben DiNucci. If Max Browne hadn’t suffered a season ending injury, Pickett would have likely obtained a redshirt.
Browne’s injury and DiNucci’s struggles on the field (with some help from a helmet mishap) led to Pickett getting a chance late in the season. His first chance came when DiNucci’s helmet came off before the final play of the game in an October matchup with Syracuse. Pitt was out of timeouts, and Pickett completed the last pass of the game (his only) for 13 yards.
He saw the field again against NC State after a rough outing from DiNucci. Pickett only played three series, completing five of thirteen passes for 61 yards and rushing for 18 yards on four carries. The stats themselves weren’t impressive, but he did enough to nearly lead the Panthers to a comeback win. However, Pickett’s play still wasn’t enough for him to earn a starting job.
Pickett came in off the bench once again against Virginia Tech to compensate for an ailing DiNucci. This time, he made the most of his chances. Pickett would go on to throw for 242 yards, completing 15 of 23 passes to come up just yards short of completing the comeback win over the Hokies. This play was finally enough to earn him the starting job against the number two team in the nation, the Miami Hurricanes.
Pickett made the most of his opportunity against the ‘Canes, making Pitt fans realize that he was the quarterback of the future as he led the Panthers to an upset win. Pickett was responsible for all three of Pitt’s touchdowns in the 24-14 win as he rushed for two and threw for the other. He would finish 18-29 with 193 yards passing and 60 rushing yards on 13 carries
Pickett is not only the quarterback of the future for Pitt, but he is one of the leaders of this team. With the rushing attack he has behind him and the receiving core alongside, expect him to do big things for Pitt football this year. Pickett will be fun to watch.
|Hometown||Newbury Park, CA|
Town is coming into Pitt as a transfer from Ventura College, a Junior College in California. At Ventura, Town completed 93-155 passes (60%) for 1,160 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Out of high school, Town was a highly-touted quarterback — Rivals rated him as a four-star prospect and fifth-best “pro-style” quarterback in his class. He was originally committed to Alabama, but decommitted and signed with USC. Town wound up transferring to Arkansas but didn’t play, which is what ultimately led him to Ventura.
It’s understandable why Town was such a wanted quarterback out of high school — his senior year he completed 192 of 290 passes for 2,639 yards and 28 touchdowns.
If any quarterback on the roster is going to give Pickett a run for his money, Town is the most likely to do it. Despite this, he will likely only get into games if the Panthers are destroying a team or if Pickett gets injured.
Regardless, having a backup quarterback with talent is important to a team’s success, as sports fans have witnessed multiple times in the past 12 months. Town gives just this for the Panthers.
Patti is going to be a true freshman, as he was a part of the 2018 recruiting class. A three year starter at St. Joseph Regional in New Jersey, Patti was rated a three star quarterback by 247Sports.
Patti finished off his senior campaign completing 145 of 256 passes for 2045 yards and 17 touchdowns. He shows great arm strength and great accuracy while throwing the football in his highlight tape from his senior season. His accuracy did lack at times, as he threw 11 interceptions, but that seemed to be an outlier, as he only threw five in his Junior season.
As long as things go according to plan, Pitt fans likely won’t see Patti on the field this year. He has a lot of potential and if he develops the way he should, Patti will become the starter in due time.
Expect the 2018 season to be one for him to learn the offense and fine tune the skills he has for the future.
Next we’ll take a brief look at each of the walk-ons, which consist of two newcomers and one returning player.
Zelinski has the size of a prototypical quarterback. He spent his first year of college in 2016 at NCAA Division II Ashland University, where he redshirted before playing at Erie Community College in New York.
At Erie, Zelinski threw for 1,756 yards and 16 touchdowns. He was a four-time National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Region 3 Player of the Week and set three school records: passing yards in a season, passing yards in a game (367) and passing touchdowns in a game (six).
Zelinski has talent, but his biggest downfall is his accuracy throwing the ball. Despite throwing 16 touchdowns, he also threw 11 interceptions in 2017. However, if I had to choose one of the three walk-ons most likely to become something big at Pitt, it would be Zelinski.
Sliwoski is a true freshman walk-on who hails from Pennsylvania and played at Hempfield Area High School. In high school, Sliwoski was a two-year captain, first team all-conference selection and put up crazy numbers, but he was overlooked by major universities.
He had offers from schools in the Ivy League, Group of Five and Division Two, but none from any power five colleges. Pitt swooped in and offered him a preferred walk-on spot instead.
Sliwoski’s name can be seen throughout the Hempfield football program’s record books, including six number one spots: passing yards in a season (2007), passing yards in a career (3997), passing touchdowns in a season (19), passing touchdowns in a career (40), completions in a season (153) and completions in a career (298).
I will never say a walk-on has no shot, and if Sliwoski continues to improve, anything is possible down the line. For this year though, don’t expect to see Sliwoski getting any playing time.
Zilinskas joined Pitt as a walk-on in 2017 after spending a year at NCAA Division III powerhouse John Carroll University. He had to sit out the 2017 season due to transfer rules, but is now able to compete.
Zilinskas played both ways in high school and was a great athlete. He was first team All-Greater Allegheny Conference as not only a quarterback, but also a defensive back. Zilinskas also helped Indiana High School win a 2015 WPIAL 3A basketball title, as he is also a great basketball player.
He finished his career at Indiana with 2,561 passing yards, 924 rushing yards and 29 touchdown passes.
This is Kenny Pickett’s team — don’t expect anybody other than him to take the first snap in September. I know they like to say that last season’s Miami game won’t have much do with this year’s quarterback battle, but I think it will. In that game, Pickett completely took over and showed why he desrves to be the quarterback of the future.
Despite that, there is depth throughout the position group and if he were to go down, there wouldn’t be any reason to get too scared. Ricky Town has the tools to have a great season in his own right.
Watch for Pickett to lead the Panthers to one of the best seasons in recent Pitt history. The quarterback position is going to be a fun one to watch this year.
Look out for the running back edition coming out next Saturday at 11:00 a.m. Below is a schedule of the editions that will be coming out this summer:
|8/25||Tight Ends/Special Teams|