When Pitt played No. 5 Utah in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl, a future first round quarterback on Pitt’s roster didn’t play.
The circumstance between Kenny Pickett opting out of the 2021 Peach Bowl, and Joe Flacco not playing in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl are quite contrasting, but it is one of the only similarities between the two Pitt teams to play in BCS/New Year’s Six Bowls since the turn of the century.
Pickett is Pitt’s Heisman finalist, projected first round quarterback, while Flacco was Pitt’s backup quarterback who would leave for Delaware soon after.
While Pitt is set to take on No. 10 Michigan State in the Peach Bowl on Dec. 30 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia, the reward for winning the ACC for the first time in team history, a repeat of the last BCS appearance is unlikely for a number of reasons.
First of all, yes. Yes, former Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco spent the 2004-05 season as Pitt’s backup quarterback before transferring to Delaware. He would go on to become the 18th selection in the 2008 NFL Draft, but as appears to be the case for Pickett, he was a Pitt quarterback who did not play in a BCS/NY6 bowl and wound up being selected as a first-round pick.
Utah’s 2004-05 team was a juggernaut. The Utes ran the table, going a perfect 12-0, with Urban Meyer as head coach and future No. 1 pick Alex Smith at quarterback. Utah scored 45 points per game, lighting up Power Five teams and Mountain West Conference teams alike.
Pitt’s defense held Utah below its season scoring average, to be fair, but the Panthers were unable to compete with the Utes in a 35-7 loss — helping Smith to become the first pick in the NFL Draft and Meyer to the head coaching gig at Florida.
Pitt entered the Fiesta Bowl as the Big East’s automatic qualifier, winning the tiebreaker over Boston College and West Virginia, after going 8-3 (4-2 in the conference). Tyler Palko led Pitt’s ho-hum offense, fueling Greg Lee’s 1,297-yard, 10 touchdown season, and wins over Boston College, Notre Dame and WVU helped the Panthers squeeze into the Fiesta Bowl as the 19th-ranked team in the nation under Walt Harris.
Smith used the Fiesta Bowl to cement his place as the No. 1 pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, throwing for 328 yards and four touchdowns on 29-of-37 passing attempts to torch the Pitt defense. Utah led 14-0 at halftime, extended its lead to 28-0 midway through the third quarter and coasted to a 35-7 win that never close.
Palko completed 22-of-40 passing attempts for 251 yards and a touchdown, but Pitt was only able to muster 17 rushing yards on 30 attempts — in large part because of Palko’s -44 net yards on the ground.
Utah became the first non-automatic qualifying team to ever be named to a BCS bowl and subsequently the first to ever win.
Utah is back in a NY6 bowl this season, clinching its first ever Pac-12 title to earn a Rose Bowl bid. Hmm, sound familiar? Although, the Utes did play in and win the 2009 Sugar Bowl over Alabama, so the Utes have had more success since.
Pitt is also back in a NY6 bowl this season, the first since the loss to Utah in 2005. And even with Pickett opting out to prepare for the 2022 NFL Draft, the Panthers are in a much better spot than the 2004-05 team.
Backup Nick Patti will get his first extended look as the starting quarterback since his freshman season in 2019, and it comes against the worst-ranked pass defense in the FBS — and with an extremely talented cast of supporting players. Michigan State star Kenneth Walker III also opted out of the Peach Bowl, leaving the Spartans without the best running back in college football this season — and about 40% of the Spartans’ total offensive production.
While both Pitt and Michigan State will be without their leading men, the Panthers still have a very good chance to win their first NY6 bowl since the 1982 Sugar Bowl with Dan Marino as the quarterback.