If you don’t have a quarterback, you’re automatically set back. It’s inherently the most important position on the field, and without a good one, you have no chance of competing. Pitt saw that in 2021.
When Pat Narduzzi took over at Pitt in December of 2014, arriving as a long-time defensive coordinator under Mark Dantonio at Cincinnati and Michigan State, his reputation preceded him. One of the top defensive coaches in college football took over a team that returned Chad Voytik as the starting quarterback.
Voytik wasn’t necessarily bad for Pitt, guiding Pitt’s offense in James Conner’s 1,700-yard season in 2014, but it wasn’t as if he was leading Pitt to many wins either. Nathan Peterman, a sparingly used Tennessee backup quarterback, was one of the first additions in the Narduzzi era.
In two seasons in Knoxville, despite arriving as a high three-star recruit, Peterman completed just 20 of 43 passing attempts for 94 yards (a measly 2.2 yards per attempt) with two interceptions.
However, Narduzzi saw something in Peterman, landing his commitment a few months after officially being named Pitt’s head coach. Peterman managed to do enough to take Voytik’s starting spot, turning that into two starting seasons at Pitt.
With modest team success in 2015 and a step back in 2016, it wasn’t as if Peterman changed Pitt’s culture — completing 378-of-619 passing attempts for 5,142 yards and 47 touchdowns to 15 interceptions — but he provided a steady hand at quarterback.
In Peterman’s tenure at Pitt, he attempted 313 of Pitt’s 338 pass attempts in 2015, with Voytik attempting 25 attempts all season in a primarily a relief role. In 2016, Peterman attempted 306 of Pitt’s 315 pass attempts — Ben DiNucci attempting the other nine in a relief role.
DiNucci battled to replace USC transfer Max Browne against Oklahoma State early in 2017, jumping into a starting role for a majority of the season. However, he also wasn’t able to nail down a starting spot. With just 1,091 yards and five touchdowns (to five interceptions) on 55.7 percent completion and a ho-hum record, true freshman Kenny Pickett was given a shot.
Pickett played sparingly in two games in 2017 before being given a shot against Virginia Tech and then upsetting No. 2 Miami in the season finale. Pickett earned the starting spot away from DiNucci, who then transferred to James Madison.
Pickett grew into a four-year starter, developing into one of the best quarterbacks in college football. Over his first three seasons as the starter, he flashed potential, but the production (672-of-1,111 passing attempts for 7,475 yards and 38 touchdowns (to 24 interceptions)) wasn’t always there.
As a senior in 2021, Pickett arrived. And so did Pitt. He threw for 4,319 yards and 42 touchdowns (adding 241 yards and five touchdowns on the ground) on 334-of-497 passing attempts to lead Pitt to an ACC championship.
The historic season shattered Pitt single-season and career records, earned All-American status, a third-place finish in the 2021 Heisman Trophy presentation and ended with a first-round selection in the 2022 NFL Draft.
This is where we arrive at the point. Since Narduzzi has arrived at Pitt, he’s had Peterman, DiNucci and Pickett, three NFL quarterbacks. He just missed Tom Savage, another NFL quarterback, and the percentage of passing attempts from Pitt quarterbacks since the beginning of the 2015 season is overwhelmingly from NFL quarterbacks.
2015 – Nathan Peterman – 313 of 338 passing attempts (Chad Voytik 25) – 313/338 / 92.6%
2016 – Peterman – 306 of 3015 passing attemopts (Ben DiNucci 9) – 315/315 / 100%
2017 – DiNucci – 158 of 359 passing attempts (Max Browne 135, Kenny Pickett 66) – 244/359 / 62.4%
2018 – Pickett – 310 of 314 passing attempts (Jeff George Jr. 3 and Ricky Town 1) – 310/314 / 98.7%
2019 – Pickett – 469 of 512 passing attempts (Patti 43) – 469/512 / 91.6%
2020 – Pickett – 332 of 425 passing attempts (Yellen 78, Beville 10 and Patti 5) / 332/425 / 78.1%
2021 – Pickett – 497 of 538 passing attempts (Beville 22 and Patti 19) / 497/538 / 92.4%
Total: 2,470/2,801 / 88.2% of all passing attempts from NFL quarterbacks
Now, obviously, it hasn’t always translated to Pitt success. With a 53-37 record since Narduzzi took over Pitt’s head coach, winning two Coastal divison titles and one ACC title, it’s actually better than it looks.
Pitt’s 2021 title was the first non-Clemson title since Narduzzi took over — beating Clemson in the process — and Pitt’s two Coastal division titles are the most of any divisional opponent during that time.
Peterman, DiNucci and Pickett weren’t always ultra-successful at Pitt, but all three are currently in the NFL. Peterman just signed with the Chicago Bears after spending a handful of seasons with Las Vegas Raiders, DiNucci is a backup quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys (lifting his NFL Draft stock at JMU) and Pickett is the first-round selection of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
That track record, grooming two quarterbacks into NFL quarterbacks (with Kedon Slovis looking to be the next in the list) isn’t something that was perhaps expected. Narduzzi has vouched for these players, bringing them in or sticking with them in tough times, and it’s paid off.
And after all, over the last decade, Pitt is tied for second in all of college football with three quarterbacks selected in the NFL Draft (excluding DiNucci).
Most QBs Drafted the last 10 years pic.twitter.com/mPmCvefT56
— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) May 11, 2022