Kenny Pickett Sitting Out This Week's Peach Bowl Is Good For Everyone

AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman

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There’s a very clear divide in ideology when it comes to college football and the way in which players are handling bowl games.  Anyone that is in Gen X (ages 41-56) and older have a problem with players sitting out.  Those that are Millennials (ages 25-40) and younger tend to have no problem with it.  This has come to light recently in Pittsburgh as Heisman candidate, and University of Pittsburgh quarterback, Kenny Pickett, has chosen to sit out of the Peach Bowl this Thursday night.

When Pickett made the announcement, the reaction was expected.  Coaches, teammates, those close to Pickett, and those fans of the younger generations were fine with the move.  They thanked Pickett for all that he did for the football program and bid him farewell with words of encouragement for his future.  The older generation labeled him as a quitter and accused him of giving up on his teammates.  Some even felt Pickett owed the fans and the university more of his blood, sweat, and tears.

Over the holiday, I had a family member, who never has spoken to me about Pitt athletics in the history of our lives together, express that he had an issue with Pickett’s decision.  I guess he felt this was the time to care about the Pitt football program.  He is, of course, older than 40. 

However, on the same day, I learned of a teammate of Pickett's expressing that he had no issue with Pickett’s decision.  He also wished Pickett well and had reportedly encouraged him to leave and not risk any injury in the upcoming bowl game.  Both reactions follow what I’d expect from the individuals that fall into these particular groups of people.

Whether you’re on one side or the other, Pickett’s decision is not changing.  I also feel that anyone who has a strong feeling about someone else’s career is in the wrong.  However, regardless of how you feel, I believe that Kenny Pickett sitting out is actually a great positive for the Pitt football program and, potentially, all of college football.

Nothing Left to Prove

When I left Bank of America stadium in Charlotte on December 4th, the Pitt football program had nothing left to prove to me.  In a season where two losses essentially disqualified them from the College Football Playoffs, the goal for the program was an ACC Championship.  College football is unique in the sense that goals have to adjust based on the track of the season.  There are so few programs, relative to the amount that are eligible, that actually have a legitimate shot at the National Championship.  In Pitt’s case, following the loss to Western Michigan, an ACC Championship became the top of the mountain for the 2021 season.

Pitt reached this mountaintop with a convincing 45-21 victory, where the Panthers scored 31 unanswered points to finish off the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.  The Panthers had accomplished all they needed to, and a berth in a New Year’s Six bowl game was simply icing on the proverbial cake. 

Expand the Playoffs

Seeing two of their greatest stars, Kenny Pickett and Michigan State's running back Kenneth Walker III, sit out the same New Year's Six Bowl game is the NCAA’s own doing.  If you have paid any attention to the current bowl season you know they’re all a crapshoot regardless of who is and who is not playing.  The players don’t take them nearly as seriously and the time in between their last regular season game and the bowl game is comical.  Add in the effect Covid has had on the bowls and their meaning is diminished even greater.  

If the NCAA wanted more bowl games to have a greater meaning, they would expand the current playoff system.   Even if the playoff system was expanded to only eight teams, Pitt would be in it this season and so would Kenny Pickett.  I say this because, despite Pitt’s ranking of 12th, when the playoffs are expanded I believe the Power 5 conferences will negotiate that their conference champions will receive automatic bids.  Unfortunately, the playoff system is only four, so many teams that should be competing for more, including Power 5 conference champions, are not.  

Perhaps this unique situation, where one of the highest profile quarterbacks and the highest projected quarterback to be drafted has chosen to sit out, will encourage the NCAA to act.  Expanding the playoffs is a good thing for everyone, and Pickett sitting out should influence that.

2022 Benefits

Pickett sitting out also benefits Pitt’s 2022 football season.  It’s a perfect opportunity to see how the offense will perform without their star quarterback and exiting offensive coordinator.  In addition to the Biletnikoff Award-winning Jordan Addison, two talented running backs, a phenom tight-end, and the entire offensive line is returning in 2022.  In this upcoming bowl game with little consequence, the coaches and fans will get to see just how good these other weapons are independent of Pickett.  

We already know how this offense performs with Pickett, it's time to see them perform with the likes of Nick Patti, Davis Beville, or Nate Yarnell.  Unfortunately, we will have to wait to see transfer quarterback Kedon Slovis, but I like that some of these guys will get reps against a Power 5 defense in a live game situation.  

No Consequence on a Successful Season

Finally, Pickett sitting gives us an out in the case of a Pitt loss.  We have had way too successful of a season for a crapshoot bowl loss to dampen it.  As I continue to say, regardless of who plays or does not play, the winner of this bowl reflects nothing.  However, if Pickett played and Pitt lost, some may try to devalue all that was accomplished in what is the most successful Pitt football season of my lifetime.  Instead, this becomes a glorified exhibition game and, win or lose, the accomplishments of this season remain untainted.  

I support Kenny Pickett sitting out.  Not just because it his decision to make, and his alone, but because I think there are several benefits that can come out of it.  Pickett has done enough.  Let the guy go to the NFL with his legacy intact and no further risk of injury.  Thank you Kenny, from a lifelong Pitt football fan.