Pickett-less Pitt turns to Patti in Peach Bowl

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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PITTSBURGH- Kenny Pickett walked into Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi‘s office last week and spent 30 minutes laughing about the 13th-ranked Panthers’ remarkable season, one that carried them to the program’s first ACC title and Pickett to a prime spot on NFL draft boards.

Narduzzi knew what was coming, so he didn’t so much as flinch when his senior quarterback said he was going to skip the Peach Bowl to focus on the next step of his burgeoning career. Asking Pickett to do anything more would have been selfish.

Besides, Narduzzi knows the cupboard is hardly bare. Not with Nick Patti ready to step in when Pitt (11-2) faces No. 10 Michigan State (10-2) in Atlanta next week. Narduzzi officially tabbed Patti as the starter on Wednesday as the Panthers try to win 12 games in a season for just the second time in their 117-year history.

“Nick is a guy that this entire room trusts,” Narduzzi said. “He’s a good football player. He can throw the ball. … We’re excited to see what Nick (can do). It’s his time in this game to show Panther Nation … show everybody, who he is.”

Patti played sparingly this season while serving as the main understudy as Pickett took over the Pitt record book. Pickett set new marks in touchdown passes (42) and yards passing (4,319) while also becoming the school’s career leader in both categories.

“It’s obviously a huge loss for us,” said tight end Lucas Krull, named Wednesday as Pickett’s replacement as offensive captain. “But at the same time, you know, we knew this was going to be a possibility just because he’s the best quarterback in this draft.”

Still, Krull and the Panthers believe they can be plenty dynamic even with Pickett wearing a headset. They still have Jordan Addison, the Biletnikoff winner as the nation’s top receiver, and running backs in Vincent Davis, Israel Abanikanda and Rodney Hammond.

While Pitt will be missing both Pickett and offensive coordinator Mark Whipple – who left for the same job at Nebraska two weeks ago – the Panthers also see the Peach Bowl as a chance to prove they are far more than the fireworks Pickett produced so regularly this fall.

“I mean, this is everything right now,” senior linebacker Phil Campbell said. “I mean, it’s huge. We have a big chip on our shoulders right now. You know, we’re just trying to go out and prove, you know, one more time who we are.”

Even if Pickett, the team’s unquestioned leader, will be watching instead of playing for the first time since missing two games in 2020 while recovering from ankle surgery.

Patti worked out with the team’s wide receivers on his own during finals week, and the start against Michigan State comes in the wake of the Panthers landing former Southern California quarterback Kedon Slovis, who announced on Tuesday he is transferring to Pitt in January.

That means despite being a fixture in the quarterback room for the last four years, there are no guarantees for Patti heading into 2022. Still, the Peach Bowl offers him a chance to get the early lead in what could be a four-headed quarterback derby next spring if Joey Yellen and Davis Beville also stick around.

“It’s a great opportunity for (Patti),” Narduzzi said. “I don’t want him to stress about that either. He just needs to go out and play. He’s been as locked in as anybody … He’s prepared for this moment for a long time and I’ve got a lot of faith in him.”

No. 3 TCU loses 31-28 in OT to K-State in Big 12 title game

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Ty Zentner kicked a 31-yard field goal in overtime as 13th-ranked Kansas State beat No. 3 TCU 31-28 in the Big 12 championship game Saturday, leaving the Horned Frogs to wait another day to find out if they had already done enough to get into the four-team College Football Playoff.

The Wildcats set up the winning field goal after TCU (12-1) had the opening possession of overtime and Kendre Miller was stopped short on consecutive plays from inside the 1.

Deuce Vaughn ran for 130 yards and a touchdown and Will Howard threw two TDs for the Wildcats (10-3, No. 10 CFP), who six weeks earlier had jumped out to a 28-10 lead early in the second quarter before TCU scored the game’s last 28 points.

That was one of five games the Horned Frogs (12-1, No. 3 CFP) won when trailing after halftime. But they couldn’t do it again with the chance to guarantee being the first Big 12 team other than Oklahoma to make the playoff.

TCU, the first Big 12 team to complete a regular season undefeated since Texas in 2009, could still get into the playoff. While their case was helped when fourth-ranked Southern California (11-2) lost 47-24 to Utah in the Pac-12 championship game Friday night, the Frogs now have to wait until the final CFP rankings come out Sunday.

Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark said before the game that TCU, with first-year coach Sonny Dykes, already deserved to be in the playoff.

“You look at their strength of schedule. You think about how they’ve performed all year long,” Yormark said. “I think regardless, they should be in, for sure.”

No. 4 USC falls to Utah in Pac-12 Championship, damaging playoff hopes

Utah vs. USC
USA Today
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LAS VEGAS — No. 12 Utah pounded a limping, bloodied Caleb Williams and roared past No. 4 Southern California 47-24 on Friday night to win the Pac-12 Championship and put USC’s College Football Playoff hopes in doubt.

The loss by the Trojans (11-2) could open the way for Ohio State (11-1) to take their spot in the playoffs. USC is fourth in the CFP rankings, the Buckeyes are one step behind.

Ohio State had to be Utah’s biggest fan. The Buckeyes move up in playoff consideration, with 12-0 Michigan at No. 2 with the Big Ten championship game on Saturday, that would give the Big Ten conference two playoff teams for the first time. It also would extend the Pac-12′s playoff drought — Washington in 2017 is the last team from that conference to make the playoffs.

Utah (10-3) is heading to the Rose Bowl, but the Utes already were going there regardless of the outcome of the title game. They are responsible for USC’s only losses, having edged the Trojans 43-42 on Oct. 15 in Salt Lake City.

The Utes rolled up 533 yards of offense in the rematch, and Cam Rising passed for 310 yards and three touchdowns.

Williams threw for 363 yards and three TDs. He entered the game as the leading Heisman Trophy candidate, but wasn’t the same after getting injured in the first quarter.

The Trojans looked as if they were going to run away with the game, taking a 17-3 lead early in the second quarter behind some stellar play by Williams.

He appeared to hurt his left knee or leg in the first quarter on a 59-yard run in which he took a big hit at the end, and he suffered a bad cut on the pinky finger of his throwing hand. He spent most of the game limping, and wasn’t the same after a sterling first quarter in which the Trojans outgained Utah in total yards 194-70, and Williams had both touchdown passes.

After USC failed to pick up a fourth-and-8 from Utah’s 37-yard line, the Utes scored two touchdowns in the final 3:55 of the first half, and suddenly the game was tied at 17. Instead of a rout, the game was beginning to look like the shootout the Utes won in October.

The game took on that tone at times in the second half, but USC had no answer for how to slow down Utah, which outscored the Trojans 44-7 in overcoming that two-touchdown deficit.

ATTENDANCE RECORD

A announced sellout crowd of 61,195 made this the largest for a neutral-site Pac-12 Championship. It beat the previous record of 58,476 fans. who watched Southern California-Stanford in Santa Clara, California, in 2015.