Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett played the best season of his college career in 2019, and on Friday, he earned some recognition for his improved performance with a spot on the Maxwell Award watch list. The award has existed since 1937 and is given annually to the best college football player in the country.
The Oakhurst, New Jersey, native is Pitt’s only representative on the list and one of 14 ACC players to make the cut. One surprising snub was Pitt defensive tackle Jaylen Twyman, the program’s most decorated active player as a second-team All-American and first-team All-ACC honoree last season. The Panthers lineman has been a fixture on preseason watch lists in 2020 after leading the team with 10.5 sacks and 12 tackles for losses in 2019.
As for Pickett, the rising senior signal-caller may seem an odd choice for the watch list as the most prominent member of a Pitt offense that largely struggled last season, but he carried his weight, as he became the fifth Pitt passer to throw for 3,000 yards in a single season. He has also come up big in clutch situations, as his 25-yard pass to Taysir Mack won Pitt the Quick Lane Bowl last December and his three-yard reception gave Pitt a 35-34 victory over UCF last September.
In addition, Pickett threw 13 touchdown passes and nine interceptions last season. The touchdown total was a bit low, and the picks were concerning, as all nine came against ACC opponents. So while Pickett was a rising star in 2019, the season also highlighted some flaws he has yet to overcome. Of course, as the focal point of Pitt offensive coordinator Mark Whipple's pass-heavy system, Pickett will get plenty of opportunities to redeem his past mistakes in 2020 and will likely see his stock rise thanks in part to Whipple's play-calling.
Last year, the Maxwell Award went to LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, who also won a national title and the Heisman Trophy. So the bar to win the honor is set fairly high. Only two players in Pitt’s history have ever won the award. Former Pitt running back Tony Dorsett won the Maxwell Award along with the Heisman in 1976, and former Pitt defensive end Hugh Green won it in 1980.