Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett was honored with a spot on the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award watch list on Tuesday. The award is given by the Golden Arm Foundation and honors the best fourth-year or senior quarterback in the country. It has been issued every year since its inception in 1987.
The Panthers signal-caller is coming off the best campaign of his collegiate career, as he became just the fifth quarterback in Pitt’s history to throw for 3,000 yards in a single season. All told, Pickett threw for a total of 3,098 yards and 13 touchdowns with nine interceptions. However, as promising as those numbers sound in the context of Pitt’s recent history, it’s clear the New Jersey native will have to take a giant leap forward to compete for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award.
Last season’s winner was Joe Burrow of LSU, and he threw for 5,671 yards and 60 scores against six interceptions. The year before, Gardner Minshew of Washington State threw for 4,779 yards and 38 touchdowns, turning the ball over just nine times. And in 2017, Mason Rudolph of Oklahoma State posted stats similar to Minshew’s, as he had 4,904 yards and 37 touchdowns with nine picks.
The statistical bar will likely be lower in 2020, if indeed a season is played at all, as many schools, including Pitt, have reduced the number of games they will play due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Currently, the Panthers are scheduled to play 10 conference games instead of the usual eight ACC matchups and four non-conference contests. As a result, Pickett will have to rack up yards at a brisk pace to rank among the nation’s top quarterbacks. He will also have to find the end zone more frequently and limit mistakes.
The Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award has gone to a signal-caller at one of the 15 current ACC institutions 11 times in its 33-year history. Notably, Unitas was a Pittsburgh native who played at Louisville from 1951 to 1954, and he went on to have a Hall of Fame career with the Baltimore Colts. The most recent ACC quarterback to win the award was Deshaun Watson of Clemson in 2016.
Forty-eight quarterbacks are included on this year's watch list. However, 18 are on teams that have canceled or postponed their seasons due to the pandemic, and several others are on teams whose seasons have been jeopardized but not called off as a result of the recent conference cancelations, such as BYU and Air Force. Because of that, the field for the award currently includes 30 active quarterbacks, but that could change if a spring season is played or some of the quarterbacks opt out.