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Who’s the Backup Quarterback?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 18 Pitt at Syracuse Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Returning senior Kenny Pickett will enter the Pitt football season as the starting quarterback — that much is clear. What is less clear is his backup when Pitt breaks fall camp. Thus far, head coach Pat Narduzzi hasn’t made a decision — at least not publicly.

So, what’s the situation? There is basically a three-man race between returning underclassmen Nick Patti (redshirt sophomore) and Davis Beville (redshirt freshman), and Arizona State transfer Joey Yellen (redshirt freshman).

Patti is the lone returnee with experience. Last year, he was Pickett’s backup and even got a start against Delaware with Pickett out due to injury. The Panthers did win that game but only just barely, needing a late score to grab the victory.

Patti’s numbers were solid (23-37 for 271 yards, two TDs, and one INT) but playing against a weak opponent at home, few would say he had a great game. A year older and with another year in the system, it’s hardly fair to judge him solely by that performance. Besides a handful of other opportunities during the year in three other contests (3-6 for 30 yards in those games, including a touchdown against UCF), we haven’t seen more of him.

Pitt fans have seen even less of redshirt freshman Joey Yellen, the presumed favorite for a lot of folks. Yellen, a four-star 247 recruit, transferred from Arizona State. Despite playing in a game last year, received a waiver to be eligible immediately for this season.

Yellen, too, has started only one game, but it was at a much higher level than Patti’s opponent. Last year, Yellen played well in a start, narrowly losing to USC. He started that game (about 23 of the way into the season) with starter Jayden Daniels injured. In that contest, he was 28-44 for 292 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions — just enough to show a fair amount of intrigue. Yellen did play in any other contests.

Beville, who committed to Pitt has a three-star recruit (and later became a four-star Rivals recruit) is the real unknown here. Like, Yellen, he’s got exactly one year of experience in a collegiate program. But unlike the others, he has no game experience. If you’re looking for an underdog here, Beville would be it. It’s not inconceivable to think that he could beat out one of the other two guys, I suppose. And John McGonigal of the PG seems to theorize here that Beville over Yellen would make sense given he’s been here longer. But beating them both with no game experience at all? That would be a bit surprising.

In addition to the backup spot, it’s worth pointing out that one of these guys will be called upon by some fans that are not convinced by Pickett. Almost certainly, there will be some talk of Pickett being replaced at a point in the season because it happens every year. So, could one of these guys catapult themselves to the starting job?

You never say never. But if Narduzzi is to be believed, expecting Pickett to be replaced, barring injury or a positive COVID test, doesn’t seem at all likely. After all, earlier this summer, Narduzzi called Pickett ‘underrated’ and went as far as to say he would play a long time in the NFL. If Pickett is healthy, seeing him replaced would be a shock.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill’s Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.