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Heisman Watch: Pitt QB Kenny Pickett's remarkable improvement has him in thick of Heisman race

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For the rest of the college football season, Yahoo Sports will highlight the leading candidates for the Heisman Trophy on a weekly basis. All odds are via BetMGM.

Pittsburgh is currently the betting favorite to win the ACC, and quarterback Kenny Pickett has played a huge role in the Panthers’ ascendance.

Pickett, a fifth-year senior, is taking full advantage of the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA. Entering the 2021 season, Pickett was a career 60% passer who averaged 2,492 yards, 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions per season over his three previous years as Pitt’s starter.

Through seven games in 2021, Pickett’s improvement has been remarkable. He has thrown for 2,236 yards and 23 touchdowns with just one interception while completing 68.9% of his passes. And most importantly, the Panthers are winning.

Pitt is 6-1 and ranked No. 17 in the country after a 27-17 victory over Clemson on Saturday. Pickett shook off a slow start and turned in an excellent performance, going for 302 yards and two touchdowns in the win.

It was a win that moved him up the Heisman Trophy odds board. Pickett was listed at +2500 at BetMGM last week. In a field full of highly recruited underclassmen, the 23-year-old Pickett is now up to +1000.

Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) celebrates after throwing him a touchdown pass to wide receiver Jordan Addison (3) during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Clemson, Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) celebrates after throwing him a touchdown pass to wide receiver Jordan Addison (3) during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Clemson, Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

For most of his career, Pickett was just another average starter for a middling ACC program. Now he is helping Pitt ascend to a status it has not seen during Pat Narduzzi’s tenure, and he is boosting his NFL draft stock in the process.

And with such a wide-open Heisman field, Pickett is going to remain a player in this race as the season progresses — especially if Pitt keeps winning. The remainder of the schedule is navigable but lacks marquee competition, which ultimately could cause Pickett to fly under the radar for some Heisman voters while guys like Bryce Young and Matt Corral duke it out in the SEC on a weekly basis.

Still, there’s a very clear path to get Pickett to the Heisman ceremony in New York City at the very least.

(Below are the current betting favorites to win the Heisman Trophy. Odds courtesy of BetMGM.)

Alabama QB Bryce Young (+185)

Alabama got a tougher test from Tennessee than most expected, but Young was able to lead his team to victory behind one of his best performances of the year. Alabama trailed after one and had just a 31-24 lead early in the fourth, but Young made play after play to help the Tide pull away. Young showcased his deft feet in the pocket and escapability, routinely extending plays and helping to keep Alabama drives alive. In the end, Young threw for 371 yards, rushed for 42 yards and had four total touchdowns in the 52-24 victory.

Ole Miss QB Matt Corral (+250)

Matt Corral took a ton of hits last week vs. Tennessee, so Lane Kiffin was content to rely on his running backs in Saturday’s 31-17 win over LSU that wasn’t as close as the final score may indicate. Corral did what he was asked, completing 18-of-23 throws for 185 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 24 yards and TD in the victory. Corral, who has a tough road test vs. Auburn on the horizon, has thrown for 1,913 yards and 15 TDs while rushing for 474 yards and nine scores this season.

Ohio State QB CJ Stroud (+500)

CJ Stroud’s Heisman odds keep climbing. After another blowout victory for Ohio State, Stroud jumped up from +800 to +500. The Buckeyes have scored at least 50 points in four consecutive wins, including Saturday’s 54-7 victory at Indiana. In the win, Stroud threw for 266 yards and four touchdowns and took a nice, relaxing seat on the bench for the entire fourth quarter. With Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan remaining on the schedule, Stroud will likely keep ascending in the odds.

Pittsburgh QB Kenny Pickett (+1000)

Saturday’s effort against Clemson was the fourth 300-yard outing of the season for Kenny Pickett. He had eight 300-yard games combined over the previous four seasons for the Panthers. He threw two touchdown passes in the win, and the 23-yarder to Jordan Addison was a dime. The design of the play intentionally had Pickett rolling to his right and he hit Addison in stride in the corner of the end zone to tie the score at 7-7. It was another example of Pickett’s pinpoint accuracy.

Oklahoma QB Caleb Williams (+1400)

Oklahoma was a massive favorite over Kansas on Saturday but actually trailed 17-7 late in the third quarter. OU’s high-powered offense just couldn’t get anything going. In the end, though, Caleb Williams made enough plays to escape Lawrence with a win. Williams threw for 178 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 70 yards and score, but his best play was not quite by design. With OU leading 28-23 and facing a key fourth-and-1 near midfield, Williams ripped the ball away from running back Kennedy Brooks in order to give the Sooners a crucial first down. The heads-up play allowed OU to tack on another score and win the game.

Michigan State RB Kenneth Walker III (+1600)

On the heels of a bye week, Kenneth Walker III and the undefeated Michigan State Spartans have their biggest game of the year with fellow unbeaten and in-state rival Michigan coming into East Lansing. Walker, the transfer from Wake Forest, has been a revelation for MSU. He is second in the nation with 997 rushing yards and is averaging a nation-best 142.4 rushing yards per game. A big game against the Wolverines will do wonders for Walker’s Heisman chances.

Others on the radar

  • Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder (+2500)

  • Ohio State RB TreVeyon Henderson (+2500)

  • Texas RB Bijan Robinson (+4000)

  • Wake Forest QB Sam Hartman (+5000)

  • Alabama RB Brian Robinson (+6600)

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