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Heart of the Hogs: Arkansas Razorbacks Quarterback Competition


Jacolby Criswell
© Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

The almighty transfer portal giveth and the portal taketh away. In Fayetteville, Arkansas the Razorbacks are accustomed to roster turnover during transfer periods. Now they stand at an interesting crossroads as three-year starter KJ Jefferson announced his departure and intent to transfer to UCF in January, leaving the Razorbacks without a bonafide starter as spring ball approaches.



Jefferson's knack for brushing off would-be defenders and extending plays with his mobility was his calling card at Arkansas. Jefferson was responsible for 7,923 passing yards and 67 scoring tosses as QB1 at Arkansas. He also accounted for 1,876 rushing yards and added 21 more rushing touchdowns. He led the Razorbacks to back-to-back bowl wins in 2021 and 2022 and left the University of Arkansas as the record holder for passing yards, passing touchdowns, and touchdowns responsible for.


Like most FBS programs, this amount of production and historical relevance is not easily replaceable. As the prodigal son Bobby Petrino made a solemn pilgrimage back to the Hill, his first assignment was to bring new blood into the quarterback room.



Petrino has handled his fair share of dynamic quarterbacks since picking up a whistle as a Graduate Assistant at his alma mater, Carrol College in Montana. Most notably, the almost 63-year-old helped Heisman winner, and future NFL MVP, Lamar Jackson hone his passing skills. Petrino was also responsible for the development of heralded Hog signal-callers, Ryan Mallet and Tyler Wilson.


 

Shortly after the hiring of Bobby Petrino, the Arkansas football program began to anticipate their first off-season quarterback battle in the Sam Pittman era. In the portal, the Razorbacks quickly grabbed the 6-foot-6-inch 220-pound Taylen Green, a redshirt sophomore from Boise State.


Green committed to Arkansas on December 11th, only nine days after leading the Broncos to a 44-20 win in the Mountain West Conference Championship Game against UNLV. The Lewisville, Texas native accounted for three scores on the day with 226 passing yards and two touchdowns. Green also ran for 90 yards and one touchdown.





While Green was a Bronco, he accounted for 25 passing touchdowns on 3,794 yards and added to the ground game with 1,022 rushing yards and 19 scores. In 2022 Green was one of only nine FBS quarterbacks to register ten scoring throws and ten rushing touchdowns. He was the only freshman to do so.


As evident with Petrino's history, the Razorback offensive coordinator is no stranger to dealing with both mobile quarterbacks and those of a towering stature. Taylen Green fits both molds and has likely been brought to Fayetteville to compete for the starting job. Arkansas has four scholarship quarterbacks on the roster with the addition of Green in December.


 

The incumbent signal-callers at Arkansas have less experience than Green, but lots of raw talent shown in flashes throughout their respective careers. The anticipated starter next fall is Morrilton, Arkansas native Jacolby Criswell. The redshirt junior attended North Carolina from 2020 to 2022. Criswell saw limited action in his three seasons making appearances in only 14 contests while backing up Sam Howell and Drake Maye: two of the most polished throwers in college football this past decade.



Criswell Sprinting against Auburn
© Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

Criswell has accounted for 347 yards on only 58 total pass attempts in four seasons with four touchdowns and adding another score with his legs off 177 rushing yards. Criswell was thrust into a backup role during his first season in Arkansas and pushed KJ Jefferson all year in practice. Coaches noted his toughness and competitiveness when he came in to replace an injured Jefferson as the Razorbacks were down 41-0 to Missouri during the last game of the season.


The 6-foot-1-inch Criswell responded by exerting all 230 pounds of himself on the Tiger defense to lead Arkansas on back-to-back extended scoring drives. He finished the day 12-20 with 96 yards and a scoring toss, evading pressure on nearly every drop back. Criswell had flashed a rifle-like arm during last year's spring scrimmage and offseason practices, leaving many anticipating extended playing time next fall.


 

Two more young guns are also vying for a chance to impress Petrino and solidify a future at Arkansas. Four-star signee K.J. Jackson rounds out the quarterback room along with Malachi Singleton; both expect to compete for playing time with many questions surrounding the offense's most important position.


Singleton showed next-level pocket presence coming out of North Cobb High School in Kennesaw, Georgia as a part of the class of 2023. At North Cobb Singleton rushed for over 1,000 yards to pair with 2,316 passing yards for 49 total touchdowns as a junior. His senior season was derailed by an injury after a promising start.


The redshirt freshman enrolled at Arkansas early after picking the Hogs over home-state Georgia, Miami, Louisville, and West Virginia. Singleton was a consensus four-star recruit out of high school and ranked as the fifth-best dual-threat quarterback in his class. While at Arkansas he has impressed coaches with his maturity and football acumen, showing a keen understanding of the team's RPO concepts at a young age.




Quite possibly the best replacement for K.J. Jefferson could be K.J. Jackson. Jackson is 6-foot-4-inches, 225 pounds and he and Taylen Green are the closest in size to the "newly knighted" Jefferson. While attending Saint James School in Montgomery, Alabama, Jackson finished his career third all-time in career passing touchdowns in the Alabama High School Athletic Association with 130.


He accounted for 5,764 passing yards and over 800 rushing yards with 20 touchdowns during his junior and senior seasons. Jackson was the 18th-best quarterback prospect in the 2024 class and has made a name for himself as a gifted passer and able runner. His tools will need refinement, but his natural skill could push his more veteran counterparts for a potential backup role.


 


In a recent appearance on the Paul Finebaum show, the titular host spent time with Sam Pittman and discussed his outlook on the upcoming season that many are considering a "make-or-break" campaign for the 62-year-old head coach of the Razorbacks.


Pittman spoke about the control his newly hired offensive coordinator would have over the offensive attack for Arkansas, and the battles across the depth chart for playing time next fall during upcoming spring practices.



When Finebaum mentioned the absence of KJ Jefferson, Pittman stated the competition is an "open battle." He also mentioned the extension of the 7-on-7 periods of upcoming practices to gain better evaluations of his quarterbacks.


"We've got to evaluate these quarterbacks, and we've got to do it early. I would like to know exactly who the starting quarterback is coming out of spring ball."


 

Razorback fans
© Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

As those spring practices approach, the Arkansas Razorbacks look to establish a winning identity. The competition for the starting spot on the roster will be an uphill battle, expect Criswell and Green to be the favored frontrunners. Green and Criswell share similar skill sets with big arms and improvisational mobility, the edge may come down to who is the quickest to show command of Petrino's heralded offensive attack.


Arkansas will host 15 practice sessions for spring football starting on Thursday, March 7 with more availability for the media and longer passing periods. This development should give us a better idea of who will take on the task of revamping a reluctant Razorback offense before Arkansas's season opener against UAPB on August 31.





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