2024 Arkansas QB Preview: In Pittman’s First QB Battle, There’s a Wildcard Worth Watching

Jacolby Criswell, Taylen Green, Arkansas football
photo credit: Craven Whitlow / Instagram/taylengreen

We’re not too far removed from snow being on the ground in Fayetteville, which can mean only one thing: Arkansas football is just around the corner.

Yes, the actual season is still six and a half months away – the season opener against UAPB is set for Aug. 31 – but spring ball will be here before you know it.

The Razorbacks are hard at work in the weight room right now and will hit the practice field sometime in early March. With that in mind, Best of Arkansas Sports figured it was a good time to preview each of their position groups ahead of spring ball.

We’ll start with arguably the most important and most intriguing position: quarterback…

Top Storyline: Jacolby Criswell vs. Taylen Green

Who will win the starting job in 2024?

For the first time during the Sam Pittman era, there will be a true quarterback competition during spring practice. KJ Jefferson was the unquestioned starter heading into the last three seasons and Feleipe Franks had the job locked down the year before that.

You have to go back to Chad Morris’ two-year tenure to find the last quarterback battle at Arkansas, with Cole Kelly and Ty Storey in 2018 and then Ben Hicks and Nick Starkel in 2019. Neither of those battles turned out well for the Razorbacks, but there is hope this year will be different because of the man largely in charge of determining the winner: offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino.

The two quarterbacks he’ll likely choose between are Jacolby Criswell and Taylen Green, with Malachi Singleton and KJ Jackson battling for third-string. The latter two of those quarterbacks will be discussed below, but for now we’ll stick with the two top candidates.

Criswell is in just his second season with the Razorbacks after transferring in from North Carolina. However, he’s originally from the state, as he was a four-star recruit out of Morrilton in the Class of 2020.

Although he’ll be listed as a redshirt senior on the Arkansas football roster, Criswell could actually have two years of eligibility remaining if he uses the bonus year given to all athletes active during that 2020 pandemic season.

Last year, he was Jefferson’s backup and played sparingly. According to Pro Football Focus, Criswell was on the field for 88 snaps last season, with the bulk of those (61) coming in the regular-season finale against Missouri.

With the change in coordinator, it’d be unwise to put too much stock into what he did last season, but Criswell did complete 17 of 27 passes (63.0%) for 143 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Including his time at North Carolina, he now has 347 yards, four touchdowns and one interception on 35-of-58 passing.

Despite being younger, Green is much more experienced than Criswell — albeit at a lower level. He spent the last three years at Boise State, where he was the Mountain West Freshman of the Year and earned Freshman All-America honors in 2022.

His numbers dipped this past season, but that could be due to the Broncos making a change at offensive coordinator and weirdly making him split reps with another quarterback midway through the season.

Petrino, who also recruited him out of high school while at Missouri State, saw enough of the 6-foot-6 quarterback that he was his hand-picked option out of the transfer portal to fill the spot created by Jefferson transferring to UCF.

Both quarterbacks are of the dual-threat variety. Green is seemingly the bigger threat with his legs, though, as he’s ran for more than 1,000 yards and 19 touchdowns over the last two seasons, but Criswell can also take off and run.

Even though Criswell has been here for a year, he and Green will probably start off on the same level because neither has played for Petrino before and must learn his system. It’s unlikely either of them will be as good as a Ryan Mallett, Tyler Wilson or Lamar Jackson, but it’s critical for Petrino to have at least a solid quarterback to make his offense go.

Arkansas QB to Watch in Spring Ball

Malachi Singleton

In the past, it would have been borderline irresponsible to speculate about players transferring, especially if there were no rumblings about the player being disgruntled or looking elsewhere. However, in the era of the transfer portal, it’s become part of the game — and at no position is that more true than quarterback.

Generally speaking, there can be only one quarterback on the field at a time and they aren’t known to be the most patient group. If it’s clear they won’t be the guy, it’s pretty common for them to his the portal and look for new opportunities.

The fact that Arkansas made it through the first transfer portal window with Malachi Singleton still on its roster is a good thing. It’s also a bit of a surprise considering the public comments by his mother on Twitter.

With Jacolby Criswell and Taylen Green set to duke it out for the starting job, Singleton appears destined to be buried on the depth chart again in 2024. The third-string quarterback doesn’t typically command much attention, but the portal makes him someone to keep an eye on this spring.

Can he pick up on Bobby Petrino’s system and push the top two quarterbacks? There’s a chance he could get into the mix for the backup job — after all, he was a heralded four-star recruit. If that happens, perhaps he sticks it out here at Arkansas and waits his turn, as Criswell and Green each have only two years of eligibility remaining and he’d be only an injury away from getting on the field.

If he remains on the third team, or is surpassed by freshman KJ Jackson, it would not be surprising if Singleton decided to leave during the spring transfer portal window, which is April 16-30. There is a recent precedent of that happening with the Razorbacks, as former quarterback Lucas Coley left the team midway through spring ball following his freshman year.

Arkansas Football Newcomer(s)

KJ Jackson, Austin Ledbetter

Most of the attention has been on Boise State transfer Taylen Green, but the Razorbacks also brought in a four-star high school signee in KJ Jackson.

Playing at Saint James School in Montgomery, Ala., Jackson actually committed to Arkansas when Dan Enos was the offensive coordinator and stuck to his pledge when Bobby Petrino was hired. Of course, that’s a two-way street and required Petrino’s approval, too.

“When he saw KJ Jackson, he said, ‘Man this guy is athletic. He’s smooth. He’s got a quick release. He’s very accurate,’” head coach Sam Pittman said on early signing day. “And I said, ‘Well if you like the tape, you’re going to love the kid.’ We went on a home visit and what a wonderful family. He’s 6-5. I mean, he’s a big man that can run and has a very, very strong arm.”

Kentucky, Louisville, Missouri, North Carolina, Ole Miss, Penn State and UCF were among Jackson’s offers coming out of high school. During his career, he threw for a whopping 130 touchdowns, which ranks third in Alabama High School Athletic Association history.

It’s not likely that Jackson will see the field this season, but he could factor into the conversation in the coming seasons depending on how he develops.

The Razorbacks also brought in Austin Ledbetter, who is one of the most decorated high school quarterbacks in Arkansas history. He went 26-0 as a starting quarterback, leading Bryant to back-to-back Class 7A state titles, and was the Gatorade Player of the Year in Arkansas for the 2020-21 season.

Ledbetter spent the last couple of seasons pitching on the Arkansas baseball team, but announced he was changing sports in December. He’ll be a walk-on with the football team.

Projected Arkansas QB Depth Chart Entering Spring

1a. Jacolby Criswell
1b. Taylen Green
3. Malachi Singleton
4. KJ Jackson
Others: *Austin Ledbetter, *Rykar Acebo
*walk-on

As of yet, there’s no clear separation at the top of this legitimate quarterback competition heading into the spring. If we were predicting who takes the first snap of the first practice with the first-team offense, though, Jacolby Criswell would be the heavy favorite because he’s a returner. It honestly wouldn’t be too shocking to see Malachi Singleton take a snap before Taylen Green, too, for the same reason.

Sam Pittman has said numerous times he learned the hard way that he needed to put transfers lower on the depth chart and make them “earn” their spot. However, we went ahead and put Criswell and Green as 1a and 1b because it’s almost certainly going to be a battle between those two for the starting job.

Career Stats of Arkansas QBs

QuarterbackCareer Stats
Jacolby Criswell35 of 58 (60.3%), 347 yards (6.0 yds/att), 4 TD, 1 INT; 43 carries, 177 yards (4.1 yds/car), 1 TD
Taylen Green287 of 483 (59.4%), 3,794 yards (7.9 yds/att), 25 TD, 15 INT; 164 carries, 1,026 yards (6.3 yds/car), 19 TD

***

More coverage of Arkansas football from BoAS… 

Facebook Comments