A Heisman Trophy Tie Between AJ Green and His Hogs-to-OSU Forerunner

AJ Green, Barry Sanders, Arkansas football, Oklahoma State football, transfer portal
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics / OSU Athletics

AJ Green now has something else in common with Houston Nutt, beyond playing at Arkansas.

Both of them transferred to play for the Oklahoma State football program when it became apparent their services were no longer needed at their position in Fayetteville.

Green, a Tulsa native, chose the Cowboys on Wednesday after originally electing to go with Tulsa out of the portal before decommitting on Monday.

The speedster carried the ball 201 times for 953 yards and six touchdowns in three seasons with the Razorbacks, but was never the feature back and really never seemed involved in the game plan for much of the 2023 campaign.

Now he heads to Stillwater to play for Mike Gundy, who has built a consistently winning program since taking over ahead of the 2005 season.

Oklahoma State Football Revenge for AJ Green?

The Cowboys are returning Ollie Gordon II, who finished seventh in Heisman Trophy voting and led the FBS with 1,732 rushing yards in 2023 as OSU rebounded from some early disappointing losses to South Alabama and Iowa State to make the Big 12 Championship game and finished the year off with a Texas Bowl victory over Texas A&M.

AJ Green will likely battle for the second-string spot in spring drills and then in fall camp after Jaden Nixon entered the transfer portal. Green would be just a Gordon injury away from potentially being the lead back and diminishing what will be some confusion between himself and another recent OSU football player also named AJ Green.

When Arkansas comes to Boone Pickens Stadium on Sept. 7, it’ll be interesting to see how Green performs. These types of revenge contests have happened a few times already, with Cole Hedlund and Ty Storey both having career-type games when playing Arkansas with their new team.

Even more recently, the secondary duo of Joe Foucha and Greg Brooks came back and got a victory in Fayetteville for LSU in 2022.

There are already Razorback fans preparing for the worst happening, whether it’s realistic or not. It is a spoof of Green morphing into Barry Sanders and running wild on his way to major accolades and a Hall of Fame NFL career.

In 2024, it appears Arkansas will face two former players, as Chris ‘Pooh’ Paul Jr. will come back to Fayetteville on Nov. 2 with Ole Miss. It’s the first time in the portal era that the Razorbacks will have two games against ex-players.

What Went Wrong with Arkansas Football

AJ Green was a four-star recruit when Arkansas signed him over the likes of Baylor, Colorado, Louisville, LSU, Michigan, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Texas A&M.

One of the highlight plays of his freshman year was his swing pass from KJ Jefferson against Texas A&M that he caught and bounced off an Aggie defender and scooted to the end zone.

Most of the rest of that season was predominantly Trelon Smith, Rocket Sanders and Dominique Johnson taking the lion’s share of carries, along with Jefferson running the ball himself.

Smith moved on after 2021, while Sanders became the workhorse in 2022 and even in Johnson’s injury absence, Green never really became the change-of-pace to Sanders that he probably envisioned being, as Rashod Dubinion ended up usurping him and handling more of the labor.

With Kendal Briles’ exodus to TCU following the 7-6 Liberty Bowl season, Sam Pittman brought in Dan Enos, who ran a more ball-control offense than Briles, and then Sanders went down early in the year with an injury.

Green did get a lot of work early in the year against Kent State and BYU, but saw his role diminish once SEC play began, while the season really went off the rails against Mississippi State, which led to Enos’ firing.

Kenny Guiton really didn’t get Green involved in his four-game audition, electing to go with Sanders, Johnson and Dubinion, along with bringing Isaiah Augustave into the fold.

Basically, Green saw the handwriting on the wall, and is going somewhere where he is still on a competitive team and is hoping that he can have more of an impact than he had in Fayetteville.

Green Follows in Houston Nutt’s Footsteps

Houston Nutt was the last drop-back quarterback that Frank Broyles recruited as the Arkansas football coach before retiring after the 1976 season to be the full-time athletics director, handing the reins over to Lou Holtz.

Holtz wasn’t interested in Nutt’s passing ability, wanting to adopt a more run-based approach with Ron Calcagni and the stable of running backs that the Razorbacks had in the fold.

Nutt was also a two-sport athlete, as he was also on Eddie Sutton’s 1977-78 Final Four team as a reserve before heading to Stillwater, where he would also be on the basketball team.

Arkansas still had an annual series with Oklahoma State at the time, so Nutt got to play against the Razorbacks while on the Cowboys. In 1980, he actually threw the last touchdown pass in the last game the teams played against each other in War Memorial Stadium before the upcoming meeting in Stillwater, although he was the backup quarterback.

After graduating from Oklahoma State, Nutt was a graduate assistant for both of the schools he played for, then took a job at Arkansas State for four months before Oklahoma State had a wide receivers coach opening and he took it, where he would remain until Arkansas came calling again in 1990.

While at Oklahoma State, Nutt helped mold both Thurman Thomas and Barry Sanders in the Cowboys’ offense, with the latter winning the Heisman Trophy in 1988. Indeed, Sanders produced what many consider the greatest individual season in NCAA history, rushing for 2,850 yards, scoring 44 touchdowns and breaking 34 NCAA records.

If the cards fall just right for Oklahoma State football in 2024, there’s a chance Green could end up backing up a Heisman winner.

Granted, that seems like a long-shot at this point given Ollie Gordon’s 2024 Heisman Trophy odds are lower than that of Green’s former quarterback, KJ Jefferson. Still, he is the the reigning Doak Walker Award winner and a Cinderella season should put Gordon among the front-runners next November.

It’s up to the Razorbacks to prevent such a season from ever getting off the ground.

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