FAYETTEVILLE — The latest chapter of the Arkansas vs Ole Miss rivalry features a pair of Big 12 transfers who potentially could have been preps-to-pros pioneers in football.
Going straight from high school to the professional level is a regular occurrence in baseball and is becoming more and more common in basketball, but nobody has ever made such a jump straight to the NFL.
Not only do rules prevent such a move, but the physical nature of the sport makes development at the college level a necessity. It’s believed that no one has made that jump even in the professional leagues that have popped up through the years and have much less rigid rules.
However, breaking the mold has been discussed. As they were preparing for the newest iteration of the XFL, former league executives Eric Galko and Sam Schwartzstein brought up the idea.
“In 2018, when I was at the XFL, (Schwartzstein) and I kicked around (the) idea of offering contracts to two high school football players,” Galko shared on Twitter this week. “Thoroughly discussed, but never offered.”
Those two players were Arkansas wide receiver Jadon Haselwood and Ole Miss running back Zach Evans, both of whom were former five-star recruits who began their careers at Oklahoma and TCU, respectively.
Haselwood was the No. 4 overall player in the 2019 class, according to the 247Sports Composite, while Evans checked in at No. 16 overall in the 2020 class.
After three up-and-down seasons with the Sooners in which he battled an ACL injury, Haselwood hit the portal and reunited with his old high school coach, Jimmy Smith, in Fayetteville, where he’s now a key player for the Razorbacks.
Through 10 games, Haselwood has caught 49 passes for 592 yards and three touchdowns. He leads the team in receptions by a wide margin (Matt Landers is second with 37) and he needs just 144 yards to match his three-year total at Oklahoma.
It may not be quite the production many expected for him out of high school, but it’s still been a breakout year for Haselwood and will likely give him a chance to do what the XFL considered helping him do four years ago.
Head coach Sam Pittman told reporters before the season that he expected Haselwood to likely spend only one year at Arkansas, implying that he would go pro afterward by declaring for the 2023 NFL Draft despite two years of eligibility remaining, and it seems as though that is still the case.
The story about considering him for a professional contract out of high school was in response to the announcement that Haselwood has accepted an invitation to this year’s East-West Shrine Bowl, an event for which Galko is the Director of Football Operations and Player Personnel.
Couple that with the fact Galko said he’ll “finally get to work with Jadon,” that is a strong indication of Haselwood’s intent to pursue a professional career following the season, which means he has only two games remaining — three if the Razorbacks win one to become bowl eligible — in an Arkansas uniform.
It also means the Razorbacks will have to replace three of their top four wide receivers next season, as Matt Landers is a super senior with no remaining eligibility and Warren Thompson quit the team this week.
As for Evans, he had two productive seasons for the Horned Frogs before transferring to Ole Miss this offseason. Despite a lot of hype, he’s actually been the Rebels’ No. 2 running back behind freshman phenom Quinshon Judkins, who leads the SEC in rushing yards and touchdowns.
That doesn’t mean he’s been chopped liver, though. In nine games this season, Evans has 692 yards and seven touchdowns on 114 carries. Unfortunately for Ole Miss, his status for Saturday is up in the air because of a concussions suffered in last week’s loss to Alabama.
Arkansas Football Dominates First Half
HALF – Arkansas 35, Ole Miss 6
The Razorbacks wasted excellent field position on their first drive after the defense recovered a fumble on the Ole Miss 39, but that was about the only thing that went wrong for them in the first half.
KJ Jefferson threw three touchdowns, including two to Matt Landers, and Rocket Sanders rushed for two, giving Arkansas touchdowns on five of its next six possessions.
The last of those touchdowns came on an 8-yard run by Sanders with just 5 seconds left. It was set up by a Drew Sanders interception near midfield. He’s up to 153 yards on 17 touchdowns, which is more than he had the previous two games combined (106).
Returning to action after missing the last game with an injury, Jefferson completed 14 of 18 passes for 164 yards and three touchdowns, plus added 51 yards on six carries.
END of 3Q – Arkansas 42, Ole Miss 6
The butt-kicking continued immediately when the second half started, as Rocket Sanders ripped off a 68-yard touchdown run on the second play of the half. That gave him 221 yards for the game, which ranks fifth in UA history, but it might be the last time he sees the field because of the blowout.
Ole Miss had a chance to get in the end zone, but the Razorbacks came up with a fourth-down stop. On the ensuing drive by the Razorbacks, the Rebels got a third-down stop – but their frustrations boiled over and Otis Reese appeared to throw a punch at KJ Jefferson. That resulted in a personal foul.
Arkansas eventually stalled out, but Max Fletcher’s punt was pinned at the 4. Ole Miss is driving again, though, at the 15-yard line.
FINAL – Arkansas 42, Ole Miss 27
The final score is not indicative of just how much of a butt-whooping it was, as the Rebels ended up scoring three touchdowns in the final quarter.
Ole Miss racked up 703 total yards in the losing effort.
How to Watch Arkansas vs Ole Miss
Date: Saturday, Nov. 19
Location: Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium (Fayetteville, Ark.)
Kickoff Time and TV Schedule: 6:30 p.m. CT (SEC Network)
Announcers: Tom Hart (play-by-play), Jordan Rodgers (analyst), Cole Cubelic (sideline reporter)
Arkansas’ Rankings: NR (AP) | NR (Coaches) | No. 35 (SP+) | No. 45 (FPI)
Arkansas vs Ole Miss Predictions
Here are several picks — including from our own managing editor, Andrew Hutchinson — and computer projections for the Arkansas vs Ole Miss matchup…
Andrew Hutchinson, BoAS (preseason): Arkansas, 42-35 (click here to read Hutch’s full preseason predictions)
This is probably the most underrated rivalry in all of college football, but more so because of the wild stuff that happens on the field than how the two teams and fan bases feel about each other. From seven overtime games to massive comebacks and last-second scores to insane lateral plays, Arkansas-Ole Miss never disappoints from an entertainment standpoint…so why expect any different in 2022? This will be another shootout that features something crazy — Malik Hornsby throwing a touchdown to KJ Jefferson? A blocked punt for a touchdown? An onside kick attempt returned for a score? — with Arkansas coming out on top.
Andrew Hutchinson, BoAS (updated): Arkansas, 45-42
Yes, it’s going to be extremely cold Saturday night. But that’s it – no rain, no snow, no wind. Assuming KJ Jefferson is back to at least an Auburn-level of health, I think he’ll be extremely motivated and play out of his mind against the team just down the road from his hometown – much like he did last year, when he accounted for 411 yards and six touchdowns. The Razorbacks have played some great defense the last two games, but they’ve also struggled to play a complete game. I see them making a critical play or two, but for the most part, I think Ole Miss moves the ball at will. We’re in store for another classic Arkansas-Ole Miss game and stand by my prediction that something crazy happens.
Trey Biddy, HawgSports: Arkansas, 28-27 (click here to read all of the HawgSports staff predictions and explanations)
Mason Choate, HawgBeat: Arkansas, 21-20 (click here to read all of the HawgBeat staff predictions and explanations)
David Eckert, Clarion Ledger: Ole Miss, 35-31 (click here)
Kevin McGuire, Athlon Sports: Ole Miss, 34-26 (click here)
Adam Spencer, Saturday Down South: Ole Miss, 34-24 (click here)
Vegas (using spread and O/U): Ole Miss, 34-31.5
ESPN FPI: Arkansas has a 32.1% chance to win (down 18.2 percentage points from preseason projection)
Bill Connelly’s SP+: Ole Miss has a 63% chance to win, favored by 5.5 (projected score: 34-29)
Sagarin: Ole Miss has a 58% chance to win, favored by 2.96 (projected score: 32.0-29.1)
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