Arkansas sports analyst Mike Irwin doesn’t think Mike Woods’ recent surprise transfer is going to hurt the Arkansas football program too much.
When the program is under steady leadership, as it is now, it’s usually deep enough to absorb these kinds of shocks and just keep rolling with just keep rolling.
Perhaps the most famous Arkansas football example of this came before a big postseason showdown with Oklahoma, Woods’ new team, Irwin points out.
“Lou Holtz suspended three of his top offensive weapons before the ’78 Orange Bowl. One of the biggest upsets in college football followed,” the Pig Trail Nation analyst Tweeted.
“When a hole is created, other Hogs step up. This does not change. Treylon Burks, Trey Knox and the rest of that [Arkansas wide receivers] room will answer the call.”
Similarly, Woods was a complementary part — albeit a very effective one — on the Razorbacks’ offense.
But he wasn’t the straw that stirred the drink.
That label, of course, goes to the quarterback — a position that has only compounded in importance in the decades’ since that huge Orange bowl upset.
Roland Sales Becomes an Arkansas Football Legend
There’s a reason that a quarterback has gone No. 1 in the NFL Draft in each of the last three years and three more QBs are expected to go in the Top 3 of this year’s draft.
No team in modern college football or NFL can win at a high level without a standout quarterback.
KJ Jefferson: Arkansas Football’s Most Important Player
Arkansas is no exception.
Redshirt sophomore KJ Jefferson, the presumed starter, is on the cusp of what some insiders see could be a breakout season throwing to Treylon Burks, Trey Knox, De’Vion Warren, Ketron Jackson, John David White and more.
“It might be unfair to say he’s got the potential to have a breakout year on par with 2019 Joe Burrow or Mac Jones and Kyle Trask last year, but it’s not crazy to think that Jefferson can become Arkansas’ first all-SEC quarterback since Tyler Wilson in 2011,” Saturday Down South’s Connor O’Gara wrote.
“There’s potential that with more reps, Jefferson has some Josh Allen-like tendencies to his game,” O’Gara added.
“The deep ball looks effortless, he’s going to be brutal to bring down at 240 pounds and with some more time, we should see that craftiness develop with his footwork.”
And let’s not discount that this is Jefferson’s second full season under Kendal Briles, who hasn’t been at a school for two straight seasons since 2016 at the end of his Baylor tenure.
If Briles can get cooking with Jefferson something that’s just 3/4 of the warp speed offenses he had going at Baylor, Arkansas football will be humming in 2021.
So imagine KJ Jefferson produces an All-SEC caliber season in 2021.
Imagine the Hogs win seven or eight games, and are gearing up for a huge 2022 with Jefferson back as a junior in Year 3 of Briles’ system.
Sure, Burks will likely be off to the NFL, but by that point Arkansas should have guys like Ketron Jackson, Darin Turner, Quincey McAdoo and Jacqualyn Crawford ready to pick up the slack.
Then imagine much all of that comes crashing down because the presumed starting quarterback at some bigger, more elite program decides to transfer away.
Then that bigger program’s coaches eye Jefferson, now a more attractive, proven winner in the SEC.
“What happens if some other school goes, ‘Hey man, we lost our quarterback in the spring. We want that guy’? So then they go in through back channels,” Irwin said.
Going after players through back channel or indirect means is illegal, but the problem is there is no way to catch violators.
Irwin doesn’t think there is any way to prevent schools from trying to poach other teams’ players, now that NCAA rules allow transfers to make a switch without having to sit out a year.
“Will the NCAA sort of crack down on this, start trying to investigate this? Do they have a plan or a strategy to prevent the poaching of players? It’s too new.”
“Typically what they do is they create a problem and they don’t follow up to try and solve issues that come about as a result of it,” Irwin said on a recent “Ask Mike” segment.
“So I’m real skeptical that anything’s going to be done about this.”
In the fictional 2022 scenario that Irwin lays out, Jefferson decides to transfer away.
“Jefferson goes, ‘Well, I’m going to be on a pretty good Arkansas team this year, but these guys may win the national championship. I’m going to go there.'”
Pig Trail Nation’s Alyssa Orange chimed in: “It’s almost like that other school used Arkansas as like the minor leagues, where you go and you get some practice, get a little bit better, and then we’ll bring you up to the big boys.”
“That is what’s not fair.”
Arkansas Transfers: A Disconnect Between Players and Fans
It’s important to note that KJ Jefferson hasn’t said anything to indicate that he wants to leave Arkansas.
What Irwin is doing here is using the example of who will probably become Arkansas’ most irreplaceable player (after Burks leaves) to hammer home how future poaching can potentially damage a program in a more serious way than a No. 2 wideout leaving.
It would be nearly as easy to replace Jefferson as it would be to replace a wide receiver or running back. No matter how eager and willing someone like Malik Hornsby or Lucas Coley is, there’s simply no replicating the years Jefferson has been in the program and the familiarity he’s developed in Briles’ system.
The issue is how quickly star players can choose to leave, not because they are unhappy with their current program but because they see what they think is much greener grass on the other side.
Many modern players see themselves as workers or employees seeking a payday down the line. (KJ Jefferson’s money bag emoji Tweet in support of Woods’ transfer shows this clear as day.)
“The players see themselves as the commodity and most of them have the attitude that we have a right to go somewhere else if we want to,” Irwin said.
“So even if I’m happy to continue to stay at this school, and even if I like this new coaching staff, if my buddy over here decides he wants to leave, he has every right to do that.”
Meanwhile, a lot of Arkansas football fans see it differently.
“To them, when you become a Razorback, you’re becoming part of my family. I’m a fan, my dad was a fan, my grandpa was a fan. You’re coming into our family. If you came to our house, we’d invite you in 10 years from now.”
“If you’re down and out and need help and we can help you, we will because you’re a part of the family, the Razorback family. And so, when somebody rejects all of that, they get angry.”
The fans’ mindset is still “You became one of us and you need to stay one of us.”
“It wouldn’t be any different if I got a brother and he suddenly announced, ‘I don’t like you. I don’t like mom. I don’t like dad, I’m leaving this family. I’m going to go over here and live with these people.'”
“You’d be like, ‘What? What are you doing?’ So that’s the disconnect between how the players look at these transfers and the way some fans do.”
Watch the entire fascinating “Ask Mike” episode here:
17:20 – In the context of Lucas Coley’s mom getting active on Twitter, he discusses how social media and message boards destroyed Mitch Mustain’s dream of enjoying a long college career with the Hogs
20:45 – How the Razorback Foundation came out on top in Bret Bielema lawsuit settlement
At the end – Why the Arkansas football team will win eight games in 2021