Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson is expected to enter the transfer portal, according to 247Sports, just as the former Razorbacks coach Bobby Petrino as the team's offensive coordinator. The three-year starter appears to be mulling his options following a disappointing 4-8 finish in 2023 in which he passed for a career-low 2,107 yards with eight picks. He has one year of eligibility remaining.
A potential meeting between Jefferson and Petrino was a highlight -- however brief -- of the former Razorbacks coach appearing on the cusp of returning to the program in a different role. Jefferson regressed under former offensive coordinator Dan Enos, but for his career Jefferson is a seasoned veteran with nearly 8,000 yards passing and 67 touchdowns. He would instantly become one of the more significant names at his position in the portal.
Petrino was Arkansas' headman from 2008 until his controversial offseason firing ahead of the 2012 season. He guided the Razorbacks to a 34-17 mark, complete with two BCS Bowl bids and an AP Top 5 finish in 2011. Petrino returned to the SEC this season as the offensive coordinator at Texas A&M before coach Jimbo Fisher was fired.
Possible destinations for Jefferson
The transfer portal has reshaped the way programs go about roster building in college football, and a player with Jefferson's experience should have no shortage of options. Multiple SEC schools appear to be in the market for a transfer quarterback: South Carolina, likely replacing starting quarterback Spencer Rattler in 2024 after a 5-7 season, is a potential destination, according to 247Sports.
Mississippi State could be another fit. The Bulldogs enter a new era under coach Jeff Lebby, who oversaw the Big 12's top offense as Oklahoma's offensive coordinator in 2023, and replace a mainstay in Will Rogers. It would be a homecoming for Jefferson, a Mississippi native. Auburn could also upgrade at quarterback after going a pedestrian 6-6 in coach Hugh Freeze's first season, even after adding former Michigan State starter Payton Thorne via the transfer portal last offseason.
TCU is at least worth monitoring thanks to the immediate connection between Jefferson and Horned Frogs offensive coordinator Kendal Briles. The two paired at Arkansas with far better results for Jefferson. Though Chandler Morris and Josh Hoover are already in place at TCU, the Horned Frogs' offense was inconsistent at best under Briles in 2023 as TCU stumbled to a 5-7 mark.
Where Arkansas goes next
This would be a difficult loss for Arkansas. Jefferson's experience -- and availability -- are his biggest assets, as is his physical makeup. He leaves Petrino and Pittman without that type of presence at a time when the Razorbacks need to see immediate improvement.
Rising senior and former North Carolina transfer Jacolby Criswell was the backup in 2023 but only attempted 27 passes, completing 17 for 143 yards and three touchdowns. It would not be a surprise by any stretch if Arkansas taps into the transfer portal itself to find a more experienced passer -- or a fit for Petrino -- as more names begin to trickle in.