When the book that is the tale of Arkansas turned Oklahoma wide receiver Mike Woods’s 2021 season began, it certainly had a beautiful cover.
Unfortunately for the driven NFL hopeful, cliches exist for a reason.
It was a shock to the system when Arkansas fans heard Woods, the team’s No. 2 receiver, had hit the transfer portal shortly after the spring game this past April.
Woods was supposed to be Robin to Treylon Burks’s Batman.
While Burks drew double coverage (Because who would cover him man-to-man, right Missouri?), Woods would be free to roam deep against presumably the third best defensive back opposing secondaries had to offer.
It was a formula that grew Woods’s receiving stats from 423 total yards at 12.8 yards per catch in 2019 to 619 yards at nearly 20 yards per catch in 2020.
Hog fans had visions of Woods approaching 1,000 yards receiving with the protection of a more experienced line and increased attention on Burks.
But that wasn’t the vision Woods had for himself.
He didn’t want to be anyone’s Robin. He wanted to be Marquis Brown to Marvin Mims’s Ceedee Lamb.
Both torched Big 12 defenses for well over 1,000 yards each at Oklahoma while catching passes from a Heisman Trophy worthy quarterback in Lincoln Riley’s offense.
As he worked out with Lamb in the offseason, it became easier to envision weekly highlights at the top of Sportscenter as opposed to the tail end of SEC Now.
Look at what getting to work with elite level quarterback talent could do to a draft status.
NIL rules were about to change and the national brand OU presented meant a greater potential for large checks to soften the blow of waiting for that first NFL pay day.
Plus, Sooner fans statistically were much more in tune with social media, which also meant more subscribers and views for his budding YouTube channel.
It was time to make a bold move. The benefits outweighed the cost of alienating Hog fans.
“It was just something that was on my mind and I felt it was the best move for my career to just find another opportunity,” Woods told Hawgbeat.com’s Andrew Hutchinson this past August. “And as a wide receiver, you look at OU every year putting out these big numbers and every receiver wants to be in an offense like this.
“So it was pretty easy when they reached out to me. You see what Coach Riley does with transfers, and what his receivers (are) doing and also his quarterbacks, so it was a pretty easy decision.”
While some fans were hurt, most understood.
With starting quarterback KJ Jefferson struggling with accuracy, back-up quarterback Malik Hornsby not pushing for time because of his accuracy issues and a quickly developing running backs room, it seemed clear there wouldn’t be enough opportunities for Woods.
The few times passing opportunities presented themselves would surely go to Burks.
There was little doubt Woods made the right decision from a business standpoint.
With the season now over, it’s easy to see Woods’s westward trip down I-40 may have cost him a significant amount of money.
Things didn’t unfold the way he had hoped. Quarterback Spencer Rattler’s Heisman hopes fell apart almost immediately as thousands of Sooner fans tastelessly chanted for his back-up, Caleb Williams, to take the field.
Chemistry with receivers became hard to develop as the two went back and forth throughout the year.
Add in a coach who appeared mildly checked out following reported tension with Oklahoma administration over the decision to abandon the Big 12 for the SEC, and the dream season soon became a nightmare where every team on the schedule ... from woeful Tulane, traditional doormat Kansas, and even a historically bad Texas team that strung together the worst losing streak in nearly 70 years, put fear in the OU faithful.
Despite being a featured receiver, Woods failed to break the 37-yard barrier seven times.
Three times he hauled in fewer total yards than his 2020 yards per catch average at Arkansas.
Despite all the promise that would traditionally come with a Lincoln Riley offense, Woods produced his worst season since his freshman year with 381 total yards and 11.9 yards per catch.
Meanwhile, back across the border, Jefferson developed into a quality passer and strong leader.
Burks finished with over 1,100 yards, nearly doubling Oklahoma’s top receiver, Mims.
While Oklahoma players sludged their way through a non-stop onslaught of negativity that was compounded by becoming the first OU team since 2009 to not make the Big 12 Championship game, Arkansas, with its gritty attitude, lovable coach and legendary jukebox, became the nation’s media darlings.
The team climbed as high as No. 8 and finished in the Top 25 in all polls while the rest of the conference adopted the Hogs as its No. 2 team.
An entire country voiced respect to an Arkansas team that left everything on the field while coming within a catch that wasn’t a catch from its own Bedlam moment in Tuscaloosa.
It’s easy to imagine what might have been had Woods stayed.
Burks required so much more attention than the previous year that Woods could have pulled a chair up on the opposite hash, sat down with a book and would have still been wide open.
With Jefferson’s ability to throw the deep ball, Woods could have caught NFL paycheck after paycheck as he ripped up single coverage across the SEC.
Even if he ended up a short-lived NFL free agent (Jerry Jones always scoops up borderline NFL talent from Arkansas to fill out his training camp), Woods had endeared himself to Arkansans enough through his YouTube channel that they would have taken care of him well after his time on the gridiron.
But that’s not the way the book played out.
Covers can be deceiving that way.
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