Austin Allen / ArkansasRazorbacks.com
One of the overriding questions concerning the Southeastern Conference going into the forthcoming football season is under center.
Inexperience abounds in the league at quarterback with only Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly and Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs displaying both the leadership and talent last season that can truly allow a head coach to rest comfortably or at least have one less issue to worry about this summer before preseason practices begin in early August.
Obviously some of those coaches are sleeping better than others. Word on the plains is that Auburn struggled mightily at THE position head coach Gus Malzahn counts on the most to make his hurry-up, no-huddle offense purr. There’s still time for things to work themselves into place for the Tigers, but you can bet there have been some restless hours spent contemplating the quarterback situation.
It would seem that Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema might be snoozing a bit easier. While Austin Allen played sparingly in 2015 backing up his older brother Brandon, Bielema spoke highly of Austin from the start of fall camp last August right on into bowl practices whenever the media quizzed him about Allen’s progress.
Bielema’s assessment of Allen’s growth as a leader and a quarterback proved to be true when he and his offensive coordinator Dan Enos agreed that Allen was sufficiently ahead at the position to name him the 2016 starter before spring practice ever ended.
Obviously with a month of practices before the Razorbacks’ Sept. 3 season opener against Louisiana Tech at Razorback Stadium, there is a chance sophomore Rafe Peavey, red-shirt freshmen Ty Storey, Ricky Town or even true freshman Cole Kelley could end up being the Hogs’ starter, but barring injury, it’s so slim a chance I probably shouldn’t have even mentioned it.
Some would have liked the competition to go on longer. They might point to Alabama head coach Nick Saban taking his time in naming a starter the past two years until the cream rose to the top in actual games. You can’t argue with the results with Blake Sims and Jake Coker, either.
Then again not every program or situation is created equally. Alabama has the talent around Sims and Coker to allow them to grow into the position. Arkansas is going to need Allen to make plays from the get-go, if this season is anything like last fall.
When the coaches know who the starter should be and the players know who the starter should be based on practice performance, what use is there in playing mind games with THE player who is entrusted as the leader of the offense if not the whole team?
Legendary Razorbacks football coach and athletics director Frank Broyles said that one of his worst decisions as coach came in 1963 when he was indecisive about naming a starting quarterback.
Broyles said the move created confusion among the quarterbacks, and it didn’t allow the offense to build up a trust and confidence in their signal caller. That decision wasn’t the lone reason why the Razorbacks failed to reach their potential that season, but it was a major source of difficulty that the team did not overcome until their final game of the season when Broyles named Fred Marshall the starter for not only the final game of the season against Texas Tech but also for the 1964 season. The Razorbacks went undefeated and won Arkansas’ lone football national title in 1964.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not insinuating anything about the upcoming season based on Bielema naming Allen the starter, but with the starter settled, the offense can move on and gain confidence in Allen, and in turn Allen can learn to trust his teammates, as well.
No matter how capable Allen has proven himself to be, he still faces a steep learning curve as a starting quarterback, particularly in the SEC. However, the more comfortable Allen is in his new role and the more the offense trusts him to do his job, the flatter that incline becomes.