This is the second article in a series taking a look at Southeastern Conference teams. The next article will appear Tuesday and will focus on Auburn.
For a fifth consecutive football season, the Arkansas Razorbacks will have an Allen brother as their starting quarterback.
Brandon Allen guided Arkansas in Bret Bielema's first three seasons as a Southeastern Conference coach, and now the second season nears with Austin at the helm. The younger Allen insists this was never the game plan growing up.
"We were both kind of the bigger kids," he said last week at SEC media days. "In fourth grade, I was the center on my football team, and if you had told me when I was 10 years old that I was going to be the quarterback at Arkansas, I would have said there wasn't a chance in the world. We also played more basketball then because we had a hoop in the back yard, and we had some competitive games to 100.
"When Brandon was nine and I was seven, he would back me down on the post and throw me on the pavement without saying that he was sorry. We had a lot of fun in the back yard, but there were a lot of times when someone was going in crying to Mom."
In Brandon's three seasons as the starter, the Razorbacks began rebuilding from the implosion that resulted from Bobby Petrino's self-inflicted departure, posting records of 3-9, 7-6 and 8-5. Last year's team had the opportunity to win nine games, but Arkansas wasted a 24-7 halftime lead at Missouri and a 24-0 halftime lead against Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl to finish 7-6 for the second time in three years.
Allen had a 400-yard passing game in a 49-30 home loss to Alabama in early October and finished last season with 245 completions in 401 attempts (61.1 percent) for a league-leading 3,430 yards with 25 yards and 15 interceptions. The 6-foot-1, 215-pounder from Fayetteville had 15 touchdowns against ranked opposition, which tied for the most among Bowl Subdivision quarterbacks.
Last season: 7-6 (3-5 SEC)
Opener: Aug. 31 vs. Florida A&M in Little Rock (8 p.m. on SEC Network)
Fun Fact: Arkansas is 8-8 in SEC games the past two years after going 2-14 in Bret Bielema’s first two seasons.
"Austin's a smart dude," Bielema said. "When B.A. became the starter and Austin was coming in, I said, 'There are three things you can do. You can sit and watch your brother play, and that's kind of cool. You can also learn through your brother's failures, which isn't going to be a lot of fun, and the third thing is you can enjoy the success and understand why it happened.'
"I think he did that. He was there on every trial and tribulation. He survived it. He lived it. He also saw how he had to handle it. To be a starting quarterback in the SEC is not an easy task on the field or off the field. You've got a lot of things coming at you."
Arkansas must replace six starters off a defense that allowed at least 28 points in each of its last four games a year ago. Bielema's Razorbacks also must regroup from the abrupt retirement of running back Rawleigh Williams III, who rushed for 1,360 yards last season but gave up the sport after suffering a second career neck injury on the final day of spring practice.
That the Razorbacks were picked fourth in the SEC West this past week behind Alabama, Auburn and LSU is largely due to stability at quarterback, which has been a recent trademark of the program. Only four quarterbacks have guided Arkansas since 2009, with the Allen brothers following Ryan Mallett (2009-10) and Tyler Wilson (2011-12).
"I think that's important," Allen said. "This is my fifth year, and I feel like I have the trust of all my teammates. I want to be the example for younger teammates of what this program is supposed to look like and be like."
Allen's most trusted teammate is 6-5, 317-pound senior center Frank Ragnow, who has made 26 starts the past two seasons and has gone two consecutive years without allowing a sack. Sophomore running back Devwah Whaley, who rushed for 602 yards and averaged 5.5 yards per carry a year ago, will have to fill the void left by Williams, but a lot will be put on Allen and his arm.
Despite ranking third last year among SEC quarterbacks in efficiency, Allen did lead the league in interceptions.
"Austin has done some pretty good things, but there are some things he has to do better," Bielema said. "We've had conversations about that. I wouldn't do anything but truly sit back and watch a guy who's going to be able to go to some heights that people never thought he would be able to do.
"In the end, he'll probably be the one smiling."
Allen already has done his share of smiling considering what he and his older brother have accomplished. The more recognized duo of Peyton and Eli Manning combined to start seven SEC seasons, so the Allens combining for five isn't too shabby.
"Those are the guys every brothers want to be like," Allen said. "Being able to start as brothers in the SEC is pretty special."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.