FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Quarterback is the most important position in team sports.
For that reason, new starter Austin Allen is No. 1 on SEC Country’s list of the most important Arkansas football players entering the 2016 season.
1. Austin Allen, Jr., QB
Jersey number: 8
2015 stats: Completed one of three pass attempts for 35 yards and a touchdown
Career appearances/starts: 8/0
We understand the people who will say Austin Allen doesn’t belong atop this list. He’s never started a game, has barely played and is completely unproven. And the emphasis Bret Bielema’s teams put on running the football might strengthen the case against Allen being on top.
Depending on the criteria and the person compiling the list, any number of Razorbacks might belong in the No. 1 spot on a list of most important players. You could make a reasonable, convincing case for Deatrich Wise Jr., Jeremy Sprinkle, Drew Morgan, Brooks Ellis and Dre Greenlaw — heck, even true freshman running back Devwah Whaley — but this is our list, and in our opinion, it all starts with the quarterback.
With nine starters returning, Arkansas feels good about what it brings back defensively, even if there are some questions on that side of the ball. And given Bielema’s history of producing 1,000-yard rushers and big, powerful offensive lines, it’s tough to imagine that those units won’t end the 2016 season in pretty good shape.
But ultimately, none of those things will matter if the Razorbacks don’t have a quarterback capable of taking care of the football and making plays himself. And with the talent and depth Arkansas returns at wide receiver — not to mention Sprinkle, who could end the season as an All-SEC or All-America tight end — the Hogs would woefully underperform in 2016 if Allen can’t effectively get the ball to those guys.
There’s no evidence he can’t do that, but there’s also scant evidence he can — at this level, at least.
Allen took over for big brother Brandon once before and led Fayetteville High School to consecutive Class 7A state championships. Now that he’s slated to replace Brandon as the Hogs’ starter, can he again take the team to new heights?
Brandon Allen, of course, finished his Razorbacks career ranked third in career passing yardage (7,463), as well as second in completions (583), second in attempts (1,106) and third in completion percentage (57.4 percent).
His performance last November alone was spectacular and helped the Hogs finish the season with red-hot momentum that everyone in Fayetteville hopes will carry over into 2016.
If that happens, though, that would presumably mean that the transition between Allens at quarterback has gone smoothly.
Austin Allen won the right to enter fall camp as the Razorbacks’ No. 1 quarterback by outperforming competitors Rafe Peavey, Ty Storey and Ricky Town throughout spring ball. His experience in the system should serve him well.
But the Hogs’ first two games aren’t gimmies. Arkansas opens the season at home against Louisiana Tech — a Conference USA squad that has been known to give Power 5 programs fits over the years — before a Week 2 trip to TCU, which returns a scary-good defense and should contend for the Big 12 championship.
We’ll know a whole lot more about Austin Allen’s ability to lead the Arkansas offense after those first two games, but until then, he looks like the most important Razorback entering 2016.
Editor’s note: Arkansas beat writers Jason Kersey and Trent Shadid are counting down the most important Arkansas football players for the 2016 season. The countdown will continue over the next four days, with each remaining player getting his own post.
Here is the list of previous articles in this series:
Tuesday, July 5: Nos. 25-16
Wednesday, July 6: Nos. 15-11
Thursday, July 7: Nos. 10-6
Friday, July 8: No. 5
Saturday, July 9: No. 4
Sunday, July 10: No. 3
Monday, July 11: No. 2