FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Believe it or not, Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen is the Southeastern Conference’s leading returner in passing efficiency from a season ago.
It all added up to being picked as the preseason third-team All-SEC quarterback — behind Alabama’s Jalen Hurts and Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald.
Coach Bret Bielema has a pretty good idea about the reason for the lack of hype over his senior quarterback. The Razorbacks finished 7-6 last season, the first time in Bielema’s first four seasons that the school hadn’t improved its win total.
None of that changes how talented Allen is, at least in the eyes of Bielema. Not when he believes the 6-foot-1, 215-pound signal caller is worthy of much more attention after throwing for 3,618 yards and 25 touchdowns in his first season as a starter a year ago.
Bielema has even gone so far as to use the lack of attention as motivation for Allen, giving him the stats of other top returning college quarterbacks — who he believes are receiving much more of the “national spotlight” — and comparing their numbers.
“A lot of (the attention) is just winning; his numbers are better or comparable than a lot of people,” Bielema said. “There’s a lot of guys that haven’t fired a shot who are getting a lot of hype.”
As with most any situation, both on and off the field dating to his prep days at nearby Fayetteville High School, Allen shrugs off any perceived slight — though he appreciates his coach’s effort.
“Of course, you see it, but it doesn’t bother me,” Allen said. “I can’t worry about what someone from the West Coast or anyone else thinks. I know what I’m doing, and I know what it takes to play well.”
Allen played well early last season, including four touchdowns in an overtime win at TCU. He later threw for a career-best 400 yards in a 49-30 loss to Alabama, though he also threw three of his 15 interceptions for the season in the game. Several of his interceptions were the result of pressure felt behind an offensive line that allowed an eye-popping 35 sacks last season, tied for 103rd in the country.
Despite that pressure, and some struggles for two games after injuring his right knee is a loss at Auburn, Allen still finished 29th in the country in passing efficiency. Only Mississippi’s Chad Kelly was better in the SEC.
“As he’s shown, he’s got the talent and got the arm,” senior center Frank Ragnow said. “He might not be tall enough or whatever, but he’s shown that he can do whatever he wants.”
Bielema tried his best to present Allen as being in a quarterback competition a year ago, but even he couldn’t publicly deny his talent for long — naming Allen the starter during the spring.
This year, there’s no question about Allen’s status as one of the best quarterbacks Arkansas has had since entering the SEC. He showed his potential while effortlessly completing 19 of 23 passes for 304 yards in a half against the Razorbacks’ second-team defense on Saturday, and Bielema can’t wait for Allen to show the rest of the country what it’s been missing this preseason.
“Austin’s competing against all the other quarterbacks in the SEC; he’s not competing against anybody here,” Bielema said. “He’s really learned that for us to get where we want to be, he’s got to do that.”
Follow Kurt Voigt at @Kurt_Voigt_AP