Following a successful big brother never is easy. Following him at the same school while playing the same position can be a bit unnerving – especially when big brother was pretty darn good.
But you know what? Austin Allen looks as if he can do it – and do it with a little style.
Allen, a junior from Fayetteville (Ark.) High, will get his first college start at quarterback on September 3 when Arkansas plays host to Louisiana Tech. That means Allen's first college start comes about a mile from where he went to high school.
For the past three years, Arkansas' quarterback job was held by Brandon Allen, his older brother. Last season, Brandon Allen – whose teammates and coaches called him "B.A." – had one of the best seasons ever for an Arkansas quarterback, completing almost 66 percent of his passes for 3,440 yards, 30 touchdowns and eight interceptions. The Jacksonville Jaguars took him in the sixth round of the NFL draft.
In April, with a week left in spring practice, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema announced that "Austin Allen is our best quarterback and it's not even close."
"Austin is the kind of guy who just sticks out," Bielema said when I visited him in Fayetteville earlier this year. "He knows the game because he's grown up around the game. He saw what B.A. did through hard work. I think he's going to be a very good quarterback for us."
Austin Allen has followed his big brother before, in high school. And in 2011 and '12, Austin led Fayetteville High to back-to-back Class 7A state titles. Now, for the first time since 2012, Allen enters a season knowing he's the starting quarterback.
The narrative of the 2016 Arkansas football team is that if Allen can play at or near the same level as his big brother, the Hogs might have enough firepower to make a little noise in the SEC West. No pressure there, right?
You have to understand that for Allen, this is all just part of the family business. His dad, Bobby, was a long-time assistant at Arkansas and now is the Razorbacks' director of high school and NFL relations. Allen knew his time was coming, and was content watching Brandon get better and better.
"To tell you the truth, it's been a pretty cool scenario watching him and learning from him," Allen said of his brother when we talked Wednesday. "But I have to admit that last year I started getting pretty itchy to play."
Allen redshirted as a true freshman in 2013 and got on the field a couple of times in 2014. Brandon got dinged up against Ole Miss in the third quarter and Allen played the rest of the way, going 3-of-5 in a 30-0 win over the Rebels. Last season, Austin played little because Brandon stayed healthy, so it's been a while since he's been the man in charge.
Now understand that when it comes to production on the field, Allen would love to emulate his big brother. But their personalities are significantly different. Brandon Allen is a bit more studious. Austin, at least in his early years at Arkansas, was more of a jokester.
"You wouldn't even know that they are brothers. (Brandon) was kind of a more laid-back kind of guy. Austin, on the other hand, is very competitive," Bielema told The Associated Press earlier this month.
"Yeah, I have to tell people that we're different," Allen said. "Everybody has to sort of make their own way, and that's what I'm trying to do."
That competitiveness has turned Allen a bit more serious as his first college start draws closer. Bielema says watching his brother was one of the best apprenticeships a quarterback could have.
"For three years Austin Allen was there and watched his older brother, who he loves, go through a lot of success but also a lot of failure," Bielema said during SEC Media Days in July. "Early in his career I just talked to him (and said) as this thing unfolds you may be in there the next play. It may not be this week. It may not be next week.
"But when it happens you'll be that much more prepared if you take advantage of it."
Allen did a tour of duty this summer at the Manning Passing Academy in Louisiana, and Archie Manning sent word back to Bielema that Allen was one of the most impressive college players in the camp.
"That got me excited," Bielema said.
Do not underestimate the impact of offensive coordinator Dan Enos, who is entering his second season in Fayetteville. Enos arrived at Arkansas after a five-year stint as coach at Central Michigan, and the impact he had on Brandon Allen and the entire Arkansas offense was dramatic. In 2015, Arkansas averaged 34.4 points in its eight SEC games. That was the best figure in the conference and the Hogs were second only to Ole Miss in total offense, averaging 465.5 yards per game.
"Coach Enos had a tremendous impact on Brandon," Allen said. "Our offense was really clicking last year and our goal is to keep it going. And based on the way things have gone in camp, I think we will."
That 2015 offense also lost running backs Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams, who combined for more than 6,000 rushing yards in their careers. Three starters on the biggest offensive line in college football also are gone.
Bielema believes the running game was going to be fine. Senior running back Kody Walker returns after being granted a sixth year of eligibility. Sophomore Rawleigh Williams III has recovered from a neck injury and looks to be at full speed. There is Devwah Whaley, a highly touted true freshman who has looked impressive in Arkansas' scrimmages.
"Devwah is the real deal," Allen said. "He turned a bunch of heads in our last scrimmage."
The receivers, led by Drew Morgan, will be good again and tight end Jeremy Sprinkle will plug in just fine in place of Hunter Henry.
The other encouraging bit of news is that after a year of struggle – the Hogs gave up 27.4 points per game and surrendered more than 50 twice last season – the defense appears to be back on track.
One of the keys to this season, everyone in Fayetteville agrees, is to avoid last year's 1-3 stumble out of the gate. The Razorbacks have to go to TCU in the second game and face Texas A&M in Arlington, Texas, in the fourth game.
I don't think Arkansas wins the SEC West. But if the Hogs avoid a slow start they may have a say in who does. Remember that last season's 53-52 overtime win over Ole Miss kept the Rebels out of the SEC championship game.
"The key for us is that we need to get off to a good start," Allen said. "Then I think we'll build up some confidence. I like where we are."
For Austin Allen, this is where he always was supposed to be.
(You can follow Tony Barnhart on Twitter @MrCFB)
© 2016, Tony Barnhart. All rights reserved.
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