SEC Quarterback Power Rankings: Day 3

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comMay 22, 2014 

Jacksonville St Arkansas Football

Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen looks for a receiver during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Jacksonville State in Fayetteville, Ark., Saturday, Sept. 1, 2012. Arkansas defeated Jacksonville State 49-24. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)

DANNY JOHNSTON — AP

Editor's note: The 2013 season was an incredible year for quarterbacks in the Southeastern Conference. There was a Heisman winner (Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel), the conference's all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns (Georgia's Aaron Murray) and a two-time national champion (Alabama's AJ McCarron). Then there was Auburn's Nick Marshall, LSU's Zach Mettenberger and Missouri's James Franklin. Nearly all of those aforementioned signal-callers have departed, however. Still, someone will rise to the occasion to fill those spots, and that's why we're here to take stock of them as we head into the summer, counting them down from 14 to 1. Note that proven performers, even if they were not the unquestioned starter last season, figures heavily into these rankings. We continue with Day 3 of the countdown.

12. Arkansas

If the 2013 season is never mentioned again, that would suit Arkansas and its fan base just fine. After starting 3-0, they cratered, ending on a nine-game losing streak. They lost all eight of their Southeastern Conference contests; it was the first time since they joined the SEC in 1992 they went winless versus league foes.

The running game wasn't to blame, as Arkansas finished third in the conference in rushing yards per game (208.7). But the passing stats were every bit as ugly as the Razorbacks' record. Statistically, Brandon Allen was the worst starting quarterback in the conference. He completed (an almost hard to believe) 49.6 percent (128-for-258) of his attempts for 1,552 yards and 13 touchdowns. But his abysmal completion percentage and 10 interceptions hindered the offense to the extent that Arkansas finished last in the SEC in passing yards per contest at 148.5.

Was there a valid reason for Allen's low level of play?

According to coach Bret Bielema (and detailed by the legendary Tony Barnhart here), Allen wasn't close to 100 percent health for the majority of the season. He injured the AC joint in his shoulder in Game 3 versus Southern Miss. As noted in Barnhart's article, Allen was the starter "in theory" when the Razorbacks began the spring; still, Bielema wanted the signal-caller to feel a little uncomfortable.

It apparently paid off, as Allen solidified his hold on the spot, leading to two other candidates — AJ Derby and Damon Mitchell — moving to tight end and receiver, respectively.

Behind Allen on the depth chart is younger brother Austin and early enrollee Rafe Peavey. As long as the elder Allen remains healthy, he'll remain the starter. But the only question that really matters is whether he plays better than last season.

One has to think 2014 will be better for Allen and the Razorbacks if only because things can't get much worse than they were in 2013.

There's another equally, if not more important factor in play, though: If things are going well, a quarterback is never going to be the focal point of Bielema's offense. That's the role of the running backs, and the Razorbacks have a dynamic duo in rising junior Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins, who won the Associated Press' SEC freshman of the year award and was named to numerous freshman All-American teams.

Another thing that should bring a smile to Allen's face is that two of his top three pass-catchers last year (Hunter Henry and Keon Hatcher) are back this fall.

Worst-case scenario, Allen shows only minimal improvement this season. If that happens, expect his younger brother or Peavey to begin getting more live game reps, and possibly moving into the starting lineup. Should that occur, it's likely that the Razorbacks finish in the SEC West cellar for the second straight season.

That's why, unreasonable as it might be, Allen and the passing game will need to make significant gains this year for Arkansas to make a move toward even the middle of the division.

It's tough, but the SEC isn't for the faint of heart.

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