LITTLE ROCK — Down in the dumps over 52-7? Imagining even worse in Tuscaloosa? Anxious about Gus Malzahn’s return to Fayetteville?
Razorback fans, an escape is available. Fast forward to spring practice and indulge in speculation about the Razorbacks’ starting quarterback in 2014. After all, as many as five choices are to be available and nothing fosters hope in a football fan as much as a new quarterback.
Anticipation about the competition didn’t dawn on me until I looked up in the fourth quarter of the South Carolina game, saw Brandon Allen still taking snaps, and wondered whether the sophomore will start as a junior.
There is little doubt that Allen rushed his rehab from a shoulder injury because the team needed him and Bret Bielema said as much in the post-game, proclaiming that his quarterback “deserves a medal of some type.” He also detailed Allen’s limited participation in practice each week.
Trailing 31-7 when the Razorbacks first got the ball in the second half, Allen attempted three passes the rest of the game — not the normal approach associated with a desperate comeback. If Arkansas was going to ignore the pass, why not add 240-pound quarterback AJ Derby to the group of potential ball carriers? Addressing that possibility in a roundabout way, Bielema said this week that there is no doubt that Allen is the best option at quarterback.
He was referring to the immediate future, but I am looking down the road and wondering how Bielema and his staff can juggle Allen, his brother Austin, Derby, Damon Mitchell, and Rafe Peavey.
Normally, a high school player who has not signed a letter of intent would be excluded from the speculation, but the youngster from Bolivar, Mo., verbally committed to the Razorbacks more than a year ago and is Arkansas’ unofficial recruiting coordinator for the 2014 class. Peavey, who is usually good for 200 yards passing and 100 yards rushing each Friday night, is due on the Fayetteville campus for the second semester.
Looking ahead, assume all five remain at quarterback. Derby might provide much-needed help at linebacker, a position he played at Iowa for a few games, but he left the Hawkeyes because he believes he is a quarterback. For those who think there is a stockpile of linebackers waiting to become starters, note that the depth chart for the South Carolina game listed seniors as back-ups at two of the three linebacker spots. Although Mitchell played quarterback and safety as a junior in high school and the secondary is lacking, he is a quarterback first. The Allen brothers and Peavey are quarterbacks, period.
Allen and Allen are supposed to be more pocket passers than anything else while Mitchell and Peavey fall under the dual-threat label. Remember that Mitchell was originally committed to Georgia Tech where the triple option is in vogue before switching to Arkansas, saying he thought the Razorback offense offered a more likely path to the NFL.
Quarterbacks who can run and pass are the big thing in the college game — note Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Ohio State’s Braxton Miller — but Alabama and LSU are winning with pocket passers A.J. McCarron and Zach Mettenberger. All four have lots of help on both sides of the ball, a reminder that whoever wins the quarterback battle at Arkansas can’t succeed on his own.
Other than the pros and cons of the five quarterbacks, other water cooler-worthy questions include:
—After spring practice, will it be clear that one quarterback is ahead or will the sorting out process resume in August?
—Will somebody transfer? If Brandon Allen wins out, his brother and Mitchell will be redshirt juniors before Brandon’s eligibility is complete. Or, what happens if Brandon Allen loses out to his younger brother?
—If four scholarship quarterbacks are available, who will be redshirted? Peavey is the logical choice.
Guessing the answers makes for more lively conversation than discussing what McCarron, T.J. Yeldon, and their teammates might do to the Razorbacks.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.