FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. —
Brandon Allen has had nearly a year to think about the last time he saw significant playing time at Arkansas.
The sophomore quarterback will have the opportunity to put that memory to rest - once and for all - when he leads the Razorbacks in their season opener against Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday.
Allen won the starting position during the spring, impressing new coach Bret Bielema with his poise and ability to learn the playbook brought in by new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney. The signal-caller has reaffirmed his position as the heir apparent to Tyler Wilson throughout the preseason - a position he struggled in while replacing an injured Wilson last year.
The last time Allen played more than a handful of snaps was during a 52-0 loss to Alabama last season, a game Arkansas played with Wilson out due to a concussion. Allen finished 10-of-18 passing for 60 yards in the game, which came one week after he played during the second half of a stunning loss to Louisiana-Monroe.
It was hardly the best impression for the former Fayetteville prep standout. Bielema fully expects Allen to put it behind him.
"I've always said scars are a great reminder of what you've persevered, and obviously I think he got a few scars in that Alabama game a year ago,'' Bielema said. "I'm sure that's been rehearsed in his mind, and he's been so consistent in his performance.''
Glimpses of Allen's progress have been few and far between since last season, with Bielema opening only one scrimmage to the public during the preseason.
During that one open scrimmage, however, Allen appeared in complete control of the offense - completing 16 of 17 passes and throwing a 47-yard touchdown to senior Javontee Herndon.
"He's very comfortable in the offense, and he's shown that he's matured and he's the leader of our offense now,'' Herndon said. "We expect big things from him, and he's going to be the captain of our offense.''
Allen's lack of experience entering this season is one of many reasons the Razorbacks were picked to finish last this season in the Southeastern Conference's West Division. Arkansas was 4-8 last season under interim coach John L. Smith, and Allen was only 21-of-49 passing for 186 yards during his limited action.
Experienced or not, Allen expects to perform well right away against a Louisiana-Lafayette team that is coming off back-to-back 9-4 seasons that have each finished with wins in the New Orleans Bowl.
"I think we're past a learning curve,'' Allen said. "I think we have a lot of talented people on our team that are ready to show what they can do. Obviously, I have high expectations for our team and the things I know we can do. It's all about coming out and showing it.''
Ragin' Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth said the turnover at Arkansas has made preparation challenging. In addition to Allen's ascent to starting quarterback, the Razorbacks return only one assistant - cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson - from last year's staff.
"You hope you're somewhere in the ballpark,'' Hudspeth said of preparing for Arkansas. "But that's the scary part of going into a game where you're got a totally new staff, new direction within the program.''
The Razorbacks have been one of the top passing schools in the SEC for the last five seasons, first under former coach Bobby Petrino and then last season under Smith while continuing to run Petrino's offense.
Bielema, however, has brought a balanced approach. He's praised Allen's progress throughout the preseason, while also doing the same for the retooled offensive line and running back combination of Jonathan Williams, Alex Collins and Nate Holmes.
"There's so much emphasis on the quarterback, but it has a lot to do with the people around him,'' Bielema said. "Quarterbacks just get the headlines, negative or positive. I think the kids around Brandon feel so much better about him being in that position, now (more) than they ever have. That's what's exciting.''
Allen struggled at first during the spring to pick up the new offense. However, he's worked tirelessly with Chaney, the former Tennessee offensive coordinator, and has proven himself on and off the field.
His improvement has been so substantial that even Chaney couldn't hide his excitement about Saturday - and showing off just how far Allen has come.
"I think he's excited beyond belief to get on the football field and play,'' Chaney said. "Quite honestly, I get that little kiddie excitement, too. I'm excited about watching him play. He's worked his butt off, and I'm excited to watch him do it.''