FAYETTEVILLE — Bret Bielema started looking toward the future before the end of last season.
The Arkansas coach will have his first true look at that future when junior Austin Allen steps under center for the first time as the No. 1 quarterback when the Razorbacks open spring practice next week.
Allen, who has seen limited action in each of the last two seasons, takes over for his older brother, Brandon — the starting quarterback in each of Bielema’s first three seasons at Arkansas.
And while there are a host of other quarterbacks on campus with hopes of earning the starting job, Bielema has made it clear over the last few months that Austin Allen enters the spring as the prohibitive favorite to step under center when the Razorbacks open the season against Louisiana Tech on Sept. 3.
"I think Austin continues to make some really good things happen, but by no means is he perfect or close to the level that we need," Bielema said last month. "I’d say he’s getting close."
Allen attempted only three passes in a backup role last season for Arkansas, though his one completion did go for a touchdown. He also completed 8 of 16 passes as a freshman in 2014, including coming in for his injured older brother and helping the Razorbacks defeat Mississippi.
While he lacks on-the-field experience, Allen has benefited from three years as an apprentice to his brother — earning praise from Bielema last year for how much more seriously he took his preparation than his first two seasons.
Part of that preparation began while Arkansas, which finished 8-5 last season, was practicing for its Liberty Bowl matchup against Kansas State. In the weeks before the bowl game, Bielema scheduled a handful of practices without Brandon Allen.
The intent was for the younger quarterbacks — Austin Allen, sophomore Rafe Peavey and freshmen Ty Storey and Ricky Town — to prepare for life without their three-year starter.
"It was pretty cool to see that, just when those situations arose," Bielema said.
While Allen is the front-runner for the starting position, Peavey, Storey and Town are all expected to compete — even if only for the role of backup.
Peavey has shown the ability to scramble in practices the last two seasons, while Storey just finished his first season with the Razorbacks.
Town is the most high profile of the on-campus quarterbacks after transferring from USC last year. However, Bielema said the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Town struggled to learn the Arkansas offense last year, leaving him with plenty to prove before the Razorbacks close spring practice with the Red-White game on April 23.