There's a lot about the college career of Texas A&M sophomore quarterback Kyle Allen that remains to be told. But there are a few things we already know.
The first, if for context only, is that he'll make just his sixth career start Saturday against Arizona State.
Sixth. Sometimes, it's easy to forget just how young some of these players are—and how high the expectations are for them regardless of the fact.
"He was a true freshman," said Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News to Bleacher Report. "Expectations had to be tempered."
But we also know Allen doesn't give up easy. He didn't win the starting job to open the 2014 season—and he took the news extremely hard—but performed well when he received the opportunity to leapfrog Kenny Hill. In the final five games of last year, all starts, Allen threw for 1,058 yards, 13 touchdowns and five picks. During that stretch, the Aggies went 3-2. Hill has since transferred to TCU.
We know he held off touted true freshman Kyler Murray in this year's quarterback competition. That was no easy task. Murray, in addition to being a 5-star member of the 2015 class according to 247Sports, was a Texas high school legend with a 42-0 career record. As Zwerneman noted, it was a legitimate competition that Murray had every opportunity to win.
We know experience, something Allen lacked this time last year in his competition with Hill, gave Allen the edge in this year's competition. "[Head coach Kevin] Sumlin made a point about the learning curve [of the offense]," Zwerneman said. "He said Kyle was past the point of learning 'how to' and at the point of learning 'what to do.' And that really separated him from Murray."
We know, with Sumlin's recent track record of quarterbacks, Allen has a chance to thrive. Johnny Manziel, Case Keenum and even Sam Bradford, if you date back to Sumlin's days as Oklahoma's co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach, have all put up big numbers in an offense in which Sumlin at least had a hand.
That's two Heisman winners and a record-setter.
Of the three, Zwerneman feels Allen is physically most like Bradford. "He's long, lean, kind of like Sam was," Zwerneman said, noting that Allen, who is now up to 210 pounds per his bio, played at about 190 pounds last year. "Allen might be a little more mobile than Bradford was, though."
Allen's ability to pick up yards with his feet came as a surprise to many. He entered his freshman year in College Station known as a true dropback passer. However, he showed off some wheels in the Liberty Bowl win against West Virginia, rushing for 33 yards and a touchdown.
No one is confusing Allen for Manziel, but he does have the ability to make plays with his feet when necessary. Likewise, Bradford could occasionally extend plays with his legs, as he most notably did against Oklahoma State in 2008:
Ultimately, Allen's game is somewhere between Bradford's and Keenum's, whereas Murray has already drawn comparisons to Manziel by Aggies offensive coordinator Jake Spavital. Allen has a huge arm and can sling the ball vertically down the field. With A&M's receiving unit, likely the deepest and most talented in the SEC, there should be no reason why the Aggies can't pick up chunk yards through the air. If nothing else, Allen should be able to improve on his 6.9 yards per attempt from 2014.
Now the question is: Can Allen's collegiate career arc resemble Bradford's or Keenum's? It comes down to how big of a leap Allen can make from Year 1 to Year 2—again, he's only started a handful of games—and if he can fend off Murray.
According to Zwerneman, Allen has worked on two components of his game: release time and footwork, and has improved in both areas during the offseason. Being the No. 1 guy throughout the spring, Zwerneman said, helped Allen loosen up and build confidence.
You see, there's probably no one on A&M's roster who takes football more seriously (in a good way) than Allen. Zwerneman notes a time last year, right around when Allen lost the job to Hill, when backup quarterback Conner McQueen divulged Allen's biggest characteristic.
"Conner let us know early on," Zwerneman said. "He's never seen anyone prepare as hard, or have the love and passion and knowledge of the history of the game like Kyle Allen."
Allen has all the physical tools to succeed. Holding off Murray will require incredible drive and hard work. All of this would make him one of the top quarterback prospects in college football. Even B/R draft guru Matt Miller is starting to take notice:
In 2011, Sumlin's fourth year as the head coach of Houston, Keenum passed for 5,631 yards. That was almost 1,000 yards more than the next-leading passer, Brandon Weeden of Oklahoma State. As it so happens, Sumlin is entering a fairly critical Year 4 with the Aggies. Can Allen have the type of breakout year Keenum did four years ago?
If he does, A&M, armed with a new-look defense, might just have a shot at the SEC West crown. Maybe more.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.