Brett Hundley: A New Era
It's totally California: Quarterback swoops in, enjoys a great first season and leads the team to a revival. Set to be a star, things go wrong in his second season as the pieces crumble around him. Can he hold the team together, or will his first season prove to be a fluke?
Sounds like the script to a bad movie, and it's what UCLA hopes to avoid this year.
In 2012, after several disappointing seasons under former head coach Rick Neuheisal, the Bruins were eager for a new beginning. Prior to the season, former NFL and new UCLA head coach Jim Mora began leading the charge. His first major decision was to place redshirt freshman Brett Hundley into the spotlight as starting quarterback.
It was August 30, 2012, and the Bruins were playing Rice in Houston for the season opener. The first offensive play for UCLA, Hundley gazed the field and appeared nervous as the team set into formation. He stood back, looked left to right, yelled for the ball, hesitated for a moment and then ran for a 72-yard touchdown. That was the new beginning and quarterback the Bruins faithful have wanted.
What came next was a fabulous freshman season for Hundley, who finished with 319 completions on 479 attempts for 3,745 yards, 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Hundley stole the spotlight in Los Angeles away from USC quarterback Matt Barkley and the underachieving Trojans. The Bruins finished with a 9-5 record as USC floundered to 7-6. UCLA beat USC 38-28 at the Rose Bowl.
Star running back Jonathan Franklin rushed for a Bruins single-season record 1,734 yards, aiding Hundley's development. Veteran guard Jeff Baca helped protect Hundley throughout the season. Hundley was able to play without pressure and high expectations as an unknown.
This year is different. The Green Bay Packers drafted Franklin, removing Hundley’s security blanket at the running back position. Baca was also drafted and will be playing for the Minnesota Vikings in 2013. The departure of Franklin and Baca leaves UCLA with many unanswered questions, but they will have more attention than the previous year due to the success of the Bruins and the decline of the Trojans.
Los Angeles is void of a NFL team, which leaves college the only choice for football. With the dog days of summer baseball and the NBA offseason, the city will be looking for a story and team to grasp onto, that will be Hundley and the Bruins. At 21 years old, Hundley will receive more media attention than Dwight Howard, Matt Kemp and Kobe Bryant during camp this August. The real questions are: How will Hundley fare with the increased attention? Is he ready for all the questions from reporters? Will he be able to handle the high expectations?
If recent history in the city of Los Angeles is an indicator of future outcomes then Hundley will have a long 2013 season. The Trojans, Lakers, Angels and Dodgers have all failed enormously in the last year under the weight of expectations. We will see, but judging from the way Hundley handled the increased attention during spring camp, he may be poised to break the cycle of the Los Angeles decline.
Hundley seems eager to play the upcoming season, but his success or failure will be in the hands of the unknown running back group and a patchwork offensive line. To ensure a successful sophomore season for Hundley, Mora must address these issues sooner rather than later.
Though only one has thrown FBS passes, Utah's Kyle Whittingham has said he has two quarterbacks who are in the "upper echelon" of the Pac-12 -- and a third is listed as a co-backup behind starter Travis Wilson. Wilson may fit that category (I think he'll have a season this fall like Hundley did last), but if there's many more Hundleys in the Pac-12, I have trouble believing the accuracy of Whittingham's statement. --Rhett Wilkinson, Utah football.com writer