Rose Bowl. Heisman Trophy. NFL draft.
With an outstanding freshman season come lofty expectations for quarterback Brett Hundley. As national attention turns to UCLA football and its super sophomore, Hundley's coaches and teammates will prove vital to ensure the spotlight doesn't glare too brightly.
Hundley enters his second year captaining the Bruin offense as the unquestionable focal point. Last season sharing top billing with running back and Doak Walker Award finalist Johnathan Franklin.
During July's Pac-12 media day, UCLA head coach Jim Mora referenced starting Hundley when asked of any "risky moves" he made in his first season in Westwood.
Now, any actual risk incurred is debatable—predecessor Rick Neuheisel toyed with starting Hundley as a true freshman. Risk may have been low, but the reward was high. Were it not for counterparts Johnny Manziel and Marcus Mariota, Hundley's 29 passing and nine rushing touchdown campaign would have set a gold standard for freshman quarterbacks.
Indeed, Hundley proved worth the wait for the UCLA football faithful, eagerly anticipating his debut from the moment he committed as a 4-star prospect out of Chandler (Ariz.) High School. Such an impressive first season begets speculation of just what he can do for an encore.
Certain experts already set the bar high for Hundley's year two. Prior to April's NFL draft, quarterback trainer Steve Clarkson said Hundley was already No. 1 pick material.
Mora recited the qualities that make Hundley both a Heisman contender and future pro at Pac-12 media day.
He has physical stature, he's big, he's fast, and he's strong. He can stand in the pocket and see over the line and throw the ball down the field with accuracy and velocity and touch. He can get out of the pocket and throw the ball on the move with timing and accuracy. When a play breaks down, he can run.
That's a laundry list of positives, but it came with an important disclaimer.
"Brett has all the tools to be a great player," Mora said. "He's not a great player yet."
Perhaps the collective accomplishments of Hundley and his fellow freshmen stars of 2012 make it easy to lose sight of how rare it is for first-year quarterbacks to flourish so effortlessly. Moreover, the experience of starting all 14 games as a first-year player gives Hundley savvy beyond his underclassman status.
Nevertheless, Hundley is still only a sophomore.
Mora said continued maturation and refined decision-making are "the next step" in Hundley's evolution. The UCLA football program is aiding in the process by keeping the hype surrounding Hundley to a minimum.
Mora appeared on the Aug. 21 Dan Patrick Show, where he said the university athletic department is eschewing a Heisman campaign.
"Let it happen if he earns it," Mora told Dan Patrick. "You aren't doing him any great service if you promote him for the Heisman."
Brushing aside the unnecessary distraction of a media blitz allows Hundley and his Bruin teammates to focus on making vital adjustments.
No clear replacement to fill Franklin's void has stepped up this off-season, prompting offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone to endorse running-back-by-committee.
Backfield uncertainty leaves the onus of maintaining a 190.8 yard-per-game rushing attack on dual-threat Hundley. He was the Bruins' second-leading rusher in 2012, despite coming nearly 1,400 yards sort of Franklin's production.
UCLA has holes to plug and questions to answer, and must do so quickly. The Bruins open with Nevada, which kicked off 2012 with a win in Pac-12 territory over Cal. Two weeks later, UCLA football travels to Nebraska.
The Sept. 14 date in Lincoln, Neb., is particularly intriguing, as it was against the Cornhuskers one year ago that Hundley made his star turn. He passed for over 300 yards and four touchdowns in a 36-30 win, which propelled UCLA into its division-winning season.
Perhaps with a similar performance, Hundley's hype can begin in earnest.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Kyle on Twitter @kensing45.
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