Pac-12 Year of the Quarterback: Brett Hundley, UCLA

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UCLA is ranked No. 7 in the preseason Associated Press Top 25, pundits are picking the Bruins to win the Pac-12 and reach the College Football Playoff, and one player is at the center of it all.

Quarterback Brett Hundley is quite literally the cover man for all the expectations, gracing the front of Sports Illustrated twice in the past month.

With 18 returning starters, UCLA is the most veteran team in the Pac-12. All those returners contributed to the Bruins’ 10 wins in 2013, the program’s most since 2005.

But when Brett Hundley announced in January that he would forego the 2014 NFL draft, it truly set the bar for what is expected of the Bruins this season.

“It’s the single most important factor,” head coach Jim Mora said Tuesday. “If we didn’t have that experience at his position, we’d be scrambling a little bit.”

Hundley is certainly experienced. The 2014 season is his fourth in the program and third as the Bruins’ starter. He’s been synonymous with UCLA’s football resurgence from the start, going 72 yards for a touchdown on his first play against Rice.

He scored 38 combined touchdowns in 2012 and 35 a season ago.

His dual-threat playmaking ability is the catalyst for offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone’s spread scheme. He can distribute the ball all around the field with the pass, and keep defenses back on their heels with his feet.

Last season with instability at running back, Hundley emerged as the team’s leading rusher. But Mora cautioned against viewing Hundley simply as a running quarterback.

“I consider [Hundley and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota] passers first,” Mora said last month at Pac-12 media days. “I say that about Brett because people have a tendency at times to see an African-American quarterback and say he’s a runner.

“I hate that stereotype. I always have,” Mora added.

So Brett Hundley has the opportunity in 2014 to compete for the Heisman Trophy, an award no Bruin has won since Gary Beban in 1967; lead UCLA to a Pac-12 championship, which it hasn’t claimed since 1998; compete for a national title, which has eluded the program since 1954; and, he can help dispel long-held stereotypes.

That’s quite a collection of history riding on Hundley’s shoulders. Were he not better prepared for it, he could understandably falter under the weight.

But Brett Hundley is dealing with the gravity of the situation by keeping his own attitude light.

“I’m just going to have fun this year,” Hundley said at Pac-12 media days. “Honestly, just enjoy the moment.”

Hundley’s not buckling under the pressure–hardly. In his third year as UCLA’s starting quarterback, he is embracing the attention.

“It’s been a fun ride, but we’re expecting to do even bigger and better things,” Hundley said.

Perhaps Brett Hundley has discovered the key for dealing with outside expectations. He can remain cool amid the praise, the magazine covers, the TV spots because the expectations others have set for him and the Bruins pale in comparison to the expectations they’ve set internally.

“Brett’s an incredibly mature young man,” Mora said. “He’s a gracious, genuine kid. I think he’ll navigate this very, very well. And you know what? He deserves it.”