The new Sports Illustrated cover star threw for 3,071 yards last year, rushed another 748, and accounted for 36 touchdowns. His adjusted QBR was good for 11th, 4th among Quarterbacks who are returning (Winston, Mariota, and Petty). His individual play bolstered a relatively young UCLA team, which played 18 true freshman in 2013. His maturation into a true Elite Quarterback has pinned high hopes on him, and his 2014 UCLA Bruins. But will the hype surrounding him translate into a Heisman-winning season?
Brett Hundley so far has been stuck in the shadows of similar quarterbacks in the Pac-12, like Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, who were named All Pac-12 Quarterbacks for the First and Second teams, respectively. This year is only a bit different, with Arizona State needing to replace more players than UCLA, and with the Bruins having the toughest schedule in all of College Football, per ESPN's Football Power Index. Against this loaded schedule, Brett Hundley has a very good chance at staying at the top of the Heisman watch lists providing the rest of UCLA's roster is up to face the challenge.
1. The Options
Brett Hundley loses quite a bit in Shaq Evans, but a strong recruiting class and a focus in QB-WR connection this offseason leaves him with no doubt he'll have enough weapons. Five returning WRs with 200+ yards, and his 67.2% completion percentage is the highest of any returning quarterback in any of the Major Conferences. Jordan Payton, his most thrown to returning target in '13, is also coming into his junior year expecting a 600+ yard season. Payton had 38 catches for 440 yards, and fellow junior Devin Fuller compiled an even better 471 yards on 43 catches. Also expect Jordon James and Paul Perkins to run plenty of flats, wheels, and screens to make huge runs and better open up defenses. He needs to find his receivers at a dizzying pace in order to make the discussion, but his support is eager and ready.
2. Strength Size, and Footwork
6'3" and 220 lbs, Easy motion with accurate and strong throws, as well as the top returning QB run-threat in College Football. Not much else is needed to say past that. Better yet, his size will prevent the likelihood of an injury; even though he puts himself into a good bit of danger, he takes hits well. He charismatically bounces around in the pocket, capable of throwing off his front or back foot with no hindrance. His vision worked superbly with his streaky Offensive Line last year, and more than often he had the awareness capable to get rid of the ball or scramble for yards showing off his evasion skills.
Winston in 2013 had 4,057 passing yards, nearly 1,000 more than Hundley while Mariota had 3,665. The emergence of a dynamic UCLA RB corps from the likes of Myles Jack and Paul Perkins will help Hundley with their versatility, but the running game will also be a larger factor in this year's offense. Giving the running game more to shoulder may actually help the Brett out, but that remains to be seen. Against this rigid schedule Hundley needs to find a thousand more passing yards while maintaining his large runs. He needs to reach 3,700 passing yards, 700+ running yards, and 40 touchdowns for legitimate consideration. (This is about what Mariota had in 2013) The defense he will be up against will be watching his film, and he will have that target on his back.
Jameis Winston(1st), Bryce Petty(7th), and Braxton Miller (9th) were all QB Heisman candidates who are returning with the same glimmer in their eyes as Hundley. Hundley will have to leapfrog the QB competition, and just pray that players like Georgia RB Todd Gurley do not have their predicted explosive seasons. Brett won't be able to play his way into being a clear favorite, so he'll have to hope UCLA's schedule factors into the decision.
The Offensive Line
The only loss UCLA fares on its line is OG Xavier Su'a Filo, who was fantastic, but 1 loss isn't bad at all. Unfortunately, Brett Hundley has been sacked 87 times in the last two years, which is the most in the Major Conferences by a long margin. The stability of the Offensive Line can go either way, but I'm predicting they'll be much improved this year. Adrian Klemm, the O-Line coach is one of the highest paid O-Line coaches in the NCAA and has worked tirelessly with his young corps during the off-season. Giving Hundley a half-a-second more each play may get him his needed yards.
Brett Hundley has the infrastructure and weaponry capable of getting him a ticket to the ceremony in New York, but it looks like it will take a record season and a berth to the inaugural playoffs to get him there. His QBR should rise this season and compete with the rest of the field. The do-or-die game has to be the home matchup vs. Oregon on October 11th. If he is able to out-duel Marcus Mariota and make up for 2013's dismal 64-passing-yard performance, he will be awarded with well-earned confidence and Heisman exposure.