The UCLA spring game is starting to develop a Groundhog Day feel to it.
Each year we watch the Bruins run around Spaulding Field for a month and they never seem to come out of it with a quarterback.
It happened nearly every year of former coach Rick Neuheisel’s tenure. Neuheisel’s offenses always seemed to be resetting each spring whether it was because of a change in philosophy or switching up coordinators, they were never able to settle on a signal caller.
This spring under first-year coach Jim Mora was no different.
UCLA wrapped up spring ball Saturday at the Rose Bowl without a clear frontrunner in the quarterback battle that has dominated the buzz surrounding Mora’s first on-field endeavor.
Mora had said he hoped to identify a quarterback coming out of spring but has since pushed his deadline back to Aug. 16. He said naming a starter now would feel like a forced decision ““ understandable since he’s only been on the job five months.
Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone says it’s a six-man race and all six have gotten reps in spring, but this is clearly a three-candidate competition as Mora admitted Saturday: The incumbents are seniors Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut. They’ve been through this wringer for the last three years and Prince has won it each time.
Neuheisel tried to declare it a tie last fall by playing both but Prince was the one taking the first and last snaps of the season.
The relative newcomer is redshirt freshman Brett Hundley. Hundley was technically in the mix last spring but he was just 17 years old after graduating from high school early to get a shot at the job.
Neuheisel toyed with the idea of using Hundley last season but as the year wore on, Hundley stayed on the bench and redshirted. Fans clamored for Hundley, the “savior” of the program, to get on the field but Neuheisel didn’t think he was ready.
“At first I wasn’t really happy about redshirting but when you look back on it, you’re sort of happy that you did go through it because now you have a year under your belt, you know what you’re doing and you still come in as a freshman,” Hundley said.
The fact that Mora has yet to come to a conclusion makes his decision for him: He should name Hundley the starter and never look back.
Prince and Brehaut have given a lot to this program and should be commended for it, but their time has passed.
They are now learning their third offensive scheme under their third offensive coordinator and neither has separated themselves from the pack this spring. In order for either of them to win the job, they had to run away with it.
Prince isn’t making the throws he should because of a shoulder injury ““ no surprise there ““ and Brehaut struggles with consistency and decision making.
Brehaut’s commitment to the program has also been questioned because of his involvement with the baseball team. He officially put an end to the baseball experiment on Saturday without having played a pitch or received an at bat in two years. He’s going all in now but it may be too late.
Hundley isn’t without flaws either as his accuracy isn’t nearly where it needs to be in Mazzone’s precision-based offense, but picking Hundley is the prudent thing to do.
Mora should pick the guy with the higher ceiling, the guy that he and Mazzone could potentially groom for four years.
Yes, the pressure on Mora to win right away is great but he can justify picking Hundley even if the freshman makes some freshman blunders.
Through no fault of their own, Prince and Brehaut are associated with the failings of Neuheisel’s offenses and fans definitely don’t want to see more of that.
What does the program stand to gain by playing either Prince or Brehaut for a year while Hundley twiddles his thumbs on the sideline and enters next season’s competition without having taken a snap in his third year in the program? Hundley’s trying not to think about it like that.
“I’ve talked with my dad about that and the one thing that we’ve come to is that I’m trying to compete so that’s not a factor,” he said.
“There’s going to be one person that stands out in the pack and when the time comes, the coaches will know who that is.”
Picking Hundley would go a long way in establishing the fresh start everyone wants for this program.
There’s something almost poetic about the first-year Mora stepping into the brave new world of the Pac-12 Conference with a first-year quarterback.
Do you have a thirst for almost-poetry? Email Strong at [email protected]