Coach Rick Neuheisel didn't mince words when discussing UCLA's quarterback situation over the past few seasons when he said before this season began that "the position has got to get better. We've been woeful."
His method for improving that situation was to create an open competition for the job with Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut duking it out for the starting spot. He made no secret of the fact that the move was intended to get the quarterbacks to push one another to another level of performance and in that regard, it seems to have been a success.
Now comes the difficult part: Choosing a winner.
Only days before UCLA's season opener Saturday at Houston and Neuheisel still hasn't named a starting quarterback. He said on Monday he would know his quarterback plan "within 48 hours." That means by 1 p.m. Wednesday, Neuheisel will have sorted through the film and scoured his mental notes to determine who gives UCLA the best shot against Houston.
But as far as Neuheisel is concerned, no matter which direction he decides to go, the biggest winner in the quarterback competition is the team.
"I had hoped that both would respond and it's worked out exactly as I had hoped," Neuheisel said. "Both these kids have earned the right to believe that they have that spot in their sights."
Picking between them isn't going to be easy. Prince came into camp as the clear-cut favorite because of his past success and an advanced knowledge of the offense, how to decipher a defense and a command of the run game. Brehaut, however, stood out all camp as the superior passer and hit the books hard to improve his fundamental football knowledge.
Both quarterbacks have emerged form training camp as better players and they credit the competition for raising their level of play.
"When you’re out here competing, you know every rep is being judged, every play you’re in there coach is watching and every day he is comparing who is doing the better job at producing points and leading this team," Brehaut said. "I think with competition like Kevin and I have had, it’s only helped this team in terms of the quarterbacks being ready to go."
Neither quarterback has a feel for what Neuheisel will decide. Prince said he's "clueless" and Brehaut said he "has no idea."
A look at the practice reps might give away the answer. Prince has been with the first string for the length of training camp. Brehaut has gotten his share of first-team reps as well, but Prince has almost exclusively been the first quarterback to run with the first team.
Prince said he doesn't read too much into that.
"I never went into practice thinking it was my job," he said. "I went into it as an open competition, just going at it trying to get better every day."
Both quarterbacks believe they have done enough to earn the starting nod.
"I think I’ve done a great job leading this team when I’m in there and putting drives together," Brehaut said. "In my eyes, I think I’ve done enough to prove to my teammates and the coaches that if I’m the guy then I’m going into Houston and I’m going to be more ready than I’ve even been."
Prince pointed out his own strengths.
"I felt very confident with myself and comfortable with the reads that I made and the audibles that I made and I just feel like my understanding of the offense is heightened and I’m happy with that and it’s definitely improved from last year," he said.
It's no surprise, then, that Neuheisel is toying with the idea of having both quarterbacks play early in the season. Perhaps they'll split reps in the game just as they have in practice. Maybe they'll alternate quarters or maybe one will play against Houston and the other against San Jose State and a starter for the rest of the season will emerge from those games.
And don't forget freshman Brett Hundley, who looks like will get some action in a package of plays designed specifically for him. If he's successful, his role could expand and perhaps he could usurp the starting job.
"I've got a lot of options," Neuheisel said.
And for that, he said, he can thank the camp-long competiton.
"There is nothing like competition to force the hand," he said. "As long as you are fighting and scratching and clawing to earn something, you’re going to do everything. You’re going to turn over every stone. We’re not there yet. We’re not perfect yet and I don’t know if we’ll ever be perfect, but we’re going to strive for that. We’re going to look for that perfect day."