No savior yet for UCLA at QB

LOS ANGELES -- The savior is going to prom next week.

That would be UCLA's true freshman quarterback Brett Hundley, a charismatic, strapping young man who left high school early to compete for the starting job and immediately discovered that many believe that he will lead the football program out of the wilderness of mediocrity into the promised land of Pac-12 championships. And, of course, while on that glorious path, he will plant a footprint on USC's collective forehead.

Hundley admits it's been a bit surreal having folks he doesn't know know who he is, even when it's "volleyball girls" saying "Hey, you're the savior!" He's enjoying taking it all in. But any euphoria over his newfound celebrity has been put in perspective by the realities of the practice field this spring.

"Going from high school to college, it's really a big difference," he said.

Yes, it is. Just ask Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut, who have struggled as UCLA's starting quarterback in the previous two seasons.

What's clear is the quarterback quandary in Westwood won't be resolved until the fall. Prince, who has flashed ability when healthy (which hasn't been often), is sitting out while still recovering from a knee injury. Brehaut has turned in a solid spring but hasn't yet won over his coaches. Hundley, the best athlete of the three, is still trying to digest the playbook and get a feel for the speed of the game.

"It's to be continued," offensive coordinator Mike Johnson said. "I don't think anyone has clearly put themselves in position to say they are going to be the starter."

UCLA has a strong history at the position: Bob Waterfield, Heisman Trophy winner Gary Beban, Tom Ramsey, Troy Aikman and Cade McNown come to mind. But the position has been pretty lousy since Drew Olson left in 2005.

More than a few observers believe Prince will be the starter if he is 100 percent in fall camp. But that's a big if. As a redshirt freshman in 2009, Prince threw the ball fairly well at times. And he did a solid job with the options portion of the pistol last year, particularly in the upset win over Texas. Of course, that's also when he also first hurt his knee.

"He's a proven player ... not a proven consistent player," coach Rick Neuheisel said. "The question for him is whether he can stay healthy."

Brehaut replaced Prince but struggled. In seven starts, his efficiency rating ranked 96th in the country and ninth in the Pac-10. Brehaut said he's focused on his footwork this spring, while Neuheisel wants Brehaut to become more proficient checking down to his second and third options.

"I think Richard has played well," Neuheisel said. "I still thing there is a lot more improvement to be had, whether it's by him or someone else, before we're going to be playing the position as well as it needs to be played. He still has too much predetermination in him. That's got to get weaned out."

That leaves the savior.

"He's taking strides, but a lot has been thrown at him that he's never done before," Johnson said. "So there are times he is a deer in headlights."

And when those headlights are on him, Hundley typically chooses to run. That's not the right thing to do based on the play call, but Hundley can make the wrong thing seem right when he busts a big gain with his feet, and that's not lost on his coaches.

"He's going to be a guy who is wrong sometimes," Johnson said. "But we encourage him that if he is going to be wrong, do it fast, do it hard. Because he has the athletic ability to overcome some of those mistakes."

Prince and Brehaut are aware that fans are clamoring for Hundley.

"Of course, everyone roots for that incoming guy who no one has seen yet," Brehaut said. "That's something Kevin and I, as veteran guys, can't worry about. There's nothing we can do that's going to affect Brett. It's all about making sure we know what we are doing and are executing like we know how. As long as we're doing that, we're doing our part."

While Hundley admits to struggling this spring, he still has his eyes affixed to the prize: the starting job. He left high school early because he had a clear goal to get on the field as soon as possible.

That savior stuff? It's amusing for now. But the business ahead is serious and far more taxing.

"It's pretty funny. When I first got here, that's how some people knew me," Hundley said. "Everyone jokes around about it. But I make sure everyone knows I'm only one person. You can't really save a team. And that's not really what I'm here for."