Save for one anomalous season when Drew Olson, Maurice Jones-Drew, and Marcedes Lewis hoisted the entire 2005 UCLA team on their shoulders, UCLA has been without effective quarterback play since Cade McNown exhausted his eligibility in 1998. There have been a succession of saviors (Ben Olson, Richard Brehaut, Brett Hundley) and junior college transfers (Kevin Craft, Darius Bell), an entire change in the offense to help mitigate the lack of talent, and still production from the position has remained mediocre.
This past year, Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut effectively split the season's starts and neither was overly impressive. Prince's strengths in the pistol are well documented: he was extremely effective running the zone read, and he's one of the faster straight ahead runners on the team. But his weaknesses were equally apparent: at times, he would get flustered and make poor decisions, and his arm strength and accuracy have seemingly declined each year. Despite that, he actually managed to finish out last year fairly well, after a nearly disastrous beginning when he threw three interceptions against Texas. He had one stretch of games, starting at Cal when he ran for over 160 yards, where he seemed to be putting it together a little, but much of that depended on the offense using him more as a runner.
Brehaut strengths are a little harder to quantify. He's not the runner that Prince is, to put it mildly, and in terms of accuracy, his completion percentage was virtually identical to Prince's. At the risk of sounding like a bad sportscaster describing David Eckstein, though, he does seem to be more of a gamer. Where Prince has a tendency to get flustered and make poor decisions, Brehaut just generally seems more comfortable on the field during games (although he‘s not immune to poor decisions). He also has a stronger arm, and doesn't throw as many ducks as Prince.
Brett Hundley spent the entire year redshirting and that was probably a good decision. Even with the struggles of Prince and Brehaut, he would almost certainly not have been a better option last year. He still has a long ways to go as a passer. He has a fairly strong arm, but he was pretty inaccurate in practice. Unless major strides have been taken in the offseason, he could enter spring about as raw as he entered last spring.
A Look at Spring
If you look at the schedule for the 2012 season, it appears set for, at the very least, a winning season. Whether the team rises above that modest goal is dependent in large part on a quarterback emerging this spring who can run Noel Mazzone's offense.
Prince will get the first crack at it, as befits an off and on three year starter, but there will be more or less an open competition among all the quarterbacks. Prince hasn't shined in the passing game over the last two years, limited though it was under Rick Neuheisel, so he's going to have to channel his redshirt freshman self to have a chance to seize the role.
Brehaut, after some concerns that he wouldn't participate, has decided to forego baseball for the month of April to fully participate in spring ball. His natural skillset might fit better with Mazzone's offense, but the coaching staff may have to make a determination about whether he is fully committed to football.
Hundley is the biggest question mark among the quarterbacks. While he didn't show much progress during practice last year, there's a chance he has started to make strides during the offseason. Look for Mazzone to work with him heavily on his footwork so that he can further improve his accuracy. From what we've heard, the coaching staff hasn't become enamored with any one of the candidates, so it could be an opportunity for Hundley to rise to the top.
Adding to the mix, T.J. Millweard, the freshman out of Texas, will be competing for the starting job. He has to be considered a longshot at this point, but Mazzone is particularly fond of him, and many around the program feel he is unusually mature for a freshman.
Things to Watch
-Can Prince prove himself capable of running a pass-first offense? The last few years, the big argument for Prince among the coaches was that he ran the pistol better than Brehaut, and that was demonstrably true. He ran the zone read to near perfection at times. But the issue for Prince is that his best passing year was arguably his first year as a starter, and he's scuffled since then. An interesting note is that even though Prince generally excelled in the pistol, he wasn't a big fan of the offense, so perhaps the change in offense will light a spark for him.
-Can Hundley progress enough to overtake two seniors? He certainly wasn't ready last year to wrest control of the pistol from Prince or Brehaut, but an offseason of work and studying the playbook could put him on a more even footing with the senior quarterbacks. While Prince and Brehaut have to be considered the strongest contenders, Hundley could overtake them with a strong spring. The question might ultimately hinge on this: because the schedule in the fall is relatively easy, does UCLA want to roll the dice on a developing quarterback with a higher upside or go with a more dependable option?
-How much of an effect can Mazzone have in fifteen practices? Mazzone has gotten a reputation as a quarterback guru- in a sense, what Norm Chow was supposed to be. This could be one of his more challenging assignments. Nowhere in the depth chart is there a proven, consistent passer. There's Prince, who had one OK season throwing. There's Brehaut, who still has a tendency to make bad decisions with the ball. There's Hundley, who didn't get much development last season. And there's Millweard, who has a solid neck beard but is mostly a mystery. It's going to be very interesting to see whether Mazzone is able to pluck a true starter out of the bunch, and avoid the quarterback controversies of the last, oh, decade or so.
Projected Depth Chart for Spring
1. Kevin Prince
2. Richard Brehaut
3. Brett Hundley
4. T.J. Millweard
5. Jerry Neuheisel
Spring Preview: Quarterbacks
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