One would be hard-pressed to find another conference in the country capable of matching the PAC-12's talent at the quarterback position this season. Of those quarterbacks, arguably the most talented and NFL-ready is UCLA's redshirt junior Brett Hundley.
Hundley is the unquestioned leader of a Bruins squad picked by the media to finish first in the PAC-12 South Division this year, and is also a Heisman candidate as well.
Even more scary for his opponents, he seems to be getting better.
At PAC-12 Media Day this week, Hundley had the look of a guy who knows he's at the top of his game and is ready to show it.
Hundley was relaxed as he joked with me about a subject unrelated to football, specifically, his culinary abilities, as he proudly proclaimed, "I am a chef."
Judging by the skeptical look and big grin on the face of senior Bruins linebacker Eric Kendricks seated nearby, Hundley might have been exaggerating.
Nevertheless, Hundley's jovial demeanor stems perhaps from a confidence borne out of constant preparation, as his work ethic was singled out by none other than his head coach.
"When your best player is your hardest worker, it sets a great example for your team," said Bruins coach Jim Mora of Hundley. "And Brett is our hardest worker. Brett and Myles (Jack). If you asked the guys in the locker room who the hardest workers are on the team, they'd say Brett and Myles. Just the commitment he made in the off-season. To get in his car and drive down to San Diego and spend time with Philip (Rivers), and the extra work he puts in in the evenings. It's not unusual for Brett to do two or three workouts a day. He's always calling the receivers and throwing with them."
Hundley and the PAC-12 figure to benefit from the NCAA's new final four-style football tournament that will be implemented this year, as the hated BCS has finally been abolished.
The BCS unfairly favored the SEC, many feel, at the expense of the PAC-12's top programs. When the PAC-12 schools generally played more difficult non-conference schedules and had an extra conference game, the SEC schools essentially were able to bolster their standing merely by playing each other all the time.
Of course, the SEC schools loved to howl about the difficulty of their conference schedule, but with one less game and few quality non-conference opponents as a measuring stick, it was difficult to determine just how truly good some of those teams were.
The new format gives two more teams a shot at the title, reducing the chances that a talented PAC-12 team might be excluded.
In particular, UCLA returns multiple starters from last season's 10-win squad, none more important than Hundley.
A true dual threat quarterback, Hundley is a legitimate pocket passer just as capable of going through his progressions as he is of tucking the ball and running.
"Brett's a passer first," said Mora. "I would think it would be awful if people started to categorize Brett as a running quarterback. He's not a running quarterback, he's a quarterback who has great running ability. I think when the NFL comes and evaluates him in earnest, that they'll absolutely fall in love with him, because he's a thrower."
Mora continued to passionately describe Hundley's abilities, adamant that the media avoid any misconceptions about his star pupil.
"I say that about Brett because people have a tendency at times to see an African-American quarterback and say he's a runner," said Mora. "And I hate that stereotype. I always have. I coached Mike Vick. I believe we stereotype those guys started with that, and I don't want that to happen with Brett. I'm going to make sure it doesn't. It shouldn't. The guy's a passer, man, but he can run."
Hundley is a versatile player who is equally comfortable both throwing out of the shotgun or executing a designed quarterback draw. That versatility will come in handy because there will be a few new adjustments to the UCLA offense this season.
First, he will no longer have playmaker and leading receiver (47 receptions) Shaq Evans to go to on third down.
When I asked Hundley who he expected to step up in Evans' place, he gave a surprising response.
"I think Eldridge Massington is going to do a good job for us this year. Coming into his redshirt freshman year he's going to be a big time receiver for us and there is a lot expected of him," said Hundley.
Second, expect to see Hundley viewing things from more of a pro-style perspective, as he revealed that "I think this year we will do a little more under center," said Hundley.
Although Hundley led the team in passing (3071 yards) and rushing (970 yards) last year, the Bruins most likely would prefer to see a change in those numbers.
Last season, UCLA's running backs were so banged up that they had their own Wally Pip moment, as linebacker Myles Jack stepped in for an offensive series and instantly became a two-way star.
Jack's emergence as an offensive threat was a much-needed boost, but considering that he only knew a handful of offensive plays, it also showed the Bruins' desperate circumstances at the position. Moreover, it revealed just how dependent UCLA was on Hundley to make plays.
With better health this year should come better balance and an easier load for Hundley. If not, Hundley is sharp and ready to do whatever is needed to win.
"He barely had a bad snap this spring," noted Mora when discussing Hundley's development.
At the conclusion of my interview with Hundley, I tried to test his leadership a bit, asking him, "Complete this sentence. 'In order to win the national championship, I must . . .'"
"We must," Hundley interrupted, refusing to take the bait.
Primed and ready, to say the least.
By Mike Elliott
Editor for TheDailySportsHerald.com