Hundley: UCLA can rise to title contention

Hundley: UCLA can rise to title contention

Published Aug. 12, 2014 5:21 p.m. ET

LOS ANGELES (AP) Brett Hundley believes his whole football career has been building to this season at UCLA, and he wasn't about to leave before he found out what comes next.

''You look too far ahead, and you don't realize what a moment you have in front of you,'' Hundley said. ''I didn't want to leave before I felt like it was time to go.''

That's why the quarterback blew off the NFL for a year to lead a loaded Bruins roster in search of a Pac-12 title and more this fall.

Hundley isn't alone in his excitement about the next step in coach Jim Mora's three-year construction of a national title contender in Westwood. After two winning seasons punctuated by victories over rival Southern California and ensuing bowl trips, the Bruins are loaded with talent and experience at key positions, making them the preseason favorite in the Pac-12 South.


''We've done something at UCLA,'' said Hundley, the two-year starter. ''We've helped build something, but it won't mean anything if we don't finish what we start. You can't get complacent when you have a little success.''

Mora is equally excited about the Bruins' chances, but the veteran coach is guarding against too much excitement about a team that seems ready to take the next step to national prominence.

''Our success right now, in my opinion, is still very limited,'' Mora said. ''We haven't won the Pac-12 championship. We're 0-3 against Stanford. I don't want our players to feel like we're extra special and we've accomplished the goals we set out to accomplish.''

Indeed, the Bruins haven't won a league title since 1998. But with Sports Illustrated cover boy Hundley leading a wealth of young talent, UCLA is primed for its best chance yet to get back on top.

Hundley has devoted himself to the maximization of that opportunity, spending the summer in constant study and preparation. Mora has returned the commitment by increasing his attempts to prepare Hundley for the NFL.

The quarterback spent time with innumerable NFL veterans and current stars in the offseason at camps and on UCLA's campus, working with everybody from Donovan McNabb and Tim Tebow to current stars Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers.

''I'm learning as much as I can, and I believe it's going to pay off this season,'' Hundley said.

Here are five things to watch in UCLA's highly anticipated season:

ONE-WAY JACK - FOR NOW: Myles Jack had one of the most dynamic freshman seasons in conference history, excelling as a linebacker and a running back. He was named the Pac-12's offensive and defensive freshman of the year, but he's concentrating exclusively on the defensive side of the ball in training camp this month. His ball-carrying days aren't over, however: Mora has acknowledged Jack will be a change-of-pace option in UCLA's offense all season long.

NEW BOSS: Jeff Ulbrich takes over for Lou Spanos as the Bruins' defensive coordinator, although Mora still closely oversees the unit. Ulbrich is a longtime 49ers linebacker who played for Mora in the NFL, and his energy and recruiting acumen have been a boost to the Bruins during his two years as their linebackers coach.

ON CAMERA: Mora's worries about the Bruins' focus didn't stop him from giving permission to the Pac-12 Network for ''The Drive,'' a season-long reality series about his club. Mora says it won't be a distraction because UCLA controls the access and availability to the network's cameras.

THE REPLACEMENTS: Anthony Barr and Cassius Marsh are in the NFL, leaving the UCLA defense without two of its most important players. Barr and Marsh sacked and rattled quarterbacks all season long, leaving the Bruins looking for new avenues of pressure. Jack could play a major role, and Owamagbe Odighizuwa could be ready for a huge comeback season after missing 2013 with injury.

GAINING DEPTH: UCLA used 18 freshmen last season, most in key roles. Several youngsters could contribute again, but the Bruins are banking on the experience gathered last season to propel them higher this fall. ''A lot of guys who were young last year, they're not young and inexperienced anymore,'' Hundley said.