Brett Hundley set the school's season record for total yards and is… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)
SAN DIEGO — Brett Hundley thought, and many UCLA fans hoped, he would be an efficient and even dangerous quarterback.
No one knew for sure, though, until the Bruins' first play of this football season: Hundley bolted 72 yards for a touchdown against Rice.
"Playing that first game, you're sort of like, 'Am I ready for this?' " the redshirt freshman recalled. "You've got a dream, but then you've got to put it into action."
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Doing just that, Hundley became an action figure.
His coming-out party ends Thursday night, when UCLA (9-4) plays Baylor (7-5) in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium. The opportunity for a big finale is there.
Baylor may be Bears on offense, averaging 44.1 points per game, but its defense has been soft as a teddy bear, giving up 38.2 points per game. The defense ranks 119th out of 120 teams in the nation in yards given up.
UCLA Coach Jim Mora correctly noted that the Big 12 Conference, of which Baylor is a member, "has a bunch of explosive offenses."
With Hundley, so do the Bruins.
He set the school's season record with 3,776 total yards and has 3,411 yards passing, 59 yards short of the UCLA season record held by Cade McNown.
Hundley won't celebrate his 20th birthday for another six months, yet he has exceeded expectations.
"Maybe not in actual athletic performance, throwing the ball and running it, we expected that, but with his maturity," Mora said. "He had moments where he looked young, but the way he overcame tough plays and handled success was impressive."
Hundley may not be the best quarterback in the Pac-12 Conference, but he had to be considered among the top three this season. Now he will seek higher mountains to climb.
"Wins," Hundley said. "I came here to win games."
A win Thursday night gets UCLA to 10 victories for only the seventh time.
"It would mean a lot to this team to get this 10th win," defensive end Cassius Marsh said. "We have a chance to be one of the best teams in UCLA history."
There was the 1954 national championship team; the 12 UCLA teams that played in Rose Bowl games; Troy Aikman's two 10-2 teams. But in terms of recent history, it can be argued that this is the best UCLA team since 1998, which was the last time the Bruins reached the Rose Bowl.
The common denominator that links that UCLA team with this one is the quarterbacks, McNown and Hundley. McNown threw for 3,470 yards in 1998. Hundley is close to topping him.
"I'll try to find new challenges," Hundley said. "I'll find all I can."
He'll have help in that quest.
"I don't care if he throws for 6,000 yards, I'll still treat him bad," joked UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, who has received a fair share of credit for Hundley's development. "He knows, and all the quarterbacks here know, that you don't win today's game on yesterday's home run. I don't want any of them to feel that they have 'arrived,' so to speak."
Mora has said that Hundley should be in the Heisman Trophy discussion at some point during his career. But he also sees plenty of room for improvement.
"He's got a million things to improve," Mora said. "That doesn't mean he's not very good. He is very good. He's a redshirt freshman who played 13 games. He's a neophyte.
"Noel is kind of a quarterback guru. He works wonders with these guys. And Brett, as everyone knows, is a hard worker."
Said Hundley: "You work and grind to set yourself up for success."
That has come this season. But the Baylor game will be the last that he'll have running back Johnathan Franklin on his side.
Franklin has 1,700 yards rushing this season and his presence in the backfield ensures that defenses can't concentrate solely on stopping Hundley. In the few games that Franklin was held in check, Hundley struggled.
Hundley may be required to do more on his own next season, but teammates have seen the type of improvement that inspires faith.
"His decision making has improved throughout the year," receiver Shaquelle Evans said. "At times in beginning of the year, he was a little reluctant to run. He made some bad throws, bad decisions. You don't see that now."
Hundley's 3,411 yards put him 11th on the UCLA career passing list, 676 yards behind Gary Beban, a Heisman Trophy winner.
So, those doubts about his being ready? They're 13 games in the past.