A statistical comparison between Matt Barkley and Brett Hundley suggest… (Mark J. Terrill / Associated…)
Former UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel remembers the last time UCLA and USC fans could have a legitimate argument about who had the best quarterback.
"In 1988, when Troy Aikman and Rodney Peete were around, I guarantee you this was a two-quarterback town," Neuheisel said.
Aikman led UCLA to a 20-4 record in two seasons, 1987 and '88. Peete gave Aikman two of those losses and took USC to a pair of Rose Bowls in three seasons as a starter (1986-88).
Who was better? Pick one and get screamed at by the other side.
Since then, the debate has often been one-sided. It could be time, though, for that argument to resume — this time with UCLA's Brett Hundley and USC's Matt Barkley as the talking points.
Barkley, a senior, came into this season as the Heisman Trophy front-runner and leader of a national championship-contending team who was on the verge of setting USC and Pac-12 career records.
Hundley was a 19-year-old redshirt freshman who had never played in a college game.
But after what happened Saturday, let the bickering begin.
Hundley surgically guided the Bruins up field in the final 1 minute 33 seconds against Arizona State, getting them in position for a game-winning field goal.
The 45-43 victory left UCLA half a game out of first place in the Pac-12 South Division, because Barkley could not match Hundley's last-minute heroics in a 39-36 USC loss to Arizona. The Trojans got the ball back with 55 seconds and no timeouts left. Barkley got them to midfield.
UCLA Coach Jim Mora, talking about Hundley, said, "When you watch the NFL games, they throw the stats up there: This guy has had x-number of fourth-quarter comeback wins. It's a measuring stick."
For one Saturday, Hundley had the edge over Barkley. Through eight games, by several numerical standards, it's a push.
Barkley has thrown for 2,266 yards and 25 touchdowns. Hundley has 2,190 yards and 18 touchdowns. Hundley also has run for 267 yards and five touchdowns, while Barkley has negative rushing yardage.
"Barkley has done it for four years; Brett has done it for eight games," Mora said. "But I certainly think Brett is on a trajectory that is going to make him a great one."
Steve Clarkson, a private quarterback coach with whom Barkley has worked in the past, said the most significant difference is age.
"They will both be top picks in any draft they come out in," Clarkson said. "What a wonderful time to be in Los Angeles."
Hundley has pushed the Bruins along, spreading the ball around to as many as 11 receivers in a game. Barkley overwhelms defenses using Marqise Lee and Robert Woods, both considered to be among the top receivers in college football.
Barkley is 33-11, a .750 winning percentage, in four seasons as starter. Hundley, through eight games, is also at .750.
This could become a lengthy sports bar discussion.
"Once the two teams were doing good the comparisons pop up," Hundley said. "We're trying to create a new thing at UCLA this year, something different than in the past."
The past hasn't been so kind where UCLA quarterbacks are concerned. The Bruins have waded through injuries and inconsistency the past decade while Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, John David Booty, Mark Sanchez and Barkley were piling up big numbers for USC.
UCLA's Drew Olson was in the discussion when he threw for 34 touchdowns in 2005, his senior year. But across town Leinart led USC to BCS title games in 2004 and 2005 and won the Heisman Trophy in 2004.
Neuheisel can make a case for both Hundley and Barkley.
"Brett Hundley was always going to be as good an athlete as there was on the field," said Neuheisel, who recruited Hundley to UCLA. "The question was how quickly he could adapt to the nuances of playing quarterback. I think [offensive coordinator] Noel Mazzone has done a great job in getting Brett there."
Of Barkley, Neuheisel said, "He's much more adept at dropping balls down to receivers. He has made a major improvement under [Coach] Lane Kiffin. He looks for his second and third choices and drops the ball down to them."
Barkley didn't declare for the NFL draft last winter, citing unfinished business. His 105 career touchdown passes are a conference record, yet he may go through four years without being named first-team all-conference. Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Arizona's Matt Scott appear to be the leaders for that honor this season.
Scott is a senior. Mariota is, like Hundley, playing for the first time after sitting out last season.
Mariota, as leader of No. 2-ranked Oregon's high-scoring offense, is already on a national stage. But a year from now Los Angeles just might be Hundley's town.