UCLA sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley is expected to return to the Bruins… (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )
Just when UCLA fans thought they had seen their breathtaking quarterback take every possible twist and turn in his two-year romp through the Bruins' increasingly florid football landscape, Brett Hundley showed his greatest move yet.
By standing still.
In a decision that will have Westwood cheering until it's powder blue in the face, UCLA's charismatic field leader will announce Monday he is foregoing a chance to be a high pick in this year's NFL draft to remain as the UCLA quarterback for a 2014 season that can now be decorated in shades of championship potential and hints of a Heisman.
Less than one week after a dominating Sun Bowl performance against a renowned Virginia Tech defense, Hundley has apparently decided that a potentially high spot in the draft is not as valuable as a chance to polish his game, cement that spot, and complete a legacy.
Walking off the Sun Bowl Stadium field in El Paso after the Bruins' victory last week, Hundley explained the attraction of that legacy.
"We could put together, hopefully a [national] run, maybe a Heisman," he said. "That's one thing I always wanted to do. That would be cool."
This is the coolest thing to happen to UCLA football in, well, about a month? First, the Bruins give Jim Mora enough money and promises for a new football facility to keep him from bolting to Washington or Texas. And now Mora's most vital player decides to stick around for the ride. UCLA athletics hasn't had this many big victories in one winter since Jim Harrick was on the basketball bench.
In some ways, the Hundley decision is even more impressive than the Mora decision. It's one thing to convince a guy to stay by paying him millions. It's another thing to convince a guy to stay even though he would be forsaking millions, which Hundley could have reaped after a couple of scouts reportedly thought he might even be the first quarterback selected.
Hundley is remaining at UCLA because he thinks it can make him a better quarterback, and because he thinks it can make him a champion, and when is the last time the football program received such a resounding endorsement?
This is a program that hasn't won a national title in 59 years, hasn't won a Rose Bowl in 28 years, and hasn't been close to any sort of title game since the Bruins were stunned in Miami in the final regular-season game of 1998, a loss that kept them out of the first BCS championship game. The Bruins once were among college leaders in producing NFL talent, and have five former players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but their talent level has greatly diminished in recent seasons, to the point that, somewhat incredibly, there were no UCLA players taken in two of the last five drafts.
The program reached its recent nadir with a 50-0 loss to USC in the 2011 regular-season finale, but the ending was actually a beginning. Watching that game as a redshirt freshman was Hundley, who had been recruited by Rick Neuheisel. Soon after that game, Neuheisel was fired, clearing the path for the hiring of Mora.
The combination of Mora and Hundley has entertainingly brought the program back into the conversation these last two seasons, with consecutive wins over USC, a spot in last season's Pac-12 title game, and this season's 10-win flourish.
It seemed like the coach and quarterback were destined for even greater success together until the 42-12 victory over the Hokies in El Paso on New Year's Eve, when it appeared Hundley might have just played himself to the NFL. Before the game, Hundley was leaning toward staying in school, but then, against the nation's fourth-ranked defense, he accounted for four touchdowns, 161 yards rushing and 226 passing.
Afterward, he admitted wondering whether he had accomplished enough at the college level, saying, "Right now, I feel pretty confident where I'm at as a quarterback."
The Bruins were chilled by those words. With about three-fourths of the starters due to return and a favorable 2014 schedule in which Oregon, Stanford and USC come to the Rose Bowl, UCLA was counting on Hundley's return for a top-10 ranking and possible title push.
"We support Brett in whatever he does, he's been a great asset to this university," Athletic Director Dan Guerrero said at the time. "But if he stays, we have a chance to do something really special."
By staying, Hundley was probably agreeing with many football folks who believe that with the extra year under Mora, he could also personally become more special. Hundley still needs to work on his downfield decision making. He still needs to make better reads. He still has yet to win a truly big game under pressure.
By staying, he is obviously taking a big risk. This same sort of column was written two winters ago when Matt Barkley stood in front of a glowing Christmas tree and announced he was remaining at USC for one more season. His final season was one long Grinch and he dropped to the draft's fourth round.
But the extra season is more than likely to lift Hundley's career to a different level. Anybody watch Andrew Luck lead the Indianapolis Colts' amazing comeback this weekend? Luck chose to stay at Stanford one more season even though he probably would have been the No. 1 overall pick. It turned out he was top pick anyway, and the extra year helped him quickly become an NFL star.
Maybe Hundley will never become that kind of player. But he is betting his career that the Bruins will help him become that kind of player, which is one of their biggest football victories in recent memory
Is there such a thing as a 16-clap?