All too often in college football, pundits and fans are focused on the next big thing for players and coaches: The next job for coaches, and the next level for players. It's a narrow scope view, which blocks the big picture.
The big picture at UCLA is big enough that it attracted quarterback Brett Hundley back to the program for 2014, spurning NFL riches and a likely first-round draft pick for one more year in pursuit of the Bruins' first conference championship since 1998—and, perhaps, the program's first national championship in 60 years.
"I told [my dad] I came to UCLA for this specific reason: Bring this program back to national prominence," Hundley said at a news conference Monday. "That was the one thing that stuck in my head [during the decision-making process]."
The NFL and professional riches will still be there for Hundley next season, but in rejoining head coach Jim Mora for another season, he could make some UCLA football history on his way out.
The Bruins won 10 games this season, the program's most since 2005, and did so despite playing as many as 18 freshmen throughout the campaign. A favorable schedule awaits the battle-tested Bruins in 2014, and the pieces are in place for what Hundley called "something special."
Hundley will captain the Bruins offense for a third season. Among the Pac-12, only Oregon's Marcus Mariota, another highly coveted draft prospect who put off the NFL for one more season, has much experience as his team's exclusive quarterback.
Surrounding Hundley is a bevy of similarly experienced talent on both sides of the ball. His deep receiving corps returns notable names like Devin Fuller, Thomas Duarte and Devin Lucien, all of whom caught multiple touchdown passes in 2013.
Surely there's individual motivation behind Hundley's decision to return to UCLA. The evolution of professional offenses to integrate more freedom for quarterbacks makes the dual-threat Hundley a more viable first-round option than he may have been 10 or even five years ago.
Combine that with his sky-high potential, and it's no wonder NFL scouts are high on Hundley. But he also has room for improvement, as B/R draft guru Matt Miller and others note.
I don’t view Brett Hundley (UCLA) as pro-ready, but his upside and existing talent are top 10 caliber in this year’s class.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) December 30, 2013
For Brett Hundley as a player he made the right decision to stay. He was not a Top 15 pick this year in the #NFLDraft from my eyes.— Anthony Becht (@Anthony_Becht) January 5, 2014
Hundley said his draft advisory board assessment was all over the map, from second to as far down as fourth round. He sometimes struggled in the pocket in 2013, appearing indecisive against the pass rush.
Some of the first major strides in Hundley's passing game were taken in UCLA's 42-12 romp over Virginia Tech in the Sun Bowl. After sending the Hokies' vaunted rush defense back on its heels as a ball-carrier in the first half, Hundley unleashed his arm on their secondary.
Brett Hundley had 2 passing and 2 rushing touchdowns, incl. an 86-yard TD run. Watch them all here: http://t.co/QkfC3snFbw— UCLA Football (@UCLAFootball) December 31, 2013
He finished with 226 yards passing and two touchdowns to go with 161 yards rushing and another two scores. Following such a strong performance, making the choice to turn pro could have been that much easier—UCF quarterback Blake Bortles, for example, opted to make the jump following his stellar Fiesta Bowl.
And Hundley said his leaving was as close as "a coin flip" at one point.
"After a big-time game like that and everyone’s giving you praise…you need to let it settle," Hundley said. "It’s a big decision, but I’m happy I made this decision."
Hundley said former teammates and 2013 NFL rookies, running back Johnathan Franklin and defensive end Datone Jones, helped him through the decision.
"When you go to that next level [of the NFL], it’s different than having that brotherhood [in college]," Hundley said.
Brotherhood is a theme that Mora has emphasized in his time at UCLA, and the coach has practiced what he preaches via his dedication to the program.
In much the same fashion Hundley said "no, thanks" to the next big thing of the NFL, Mora turned down the next big thing in coaching—an opportunity to lead Texas, one of the game's most historically rich programs and a flagship for the sport.
|Year||Completions/Pass Attempts (Pct.)||Passing Yards||Passing TD/INT||Rushing Yards||Rushing TD|
"It is always flattering when someone is interested in you. But I am committed to being the UCLA coach," Mora told the Los Angeles Times.
After turning down Washington, his alma mater and a job he once called a "dream," Mora has rebranded UCLA. His passing on what is considered a top-tier collegiate coaching job to remain in Westwood, Calif., sends a message that UCLA is itself a top-tier destination.
And why not? The Bruins are positioned in one of the nation's deepest recruiting pools, are in the nation's second-largest media market and play their home games in one of college football's premier venues.
With no NFL franchise in Los Angeles, USC is the only local competition, and UCLA has won the last two head-to-head meetings to claim the city's bragging rights.
There will be plenty more interest in Mora as UCLA continues to win. His pedigree is in the NFL, and another opportunity to lead a professional franchise may be just around the corner. After all, three of the 12 coaches to lead teams into this season's NFL playoffs were in the Pac-12 no more than just four years ago.
But Mora stressed this season how much the bond between players and coaches at the college level means to him.
"I love Coach Mora to death," Hundley said. "He loves us not only as football players, but as young men."
For coach and quarterback, that relationship and the shared dedication in building the next big thing transcends chasing the next big thing.
Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.