Heisman Hopefuls: Brett Hundley Is College Football’s Young Roy Hobbs

UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley’s auspicious debut on a sunny Houston afternoon against Rice seemed like it was inspired by The Natural. On the first snap of his collegiate career, Hundley faked a hand-off, elected to keep it as the defense froze, jogged to his right until he found a hole and flicked the nitro methane switch as he shot through it en route to a 72-yard touchdown jaunt. It was almost like Martin Scorsese directed the opening play of Hundley’s season. If it were in a script, Hollywood would find it too cliché and save it for the unedited DVD.

It’s so trite that if that play gets included in one more lede, then it’s not fit for publishing. Redford’s Roy Hobbs character peaked first 15 minutes in as a flame-throwing pitcher.. That’s a fate Hundley should actively avoid. Besides, Heisman moments and career climaxes don’t occur in the first five minutes of the season.

Forgive them though. UCLA’s known more for its basketball program. USC is the SoCal university with the internationally-renowned film school and football legacy.

The true measure of Hundley as a quarterback came on the final drive of the Pac-12 Championship Game against Stanford’s buzzkill defense. Hundley shook off a poor start to lead the Bruins down the field for a game-tying field goal which hooked wide left. Hundley was responsible for UCLA’s resurgence, but if you want a job finished, you have to do it yourself and if Hundley wants to dig his hooks into the Heisman, next time the opportunity arises he’ll have to put the game in his hands.

Up until the second game of his junior season at Arizona’s Chandler High, “Roy Hobbs” Hundley was running routes at wide receiver and catching passes instead of taking snaps. By the end of the season, he was one of the nation’s top seven signal callers in a group that included starters Braxton Miller, Jacoby Brissett, J.W. Walsh, Teddy Bridgewater, Marcus Mariota and Johnny Manziel. According to most recruiting services, Hundley was considered an equal or superior prospect to them all at the conclusion of his preps career.

Manziel may have won the Heisman Trophy, but Hundley’s upside is higher than Braxton Miller and the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. If Hundley is the golden boy for UCLA, then Kevin Prince, the previous starter, was fool’s gold for the Bruins. In three seasons, Prince threw for 4,277 yards, 23 touchdowns, 21 interceptions and tiptoed his way to 724 rushing yards in Rick Neuheisel’s impotent offense.

Hundley nearly matched those numbers in his freshman season when he nearly accounted for 4,100 al-purpose yards, 38 total touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

Hundley’s been tasked with building upon season’s progress without former RB Johnathan Franklin matriculating the ball upfield and churning out the tough yards.

Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone’s offense is a mix of the Air Raid and Rich Rodriguez’s zone read option attack. It’s an ideal offense for Hundley. The Wildcats could use Hundley’s mobility at their quarterback vacancy. With Franklin out of the picture, Hundley’s running will have a more prominent role in the offense and now that he’s got a better grasp, UCLA’s offense can open up the downfield passing attack even more. Hundley’s legs put him on the map, but his arm is what propelled UCLA’s 34th ranked passing offense.

The real trick for Hundley moving forward is meeting the escalating expectations. It shouldn’t be a problem given the lofty goals he set for himself before his first start last August.

“I want to be something to somebody. I want to have people look back on it later and say he did something while he was here and he made a statement, he made history,” Hundley told the LA Times. “I want to leave a legacy.”

Becoming UCLA’s first Heisman Trophy winner, since Gary Beban beat out the Trojans’ OJ Simpson for the prestigious honor, would be one surefire way to make that dream a reality.

If Hundley and UCLA stand tall amid the Pac-12’s power shift in 2013 by beating Stanford and outdueling Oregon’s Mariota, the Heisman Trophy may be getting postmarked for Westwood. Now that’s a Hollywood ending.