The Past, Present, And Future Of UCLA Quarterbacks, Part I: Treading Water


Nov 8, 2014; Seattle, WA, USA; UCLA Bruins head coach Jim Mora talks with UCLA Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley (17) during pre game warmups against the Washington Huskies at Husky Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

“Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.” – George Santayana

The UCLA football fans who suffered through the years 1999 to 2011 are the last people on Earth who need to be reminded of the preeminence of the quarterback position when it comes to building a contending team in college football. That dark era in UCLA football’s history not-so-coincidentally happened to overlap with the worst spell of UCLA quarterback play in living memory.

With the brief exception of Drew Olson‘s senior season in 2005, the Bruins found themselves yearning for anything resembling good, much less great, quarterbacking after Cade McNown‘s storied UCLA career ended in 1998. Finally, mercifully, on a muggy August night in Houston, Texas that heralded the beginning of the 2012 college football season and Jim Mora‘s UCLA coaching career, a savior named Brett Hundley announced his arrival to the college football world (and a certain humble Go Joe Bruin columnist who was sitting right behind the Rice bench with a clear view) in style:

UCLA Bruins
UCLA Bruins /

UCLA Bruins

In the 13 years post-McNown that it took for UCLA to find a viable, long-term solution at quarterback, three UCLA head football coaches (Bob Toledo, Karl Dorrell, and Rick Neuheisel) lost their jobs, largely because they were unable to adequately plug a leak at quarterback. That leak eventually gushed and created a flood in which the fortunes of a once-proud football program looked to be drowning, as UCLA football spent nearly a decade and a half submerged in the doldrums.

Naturally, the question arises: “Why should I, the avid UCLA fan, care about a regrettable, bygone time in Bruin football history?”

With the news that Asiantii Woulard has chosen to transfer from UCLA, a sleepy time in the college football offseason has, for Bruin fans, been given a rude jolt of energy by a startling revelation: for at least the next two seasons, UCLA is going to be perilously thin when it comes to quality quarterback depth. After enjoying three seasons of stability and comfort with Hundley at the top of the depth chart, the combination of a true freshman at the helm of the offense and no playable depth behind him has left Bruin fans to confront a reality that has actually simmered beneath the surface for a while, but largely been ignored by most fans until Woulard’s transfer left the program with little margin for error.

Any issues (health or otherwise) with Josh Rosen are likely to preclude the Bruins from competing for the biggest prizes in the conference and the sport in general. There are, of course, wily vets like Jerry Neuheisel and Mike Fafaul still on the QB depth chart. Each of them could possibly lead a team with UCLA’s talent and schedule to seven or eight wins, assuming they get some breaks and the running game of the Bruins is what it’s projected to be in the coming years. However, in light of the considerable progress that the program has made thanks to the fine work of Mora, his players, and his coaches, we can ask a question that would have been scoffed at not too long ago: is seven or eight wins in a season good enough for UCLA football anymore?

For at least the next two seasons, UCLA is going to be perilously thin when it comes to quality quarterback depth.

Neither Neuheisel nor Fafaul has the physical tools that would allow most people to project either as the starter on a Pac-12 champion and/or a College Football Playoff contender. There are games that a game manager with limited arm strength simply isn’t likely to win in the Pac-12, no matter how good his surrounding cast, because of the way that such a circumstance allows a certain class of opposition to alter its approach to the game mentally and schematically. Neuheisel proved just that in his relief duties last season: he was able to lead UCLA to a razor-thin win against a severely limited Texas team, but when faced with a much higher level opponent in Stanford, he struggled mightily and was abruptly exposed as being out of his depth.

It seems rather incontrovertible, as a result, to say that only one quarterback on the UCLA roster has the upside to be the triggerman of a champion: Rosen.

How did UCLA football get itself to a place where the entire program’s ability to compete for championships in the near future will likely depend on the health and development of one teenager (and a true freshman, at that)? As always, our old friend History will prove useful in tracking the road that has been traveled and the destinations to which that road might lead should the status quo remain intact.

Please read Part II in this series, which details UCLA’s quarterback recruiting under Jim Mora and Noel Mazzone…