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UCLA's Brett Hundley came short of goal but raised expectations

In three seasons, Brett Hundley and the Bruins raised expectations among a notoriously fickle fan base

Brett Hundley's three-year UCLA career came down to this moment.

The junior quarterback was on the sidelines because of a finger injury. Stanford was grinding the Bruins into the Rose Bowl turf. UCLA's high-end hopes were fluttering off into the cool evening air.

The 31-10 Stanford victory seemed an unfair ending for a quarterback who was dubbed "The Savior" by fans before he enrolled at the Westwood campus. This was not a blown save.

Still …

"It hurts," Hundley said. "Everyone wants to win a championship."

There will be a bowl game for Hundley, provided the finger on his right hand heals. But it won't bring the same hoopla as a year ago, when he toyed with Virginia Tech in the Hyundai Sun Bowl.

Hundley threw for 226 yards and ran for 161, emerging from that performance in the Heisman Trophy conversation. The Bruins came home to find national title expectations waiting.

This bowl season, his career ends somewhere in the San Francisco-San Antonio-San Diego triangle and then it's off to the NFL.

Hundley put off declaring for the draft last January. He said this year that he came back to help "do something great, something that hasn't been done in a while at UCLA."

That certainly didn't mean eating Tex-Mex near the Alamo.

"Winning a bowl game last year was all fun and joy, but this year we wanted a championship," Hundley said. "I think that's where it sort of stops short. We wanted it. I wanted it. Unfortunately, we didn't get it."

What Hundley, and the Bruins, did accomplish were three seasons that raised expectations among a notoriously fickle fan base. He won 28 games, second most by a UCLA quarterback behind Cade McNown's 30.

Hundley will finish as UCLA's all-time leader in total offense and touchdown passes. He will be second in yards passing, yards rushing for a quarterback and rushing touchdowns as a quarterback.

The Bruins had not seen such consistent play from a quarterback since McNown.

Hundley accepts only partial credit for the team's success, choosing Friday to praise the seniors who are also leaving without a trophy.

UCLA was 6-8 in 2011. The Bruins were 9-5, 10-3 and, are currently, 9-3 in Hundley's three seasons.

"On the bright side, I look back at where we were three years ago to where we are now and you can see how much we improved," Hundley said.

As for the national perceptions, Hundley noted the Bruins were No. 8 in the College Football Playoff ranking before the game against Stanford.

"To be a top-10 team is saying a lot," Hundley said. "What we have done the past few years has been a blessing and an honor. We have done so much to improve."

That, Coach Jim Mora, feared will be overlooked in the aftermath of the loss to Stanford.

"This is the first group to win at least nine games three seasons in a row and beat USC three in a row in a while," Mora said after the game Friday. "That's why this was disappointing. All that gets overshadowed when you go out and play a game like this. People tend to forget all great games that these guys played. That's why it hurt so bad."

Now what?

The Bruins will have to wait until Sunday to find out where they are headed. The possibilities are still developing, but UCLA is looking more and more San Antonio bound for the Valero Alamo Bowl against a Big 12 team.

Part of that will depend on what happens in the Pac-12 championship game. If Arizona upsets Oregon, the Wildcats could be one of the four teams in the College Football Playoff and the Ducks probably will go to the Fiesta Bowl. An Oregon win could land Arizona in the Alamo Bowl, dropping other Pac-12 teams a notch.

But Alamo Bowl officials are thought to be leaning toward the Bruins.

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