Bruins see Alamo Bowl as their kick-start for 2015 season

A win over Kansas State in the Valero Alamo Bowl on Friday could take UCLA into a prosperous new year

This, UCLA players say, is the jumping-off point.

A victory over Kansas State in the Valero Alamo Bowl on Friday could take the Bruins into a prosperous new year. They might even beat Stanford, which ruined UCLA's Pac-12 championship plans with a 31-10 victory in the regular-season finale.

UCLA has 18 starters returning. There are 50 players on the roster who are either sophomores or freshmen. The Bruins' 2015 recruiting class is ranked 15th by ESPN.

What won't be back is the hype because of the one player who is leaving, quarterback Brett Hundley.

This is where he jumps off.

The sun pretty much rose and set in Westwood with Hundley the last three seasons. When he played well, or was allowed to play well, the Bruins were a handful. On days when he struggled, or was running for his football life, UCLA labored.

Hundley has set numerous UCLA passing records and can cap a prolific career with a second consecutive bowl victory and 10-win season.

"It's bittersweet," said Hundley, who has said he will declare for the NFL draft. "All the memories I made here will stay with me forever."

Another victory … or loss … will as well.

Kansas State, the No. 11 team in the College Football Playoff ranking, has a pot-roast offense (not a gourmet feast, but filling) and a defense that has noted that Hundley has been sacked 35 times this season.

A victory would also give Kansas State (9-3) back-to-back bowl victories and a 10-win season.

But the No. 14 Bruins (9-3) see this as their moment.

"I would consider this the opening game of our 2015 season," defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes said. "The whole mentality after we lost to Stanford was: Next year starts now."

If this sounds familiar, it should. UCLA players said much the same thing a year ago.

Hundley made Virginia Tech players look like orange-and-maroon pylons in a 42-12 Sun Bowl victory to close the 2013 season. That, more than anything, fueled the expectations.

Talk about a Pac-12 championship, a big bowl game, a national title and, maybe, a Heisman Trophy made mailman-like rounds in Westwood.

None of that materialized. The Alamo Bowl was the consolation prize, and could be the start of a do-over.

"When we came in as a class, from the jump, we knew our junior year was when our team was really going to get rolling," sophomore tackle Caleb Benenoch said. "That's why this is a big game for us."

One big thing will be missing: Hundley.

UCLA fans, and college football pundits, fawned over the Bruins before the season. There were ESPN analysts who predicted UCLA would win the national title. It's doubtful the bandwagon will bulge again next summer. Hundley's departure is a big reason.

Hundley was a defibrillator for a UCLA program that had meandered for more than a decade. He leaves holding UCLA records for career touchdown passes (74) and career total yards (11,481). He is second in passing yards (9,830).

It's not the complete legacy he sought, but it will do.

"I'm happy with what I have done in these three years," said Hundley, who has won 28 games. "I'm happy to take the next step as well."

UCLA fans should be happy as well, offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said.

"What goes unnoticed is the youth that was around him when we started this thing," Mazzone said. "He had a brand-new offense. At one point last year, he had three true freshmen on the offensive line. That's not easy."

Finding his successor won't be easy, either. Ahead is a spring practice showdown between sophomore Jerry Neuheisel and incoming freshman Josh Rosen, with current freshman Asiantii Woulard as a longshot.

"I don't think we have any problem," Benenoch said. "Jerry is a talented quarterback. Asiantii is a talented quarterback. We have Josh Rosen coming in. We have nearly everyone back."

And, Vanderdoes said, "all we need is a quarterback. It's not going to be one of those rebuilding years at all."

Follow Chris Foster on Twitter: @cfosterlatimes

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