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Quarterback controversies still the rage, at UCLA and in L.A.

One game into the football season and UCLA fan websites were all atwitter.

Monday morning quarterbacks — the only UCLA quarterbacks with job security these days — weighed in on the Bruins’ Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut.

“Prince will never be a threat.”

“Brehaut has to be the starter.”

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“The offense ran better with Prince.”

“Prince was looking solid before the injury.”

“Any debate anymore re: QB?”

Why yes, there is.

Quarterback controversies dot the map. Alabama Coach Nick Saban is juggling A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims. Notre Dame has Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees.

But this is Los Angeles, and quarterback controversies are the steamed milk in our daily latte. Bob Waterfield versus Norm Van Brocklin, anyone?

The trick for UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel is to keep the discussion outside the locker room.

“It can be uncomfortable going through it as a player,” said Pat Haden, USC’s athletic director now but back in his playing days part of quarterback debates with the Trojans and the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams. “It can be distracting for teammates. I felt additional pressure, and a quarterback is already under enough pressure.”

Neuheisel energized the current debate at UCLA when he said Prince would start but Brehaut would play in the opener at Houston.

Prince suffered a concussion and a sprained right shoulder in a loss to the Cougars, but Neuheisel hasn’t ruled him out as the starter Saturday against San Jose State.

UCLA players are trying to stay clear of any controversy.

“We try not to talk about it or think about it,” running back Johnathan Franklin said. “We try to keep everyone’s mind on this being a family.”

Families at times squabble, though, and UCLA had this happen before. Four years ago, when Ben Olson and Patrick Cowan were the quarterbacks, “There were some Ben guys and some Pat guys,” tackle Sean Sheller recalled. “It wasn’t a bad situation, but there was a little divide.”

Sheller said the situation with Prince and Brehaut was different.

“It could be divisive if they weren’t friends,” Neuheisel said.

Prince won the job the last two seasons but has had a string of injuries. Brehaut started the final six games in 2010 and the Bruins were 1-5.

Neuheisel said during training camp this summer that he wanted competition at the position, and he recently said that would extend into the season until “somebody separates themselves.”

The situation seems to have side-choosing potential.

“Both Brehaut and Prince have their supporters,” Neuheisel said. “It’s my job to see that we have a lot of supporters of the quarterback position. Let’s play the position well.”

The position played well enough against Houston. Prince completed all three of his passes and was moving the offense before he was injured early in the second quarter. Brehaut passed for 264 yards and ran for 87.

Injuries often are a factor in the creation of quarterback controversies. For example, Vince Ferragamo took the Rams to the Super Bowl as a backup.

“I got hurt one season and Vince played magnificently,” Haden said. “Next year, I was the starter and a lot people didn’t appreciate that.”

With the Rams, debate about the quarterbacks seemed to be as much part of tradition as the horns on the helmets. Haden, James Harris, Ron Jaworksi, Joe Namath, Ferragamo, Dan Pastorini, Roman Gabriel, Bill Munson and others all played roles in the drama over the years.

“There were guys who were for me and other guys who were not,” Haden said. “I sensed that.”

The issue can spark discussion that is hard to ignore, especially in the Internet era.

“No one cares who the starting left tackle is, but everyone has an opinion on the quarterback,” former University of Washington Coach Don James said.

James recalled that in 1975, when newcomer Warren Moon beat out returning starter Chris Rowland, the competition smoldered inside and outside the locker room.

“Warren was black and Chris was white, that was touch and go,” James said. “Warren didn’t have a lot of friends on that team and Chris did.”

Rowland replaced Moon midway through the season.

The trick, James said: “You have to give all your quarterbacks a chance and then be fair.” And realize, he added, “Fans always love the No. 2 guy.”

Neuheisel lived this situation as a UCLA player, losing his starting job to Steve Bono early in the 1983 season. Then Bono was injured and Neuheisel led the Bruins to the Rose Bowl.

“It’s a very focal position and it creates a lot of newsworthy information,” Neuheisel said.

The difference Neuheisel faces as coach is that he hasn’t made a decision.

Haden said using two quarterbacks “can work. It’s not as untraditional as it was 20 years ago.”

Even if nearly everyone outside the locker room has already picked a side.

“Every quarterback goes through this,” Haden said. “It’s why the position requires such mental toughness.”

chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterlatimes


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