The big question for No. 14 UCLA is quarterback

Josh Rosen throws during a spring football practice at UCLA. He could be the Bruins' starting quarterback.

Josh Rosen throws during a spring football practice at UCLA. He could be the Bruins’ starting quarterback.

(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

The Times’ annual college football countdown continues its march toward No. 1 with our pick for No. 14.

There is nothing wrong with starting a freshman at quarterback thinking he might take you places.

Just don’t be shocked if it’s the Foster Farms Bowl.

Doubling down on the king of last year’s Sadie Hawkins Dance can get the clock started on any football program’s brighter future.


Two seasons ago, Jared Goff displayed superstar potential in leading California’s football team to a 1-11 record, the only win coming against lower-level Portland State.

Goff enters this, his junior season, as a Heisman Trophy candidate.

Last summer, Miami turned to Brad Kaaya, only months removed from West Hills Chaminade High. Kaaya put up solid numbers, passing for 26 touchdowns, on a team that finished 6-7.

But what if your future is now?

UCLA faces a decision this year similar to one USC faced during training camp in 2009.

USC took a flier on freshman Matt Barkley at a time the Trojans were still competing for Bowl Championship Series titles.

Coach Pete Carroll bypassed Aaron Corp, a junior who had patiently waited his turn, then nearly lost his mind justifying it.

In early October, after a nice win at Cal, the Giddy Police had to be called after Carroll said Barkley was playing “as good of football as anybody we have ever had, already.”

That must have gone over well with Rodney Peete, who was second in 1988 Heisman Trophy balloting to Barry Sanders; Carson Palmer, the Heisman winner in 2002; and Matt Leinart, the Heisman winner in 2004.

Barkley finished the season with 15 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. The Trojans ended up 9-4 after a win in the Emerald Bowl. Barkley never made first-team all-conference, but he had a very good Pac-12 career, was a fourth-round NFL draft pick and is a backup for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Flash forward now as Jim Mora, UCLA’s fourth-year coach, considers starting Josh “The Frosh” Rosen in a season the Bruins return starters at nearly every other position.

The alternative to Rosen is junior Jerry Neuheisel, who has been playing the Corp role of dutiful, patient backup.

Rosen, like Barkley in 2009, would be surrounded with top-level talent. Outside of quarterback, this was Mora’s most talented team heading into camp.

However, the Bruins reside in the brutally tough Pac-12 South, a division in which the five other teams all return formidable, if not great, quarterbacks.

If you pencil in two defeats just for starting a freshman, UCLA’s path to the College Football Playoff gets precarious — though it is possible the Bruins, in the new system, could survive two losses and sneak into the playoff at No. 4.

Or, do you start Neuheisel and try to game-manage your way to a title, the way Ohio State did with Craig Krenzel in 2002?

That’s Krenzel: K-R-E-N-Z-E-L.

At least Mora, unlike Carroll in 2009, has not yet started gushing like a geyser about his freshman.

“He hasn’t taken a snap at this level,” Mora said of Rosen at Pac-12 media days.

One thing seems certain: UCLA will not be dull.

This team has already produced enough drama to fill a rap album: In June, Sean Combs, a.k.a. Diddy, took on a UCLA strength coach in the team weight room; his son is a Bruins defensive back. Cordell Broadus, son of Snoop Dogg and a freshman receiver, made headlines by quitting the team before even reporting to training camp.

Then, once camp started in 100-degree-plus temperatures at Cal State San Bernardino, star linebacker Myles Jack went berserk.

UCLA is a fascinating study. The offense returns plenty of pop, starting with Paul Perkins, the Pac-12’s leading rusher.

The receivers are fast and the coach, at times, is furious.

The defense is led by new coordinator Tom Bradley, a short-list candidate to succeed Joe Paterno at Penn State before the Jerry Sandusky scandal turned everything toxic.

Bradley’s steady resolve will be an interesting match for the temperamental Jack, who moves from outside to inside linebacker.

The nonconference schedule is one puddle jump to Las Vegas offset by home games against Virginia and Brigham Young.

UCLA also gets Oregon off the regular-season schedule, which is good, because the Bruins haven’t defeated the Ducks since 2007.

The game the Bruins can’t duck is Oct. 15 at Stanford, a program they haven’t defeated since 2008.

UCLA is 3-0 against USC under Mora, so the Nov. 28 closer at the Coliseum shouldn’t be a problem, right?

The Bruins’ quandary is this: They have the talent to win big now … but a quarterback with a breakout date set for 2016.

It is never easy, in this sport, getting your swimmers synchronized.

Top 25 so far: 25. Michigan; 24. Nebraska; 23. Utah; 22. Missouri; 21. Arkansas; 20. Tennessee. 19. Boise State; 18. Oklahoma; 17. Notre Dame; 16. Wisconsin; 15. Georgia Tech.