(AP) - Brett Hundley believes his whole football career has been building to this season at UCLA, and he wasn't about to leave before he found out what comes next.
That's why the quarterback blew off the NFL for a year to lead a loaded Bruins roster in search of a Pac-12 title and more.
After nearly playing for the conference crown in 2013, Hundley and UCLA hope to make a statement Saturday when the much-anticipated season begins at Virginia.
The Bruins' No. 7 preseason ranking is the program's highest since prior to the 1998 campaign. UCLA (10-3), which finished tied for second in the South Division last season, last climbed as high as seventh in 2005.
Hundley isn't alone in his excitement about the next step in coach Jim Mora's three-year construction of a national title contender in Westwood. After two winning seasons punctuated by victories over rival USC and ensuing bowl trips, the Bruins are loaded with talent and experience at key positions, making them the preseason favorite in the South.
"We've done something at UCLA," said Hundley, the two-year starter. "We've helped build something, but it won't mean anything if we don't finish what we start. You can't get complacent when you have a little success."
Mora welcomes back 18 starters from last year's club that matched the school's single-season record for wins with its Sun Bowl victory over Virginia Tech. The third-year coach is also excited about the Bruins' chances, but he's guarding against too much excitement about a team that seems ready to take the next step to national prominence.
"Our success right now, in my opinion, is still very limited," Mora said. "We haven't won the Pac-12 championship. We're 0-3 against Stanford. I don't want our players to feel like we're extra special and we've accomplished the goals we set out to accomplish."
Indeed, the Bruins haven't won a league title since 1998. But with Sports Illustrated cover boy Hundley leading a wealth of young talent, UCLA is primed for its best chance yet to get back on top.
The dual-threat signal caller will have some of his top playmakers back as well in Devin Fuller and Jordon James. Fuller is expected to take over for the departed Shaq Evans as the team's No. 1 receiver after finishing with 43 catches for 471 yards and four touchdowns in 2013.
James is ready to assume the go-to role in the backfield after he rushed for 425 yards through his first three games before missing most of last season with an ankle injury.
Myles Jack is coming off one of the most dynamic freshman seasons in conference history, excelling as a linebacker and running back. He was named the Pac-12's offensive and defensive freshman of the year, but he's been concentrating exclusively on the defensive side ahead of this season.
He's hoping to help the Bruins make up for the loss of defensive stars Anthony Barr and Cassius Marsh to the NFL. Defensive lineman Owamagbe Odighizuwa will also try to make a big impact after missing 2013 due to injury.
They'll attempt to rattle redshirt sophomore quarterback Greyson Lambert as he makes his first career start for the Cavaliers. Virginia is trying to turn things around after losing its final nine games last season and finishing 2-10.
"It's what you train for, it's what you go through two-a-days and camp and workouts all with your teammates just for this reason, to go out there ... and play against some of the best in the country," Lambert said.
Coach Mike London - whose fifth year could determine if he gets a sixth at Virginia - is well aware things need to improve with 17 starters back in the fold.
Virginia was fifth nationally in time of possession, keeping the ball for better than 33 minutes per game, but 110th in scoring, averaging just 19.6 points.
Receivers Kyle Dockins, Keeon Johnson and Miles Gooch and tight end Zach Swanson are Lambert's leading options in the passing game after tight end Jake McGee transferred to Florida.
The Cavaliers appear to be solid at running back with 1,000-yard rusher Kevin Parks providing the power and fellow senior Khalek Shepherd and sophomore Taquan "Smoke" Mizzell both possessing the breakaway speed.
All-ACC safety Anthony Harris, who led the nation with eight interceptions last season, headlines the Virginia defense.
This will be the first meeting between the schools, but the Bruins have won eight straight versus unranked opponents.