Vanderbilt has developed a recent history of debuting young quarterbacks to successful returns. Since Jay Cutler's departure, Chris Nickson, Mackenzi Adams, and Larry Smith have all been given the reins to the offense and stepped up to win big games. However, while each quarterback has shown flashes of potential in successful beginnings, their endings have all been seeped in mediocrity.
Nickson had a 2006 season that led to an All-SEC selection, but then struggled with injuries and consistency in 2007 and fell apart in 2008 without Earl Bennett. Adams was a revelation taking over for Nickson in limited minutes, leading the 'Dores to big wins against #6 South Carolina and #13 Auburn, but failed to do much with the starting job once he secured it. Adams's erosion gave way for Smith to take over at the Music City Bowl, and his game as a freshman brought the team a postseason win. While his star seemed to shine brightly on the 2010 season, he ran into the same problems as Adams before ceding the last three games of the season to injury.
That gives us three quarterbacks that looked prepared to bring Vanderbilt to relevance who, in the end, all regressed as players - though the junior Smith still had time to break the trend. However, the Commodores will open themselves up to another quarterback battle this spring, as JUCO transfer Jordan Rodgers has arrived to campus ready to take some snaps. Should Larry Smith be worried? Based on trends dating back to even Jay Cutler's last year, it seems like Smith could be headed in the same direction.
The stats above showcase the Commodores' starting quarterbacks under Coach Bobby Johnson. The bold numbers showcase drops in quarterback rating, which are a consistent trend for the past four Vanderbilt signal callers in their final (or most recent) years and, in the cases of Nickson and Adams, even earlier. It seems to be a continuing trend after Cutler's departure; a fresh face steps in at quarterback, shines brightly with potential and a few solid wins, and then fades into mediocrity as quickly as he rose. It's a bit too early to pass judgment on Smith, especially given his small sample size in 2008 and the lack of receiving options in 2009, but the statistics seem to suggest that the junior quarterback is following the same line.
Will 2010 present another fresh face behind center? History seems to suggest so. Larry Smith's ouster in the end of 2009 was officially due to injury, but its safe to say that Mackenzi Adams was likely to start at the end of the season based on Smith's inability to jump start the offense, regardless of health. Unfortunately not even Adams, the team's reliable spark plug, could lead this team to a victory. If the Commodores stall, Rodgers will be given the chance to turn things around.
While the spring quarterback battle will provide some intrigue, it may not end up solving much. Smith's status as the incumbent likely means that he'll start the first few games, but if the Vanderbilt QB Regression continues, expect to see Jordan Rodgers come in to take some meaningful snaps. And if history has taught us anything, he'll rally the team for a few big wins before fading into obscurity with a 80.2 quarterback rating, allowing the next great hope at quarterback to make his splash.