Jay Cutler is the gold standard of modern Vanderbilt football. Despite winning only 11 games in his four years in Nashville, he holds at least a dozen school records when it comes to passing. His rocket arm and presence in the pocket made him Vandy's highest chosen NFL Draft pick since Bill Wade went first overall way back in 1952.
So, if you want to make your mark at Vanderbilt, going after Cutler is a good way to do it. Jordan Rodgers will have that chance in 2012.
If Rodgers can keep his starting quarterback job through all of 2012, he'll have the opportunity to make a run at several of Cutler's records, but none would be bigger than Vandy's total yards mark. Cutler currently holds the record for most total yards in both and single season and a career. He set the former mark in 2005 when he gained 3,288 yards as a senior. He eclipsed Kurt Page's former record by over 250 yards to get there in a season where Vanderbilt became known for fighting through (and eventually losing) offensive shootouts.
Vanderbilt's offense has needed some rehabilitation since then, but Rodgers has been a big part of bringing this team's passing game back from the dead. His emergence at quarterback was the spark that led this team to the Liberty Bowl in 2011. While the junior college transfer struggled at times and made his share of mistakes, there's no denying his role in this team's revival.
Rodgers will have to put in work with his arm and his legs in order to make a run at the record. He rushed for approximately 45 yards per game last season as a starter. Even if that number falls a bit, he should be able to gain around 500 yards for the season if he can stay healthy and retain his starting job. That would leave him with 2,788 yards left to gain through the air. Over 13 games, that's about 215 yards per contest. If the 'Dores don't make it to a bowl, that would mean Rodgers would have to average closer to 235 yards per game to set the mark.
That number is a manageable one for Rodgers, who became a big-play threat in his first season at quarterback for the Commodores. The redshirt senior averaged 184 yards per game through the air in his starts, but that number was tempered by a miserable Liberty Bowl performance. In a stretch of four SEC games as the team's starter, Rodgers averaged just over 234 yards per game against teams like Florida, Arkansas, and Tennessee.
Can Rodgers pull it off? He'll have the benefit of playing against some soft defenses, missing the SEC West's toughest opponents, and matchups with a relatively weak out-of-conference slate. He'll have to manage his play much better in 2012 as well. He can't afford to be a 50 percent passer who slings interceptions nearly as often as touchdowns if he wants to keep his starting spot over Austyn Carta-Samuels, let alone set a school record.
If he can make those improvements, he'll have the opportunity to leave his mark in the Vanderbilt history books. Of course, he'll also have some help in the chase.
Rodgers will have a few major advantages over Cutler in his race to the record. First, Cutler had only 11 games in which to gain his 3,288 yards back in 2005. Rodgers will have 12 guaranteed games and a better-than-average chance to lead his team to a bowl game, barring injury. Two extra games mean that JR will have to average 253 yards per game to set the mark. Cutler sprung for 299 each contest to set the mark seven years ago.
More importantly - for both Rodgers and the Commodores - Rodgers will also work with a much stronger supporting cast than Cutler ever had the opportunity to play with. The 2012 Commodores have two All-SEC players in their backfield and a receiving tandem that could end their careers as the potent in school history. Jordan Rodgers is surrounded by weapons who can not only take the pressure off of him, but also rack up yards after the catch and free their quarterback up for drive-saving scrambles.
In 2005, opponents prepared for games against Vanderbilt by focusing 80 percent of their attention on Cutler. They won't have that luxury in 2012. That's part of what makes Cutler's school record so impressive - but also why it will be so vulnerable over the next few years. With the prospect level rising in Nashville, it seems like that single-season yardage record will be the first victim of this flood of new talent. The first player to get a good shot at it will be Jordan Rodgers, and he's got the arm and scrambling ability to pull it off.
If he takes down the record, it won't mean a thing in terms of comparisons to Jay Cutler. Cutler's marks, despite coming just seven years ago, are an artifact of another era. James Franklin's turnaround job has raised the bar for every position at Dudley Field, and that rising tide is going to wash away many of the records that were standout individual performances on below-average teams.
While that may mean that Cutler's name will start to fade from the Vanderbilt fact book, it won't do anything to diminish what he accomplished at a time where some Vandy recruits earned two-star rankings by virtue of signing with a SEC school.