Nickson's the one

Like a master magician, Vanderbilt quarterback Chris Nickson performed some amazing feats in 2006, then mysteriously disappeared.

One of college football's rising stars as a Commodore sophomore in '06, Nickson completed 54.8 percent of his passes for 2,085 yards and 15 touchdowns. He also averaged 4.8 yards per carry en route to 694 rushing yards (the school record for a quarterback) and nine more TDs. His performance in a late-season game against Kentucky – 446 passing yards, 71 rushing yards, 517 total yards – was downright mind-boggling.

After sharing SEC Offensive Player of the Week recognition in the 2007 opener, however, Nickson essentially made himself invisible. He was so bad that he lost his starting job after six games ... so bad that he didn't even play in Games 10, 11 and 12 ... so bad that his junior stats – 763 passing yards and 6 TDs, 178 rushing yards and 2 TDs – paled alongside his sophomore numbers.

Since Chris Nickson has one year of collegiate eligibility remaining, many Commodore fans are hoping he'll close the show by reprieving his '06 act. That doesn't appear likely to happen, however. He had a poor showing in Vandy's recent spring game, completing just 1 of 6 passes for 1 net yard and rushing three times for 11 yards.

What happened to the guy who looked so talented and poised in 2006? No one seems to have that answer. But Vanderbilt had better find it if it wants to compete in what appears to be an exceptionally rugged SEC East this fall. Florida and Georgia are being mentioned as national title contenders. Tennessee is a preseason top-20 team and South Carolina should be better than last fall.

Conversely, the Commodores project to be worse than last season, when they finished 5-7 overall with a 2-6 mark in SEC play. That's because Vandy must find replacement for three 2007 standouts who were taken in the recent NFL Draft – offensive tackle Chris Williams (pick 14 in Round 1), record-breaking wide receiver Earl Bennett (Round 3) and super-productive linebacker Jonathan Goff (Round 5).

If Nickson could rediscover his 2006 magic, he might provide the kind of quality quarterback play needed to make the Commodores competitive. If not, the job likely will fall to Mackenzi Adams, who started the last half of '07.

Then again, Adams was no great shakes in the spring game, either, completing just 3 of 8 passes for 13 yards. The most impressive quarterbacks in the Black & Gold Game were sophomore Jared Funk (4 of 6 for 52 yards) and redshirt freshman Larry Smith (3 of 4 for 36 yards).

Perhaps Nickson can find himself and resurrect his career, much as Tennessee's Erik Ainge did following a disastrous 2005 campaign. If Nickson's vanishing act continues, however, don't look for the Commodores to pull many rabbits out of their hat in '08.

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