Being Vanderbilt quarterback Jay Cutler is akin to being the 5-pin in bowling.
Both line up behind center. Both are surrounded by friends who are trying to protect them in hopes they don't fall. Both are attacked by larger objects traveling in lanes (passing lanes for Cutler). Both can get hit in the pocket. And both frequently get knocked down then are put back in place, only to be bowled over again.
Actually, this is about the only analogy you can make that involves the words "Vanderbilt" and "bowl." The Commodores haven't been to one since 1982.
But that's not Cutler's fault. Since becoming a starter as a redshirt freshman out of Santa Claus, Ind., he has thrown his heart and soul into trying to help the Commodores win games. And even though his efforts haven't resulted in the W's hoped, what Cutler apparently has earned is a true measure of respect among the coaches in the Southeastern Conference.
Cutler, on the Rivals.com Preseason All-SEC second team announced Tuesday, was named first team by the coaches a couple of weeks ago. In the grand scheme neither honor means much because postseason teams are the measure of the man.
Postseason honors do not come easily for players on losing teams. Thus, they do not come easily for members of the Commodores, who have won more than three games in a season only once in the past 10 years. Most experts agree that Vandy and Kentucky will battle for the cellar in the SEC this fall.
In case you were wondering, no quarterback from a last-place team has ever been on the postseason first team as selected by the coaches.
As a matter of fact, since SEC coaches began voting for a team in 1984, only 10 players from last-place teams have made their All-SEC first team. Six of the 10 are Vandy players, including linebacker Jamie Duncan, who made it twice, and current linebacker Moses Osemwegie, who made it last year.
"For Mo and myself to make the first team by the coaches it shows we have respect from them," Cutler told Rivals.com on Monday. "They watch the film and they see what the players can do, and for them to do that is quite an honor."
Maybe the coaches' nod to Cutler means Vanderbilt won't finish last. More likely, it's because the signal-caller in the black and gold is tougher than buffalo jerky. He can stand and deliver behind a marginal offensive line, or take off and make things happen in the open field. He also can take big shots from some of the nation's best defenders and keep coming. He's bent on giving his all for 60 minutes. Sometimes you almost wish he'd stay down.
Last place or not, when the dust settles on the 2005 season don't bet on the coaches to stick with their preseason pick of Cutler. They'll go with the QB from a winning team, be it Chris Leak, Erik Ainge, Brodie Croyle or someone else.
"I can only take care of myself and what I do on the field," Cutler said. "I'd trade [the accolades] in for more wins, but that hasn't happened."
It's an honest assessment. Say what you want about Jay Cutler, but you better believe there aren't many other quarterbacks in America you'd want to have your back in a dark alley.
Bowling or otherwise.
Players from last-place teams to make the postseason Coaches All-SEC first team since it began in 1984: 1984 - TE Corwyn Aldredge (Mississippi State) 1990 - P David Lawrence (Vanderbilt) 1996 - LB Jamie Duncan, P Bill Marinangel (Vanderbilt) 1997 - LB Jamie Duncan, DB Corey Chavous (Vanderbilt) 2000 - TE Derek Smith (Kentucky) 2002 - LB Hunter Hillenmeyer (Vanderbilt) 2003 - OL Antonio Hall, RS Derek Abney (Kentucky) 2004 - LB Moses Osemwegie (Vanderbilt)