A CAREER IN A YEAR
The Saturday afternoon scientists have come up with a formula to
measure a passer's efficiency. They have developed a
weightlifting index to determine a lineman's overall strength,
and, Lord knows why, have decided that the 40-yard dash is the
best judge of a player's speed. But quickness? How to measure
quickness? There's the Irish test, in which a player is either
quick or he plays for Notre Dame. Accurate, yes, but not precise
enough. Fortunately, Iowa has developed a method. A team of
researchers led by the eminent professor Hayden Fry has unveiled
a simple test, five years in the making: Watch senior tailback
Tavian Banks in the open field. Now you see Banks, now you see a
defender sprawled on the grass.
The most recent demonstration came last Saturday when Banks
rushed for 191 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries in a 38-10
rout of Illinois. After redshirting in 1993 and spending three
years as an understudy to Sedrick Shaw, now with the New England
Patriots, Banks leads the nation in rushing (208.8 yards per
game) and is tied for first in scoring (19.5 points per game, on
13 touchdowns) with Skip Hicks of UCLA.
Admittedly Banks has amassed these numbers against Northern
Iowa, Tulsa, Iowa State and Illinois, four teams that completed
September without beating a Division I-A opponent. But if you
didn't see his second touchdown run against the Illini, a
30-yarder that left two of the Illinois secondary entangled in
their own lingerie, you will. It will be shown every time
sportscasters discuss Banks's chances of winning the Heisman
Trophy. Another definition of quickness is the time it took Iowa
to back away from its Heisman campaign on behalf of senior
receiver Tim Dwight in favor of one for Banks, a decision Dwight
wholly endorses. "He's the main man," he says of Banks. "He's
October 5, 1997
Actually Banks is Sid Caesar--your show of shows. He's the best
college back since Barry Sanders, according to Tulsa coach Dave
Rader, whose Golden Hurricane yielded 314 yards to Banks. A
native of Bettendorf, Banks is a stereotypical Iowan--warm
smile, solid citizen and, uh, blond. Which brings us to who
Banks is not. "I didn't dye my hair because of Dennis Rodman,"
he says. "I liked this guy in a video." Sisqo, the lead singer
for Dru Hill, to be specific.
Days before Fry became coach at Iowa in 1979, a high school
All-America from Davenport named Roger Craig committed to
Nebraska. Fry quickly closed the barn door and has signed most
of the best players in Iowa ever since. "I don't know if I've
ever told anybody this," Fry says, "but Roger called me his
freshman year and wanted to come back here. I told him, 'Roger,
you made your decision. Make the best of it.' That was hard for
me to say." No player in recent years tested Fry's ability to
sign Iowa's best schoolboys more than did Banks, who turned down
Nebraska, Miami and Washington.
Few college tailbacks have Banks's quickness combined with his
4.4 speed and 5'11", 195-pound frame. More important, Banks
makes his moves without slowing down, a remnant of another sport
he used to excel in. Iowa offensive coordinator Don Patterson
holds his arms out to the side, index fingers raised. "Tavian
can see out here," he says. "That's from soccer."
Banks agrees. "You've got to dribble with the ball at your feet
and look up and know where everybody is," he says. As a senior
at Bettendorf High, Banks attracted the attention of collegiate
soccer powers such as Clemson, Creighton and Virginia. Banks, a
forward, played on a U.S. Soccer regional team and, according to
former Wisconsin coach Jim Launder, could have made the under-23
national squad from whence came the 1996 Olympic team. "He was
unbelievable," says Launder, now at Dayton. "He could take a man
on and beat him."
Sounds familiar. On the Hawkeyes' first play from scrimmage this
season, Banks went 63 yards for a touchdown. He has had one run
of at least that many yards in each of Iowa's victories.
Illinois coach Ron Turner described Banks's performance against
the Illini team as "great ... explosive ... exciting." Fry
called it "mediocre" compared with some of Banks's previous
games. Don't get Fry wrong. He and his staff love Banks,
especially for not making a fuss as he waited behind Shaw, who
last year finished his career as Iowa's alltime leading rusher.
"If the roles had been reversed," running backs coach Larry
Holton says, "I would have had major problems with Sedrick."
In other words the coaches took advantage of Banks's uncommon
maturity. "I waited a long time," Banks says. "A long time. I
talked a lot with my mother [Merrikay] and my brother [LaVance].
They just told me to be patient, that the Lord has a plan. It
was always hard."
That he endured is only one sign of his maturity. Merrikay saw
another indication in how intently Tavian listened to advice
from an old family friend. One night last summer Craig, who
played 11 years in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers, the
L.A. Raiders and the Minnesota Vikings and whose mother still
lives in Davenport, drove to Merrikay's apartment in Bettendorf
to talk to Tavian. "Roger kept emphasizing, 'Your work ethic
doesn't end with sports. You carry it for the rest of your
life,'" Merrikay recalls. "From an athlete to an athlete, Tavian
got more out of it than I could have given him."
"He doesn't think he knows it all," Craig says. "He likes
advice. That's refreshing to see in a kid coming out of college
with his head screwed on right." After watching the
Iowa-Illinois game on TV, Craig said, "That 30-yard run was the
best I've ever seen by any college back. Cut, cut, cut and
This season Craig calls Banks every weekend. "He told me, 'Every
time you touch the ball, you've got to be explosive,'" Banks
says. On the Saturday that Banks rang up Tulsa for 314 yards,
Craig saw the numbers on TV and ran to call Merrikay. "I want to
scream," Craig said, "but I have to contain myself." Which is
more than anyone has done to Tavian.
Wake Forest trailed North Carolina State 18-16 in the waning
minutes last Thursday night when Demon Deacons wide receiver
Desmond Clark broke into the clear inside the Wolfpack 10. Brian
Kuklick floated a pass to him. "The corner grabbed my right
arm," Clark says. "I only got one hand on it. I still should
have grabbed it. I had it."
Clark dropped the ball, and Wake Forest, which had led in each
of its previous two games before losing both by a total of three
points, appeared to be in similar trouble. But Kuklick completed
a third-and-eight pass to Jammie Deese for a first down, and
four plays later kicker Matt Burdick lined up to win the game
with a 37-yard field goal. The Demon Deacons' holder is Clark.
"I was thinking about [the dropped pass] when I came into the
huddle," Clark said. "I told the offensive line to give Matt
time. I was hoping he could bail me out."
Burdick kicked the field goal, and Wake Forest, with its 19-18
win, is 2-2. Now the Demon Deacons' last three games have been
decided by a total of four points. The record for most games
decided by two points or fewer in a season is six.
Twenty-four teams have had two 1,000-yard rushers in a season,
but none has had three--so far. Rice coach Ken Hatfield remains
committed to the option offense, and all three of his primary
ballcarriers, running back Michael Perry (488 yards),
quarterback Chad Nelson (417) and fullback Benji Wood (401),
rank among the nation's top 30 rushers. That trio is the main
reason the Owls (2-2) have averaged 36 points, 441.3 rushing
yards and 39:30 in time of possession the last three games. The
last stat shows how the option can keep a suspect defense off
OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW
The nation's second-oldest Division I football stadium,
Tennessee-Chattanooga's Chamberlain Field, will host its last
game on Saturday when the Moccasins play Wofford College.
Chamberlain, which opened in 1908, five years after Harvard
Stadium, can boast a proud history. Frank Thomas coached
Chattanooga from '25 to '28 before eventually going to Alabama.
Bob Neyland won there during his first two tours as Tennessee's
coach, as did a young Bobby Bowden, as coach of Howard in '62.
Two future Heisman winners performed at Chamberlain--Frank
Sinkwich of Georgia and Steve Spurrier, who played there with
Science Hill High of Johnson City, Tenn., before he went to
Florida--as well as future NFL players like Terry Bradshaw of
Louisiana Tech, Too Tall Jones of Tennessee State and Steve
McNair of Alcorn State.
The Mocs' first game in the new 20,000-seat Finley Stadium will
be on Oct. 18, against Tennessee State. No one is too choked up
about losing Chamberlain, which has seen better days. When the
Atlanta Falcons and the Tennessee Oilers scrimmaged there in
July, Oilers punter Reggie Roby walked onto the field, looked at
the rundown surroundings and said to an onlooker, "So where do
we play the game?"
IS HONESTY THE BEST POLICY?
Last December, Illinois hired Ron Turner as coach largely
because of his experience as offensive coordinator with the
Chicago Bears. But Turner has turned out to be even more
offensive than expected: He's not shy about criticizing his
players in public.
Early last week he explained that junior quarterback Mark
Hoekstra was being benched because of Hoekstra's poor
decision-making in throwing two interceptions during a 35-22
loss to Washington State on Sept. 20. "The second one was
ridiculous," Turner said to reporters. "He misread the coverage
and forced [the ball] in there."
Last Saturday, after senior cornerback Trevor Starghill allowed
a 43-yard touchdown pass with five seconds left in the first
half, which gave Iowa a 24-3 lead en route to a 38-10 win,
Turner sat him down for most of the second half. "The end of the
first half? It was brutal. It just killed us," Turner said after
To be sure, Turner is as effusive with his praise as he is
penetrating in his criticism. But it will be interesting to see
how candid he remains as the Illini, losers of 10 straight with
No. 2 Penn State on deck, continue to slide. There's no waiver
wire in college football. Last week's goat may be next week's
After the way UCLA blew through Arizona 40-27, it should be
noted that two of the last three times the Bruins went to the
Rose Bowl they lost their opener. UCLA started this season 0-2
but has now won consecutive games for the first time in two
years....The National Football Foundation announced that
Grambling State legend Eddie Robinson will be inducted into the
College Football Hall of Fame in December. The Foundation will
waive the usual three-year waiting period for coaches....Hayden
Fry of Iowa will coach his 402nd Division I-A game on Saturday,
tying him with Jess Neely for fourth place on the alltime list
behind Amos Alonzo Stagg (548), Pop Warner (457) and Bear Bryant
(425). Fry's first victory, in 1962 with SMU, came against Neely
and Rice 15-7....Speaking of experience, the four youngest
coaches paired off last week: Colorado's Rick Neuheisel, 36,
edged Wyoming's Dana Dimel, 34, 20-19, while Louisville's Ron
Cooper, 36, lost to Oklahoma's John Blake, 36, 35-14....In wins
over Kansas and Boston College the past two weeks, Cincinnati
has allowed a total of one touchdown and 343 yards of offense,
including minus 46 yards rushing by Kansas. One big reason: This
is the first time in four years as coach of the Bearcats that
Rick Minter has retained his defensive coordinator for a second
season. The coordinator is Rex Ryan, son of Buddy....In the
run-and-shoot scheme of former coach Mark Duffner, Maryland
tight ends caught five passes for 34 yards the past three
seasons. After redshirt freshman Mike Hull's reception for seven
yards in the Terrapins' 24-21 defeat of Temple last Saturday,
Maryland's tight ends had caught five passes for 51 yards under
new coach Ron Vanderlinden.
AT OHIO STATE (3-0)
When last the Hawkeyes played at Ohio Stadium, they outscored
the Buckeyes 28-0 in the second half. However, Ohio State had
won the first half 56-7. This Iowa team, with three big-play
guys--tailback Tavian Banks, wideout Tim Dwight and punt
returner Tony Collins--resembles the '95 Buckeyes with Eddie
George, Terry Glenn and Rickey Dudley. That's a good reason to
--ARIZONA STATE (3-1)
AT WASHINGTON (2-1)
Praise the schedule gods for moving this game to midseason.
Played on Sept. 7 last year, the matchup ultimately decided the
Pac-10 title when the Sun Devils won 45-42 en route to a 11-1
season. Arizona State has had trouble scoring TDs this season;
kicker Robert Nycz has one less field goal (eight) than extra
points (nine). The Huskies should roll if quarterback Brock
Huard (ankle sprain) can play.
--KANSAS STATE (3-0)
AT NEBRASKA (3-0)
The best team in the Big 12 plays host to the best of the
Mid-American Conference. The Wildcats--oops, they really are in
the Big 12, too--have beaten three Mid-American teams, which
proves exhibition games are played outside the NFL. The
Cornhuskers figure to extend their winning streak over K-State
AT FLORIDA STATE (3-0)
The Hurricanes' defense, which was run over by West Virginia and
Arizona State, should be the cure for what ails the Seminoles'
running game. Throw dirt on this rivalry. It's dead. Miami loses
four in a row in a season for the first time since 1977.
AT OKLAHOMA STATE (4-0)
After school officials declared six Cowboys, including two
starters, academically ineligible eight days before the season
opener, Oklahoma State fell apart. Check that! It won four
straight with surprising ease. Meanwhile, the Longhorns, who
were blistered 66-3 by UCLA, rebounded against Rice as Ricky
Williams bulled for 249 yards and scored a school-record five
touchdowns. The Cowboys are aiming for a bowl game. That will
still be possible even after a loss this week. --I.M.
WINNERS & LOSERS
1. ROBERT HOLCOMBE Going into the Iowa game, the Illinois senior
halfback averaged 25 carries and 110 yards over 25 games.
Against the Hawkeyes he carried 32 times for 157 yards.
2. R. JAY SOWARD USC went to California with the nation's worst
rushing game, but someone on the Southern Cal offense does have
speed. The sophomore wideout had TD catches of 33 and 65 yards
in a 27-17 win over the Bears.
3. BRAD CHAMBERS After Georgia Tech kicker Dave Frakes was hurt
making a tackle on a kickoff in the first half, Chambers, a
junior, booted 45- and 20-yard field goals in the fourth quarter
to help upset Clemson 23-20.
1. MIKE SCHNECK Wisconsin's long snapper injured his right elbow
in the celebration that followed a game-winning field goal with
:06 to play against Indiana.
2. STATE OF ILLINOIS The Land of Sinkin': Northern Illinois has
lost 11 straight games, and Illinois 10 in a row. Northwestern,
at 2-3, is the best of a bad lot.
3. LOUISVILLE DEFENSE Last season: 892 rushing yards allowed in
11 games. This season: 1,165 rushing yards allowed in five
games, four of them losses. Next season: Cards coach Ron Cooper
hopes he's around for it. --I.M.
Check out more college football news from Ivan Maisel at