Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Trip Down Memory Lane: Tavian Banks' 1997 Season

Note: This is a series I've decided to put together to get us through the long months until football kicks off. It could be a season, a game, or one play. Hell, it could be anything that stuck out to me at some point in time about Iowa sports. Either way, just enjoy this trip back in Hawkeye history.

Ah. 1997. I remember it just like it was yesterday. Actually, no I don't. Considering when the Hawkeyes kicked off the 1997 season, I was 3 months away from my tenth birthday, I don't remember a whole lot from that season. Here's what I do remember from that time period: 1) Tavian Banks was Awesome. 2) Tim Dwight was awesome. This post, however, is about the former rather than the latter. (I'll probably do a Dwight post at some point too).

Tavian Banks was my favorite player as a kid. Why? Well, this can probably explain why. He was a playmaker. Banks was more of a finesse runner, he wasn't going to bowl you over. But, his combo of great vision and speed, allowed him to make one cut and leave everybody in a cloud of dust. Every time he touched the ball, 9 year old me looked on in awe, because I knew there was a chance that something spectacular could take place.

Banks' career at Iowa had a bit of bad timing, however. The high school star, who chose Iowa over offers from Nebraska, Washington, and Miami, to name a few, attended Iowa during the same period that another very good running back was carrying the ball for the Hawkeyes. Sedrick Shaw and Tavian Banks were quite the one-two punch, going for over 1,500 yards on the ground combined in 1995 and over 2,000 in 1996. However, Shaw got the majority of the carries (316 to 66 in 1995 and 224 to 144 in 1996) during the time period that they were teammates.

When Shaw was drafted in the third round of the NFL Draft, Banks finally got his chance in 1997 to show what he could do as the number one running back. He didn't disappoint. His final line for the year looked like this:

Games        Carries        Yards        TD        YPC        YPG        Carries Per TD
   11               260           1691         17         6.50         140.92            15.29

The former football and soccer star from Bettendorf, had gotten the most carries of his collegiate career and put up his best average yards per carry on top of it. Not to mention, he also set the Iowa single season record for rushing yards and touchdowns, which would stand for a little over a decade, when Shonn Greene would break them. 

Banks had finally got his chance to be the number one guy during his Senior year, and he took the opportunity and ran with it. Literally. Since I'm not much of a writer, I didn't write this to be just a narrative on Tavian Banks career. I'm more interested in how good he was. In other words, the numbers. So, let's take a look at the damage Banks did to opposing teams during his 1997 campaign. Shall we?

First, let's get a look at what 140.92 yards per game looks like:

If you just glance at these graphs, without really looking at the vertical axes, you would probably think "Banks really fell off during Big 10 play." While I would like to slap you for that comment, you would be technically right. Banks so obliterated Iowa's non-conference opponents that year, that even if he would have pulled a Shonn Greene (100 yards in every game), he still would have "fallen off" compared to his non-conference performance. In the non-conference portion of Iowa's schedule, Banks ran for 203 yards against UNI, 314 yards against Tulsa, and 127 yards against ISU. UNI got lucky Hayden called off the dogs, and only gave Banks 18 touches, or they could have been Tulsa'd that game too.

Banks averaged 214.67 yards per game in non-conference play, averaging 9.61 yards per carry, while scoring a touchdown on every 6.70 carries. That's not a typo. 1 touchdown every 6.70 carries. During conference play, Banks rushed for "only" 124.38 yards per game, averaging "only" 5.56 yards per carry, while crossing the goal line every 25.57 carries. Banks' non-conference stats make his Big 10 stats look weak by comparison. However, on their own, they are still damn good. It's just hard to ignore the fact that Banks scored 10 touchdown's on 67 carries in the first three games of Iowa's 1997 schedule.

Clearly Banks was great. But, was he the best amongst his peers? Here are the numbers for every Big 10 running back that had at least 100 carries during the 1997 season (100 carries is an arbitrary cutoff point, but I was trying to capture the top ball carriers for each team):

                                               Carries     Yards        TD        YPC        YPG        Att Per TD  

Tavian Banks Iowa-                 260            1691         17         6.50        140.92        15.29

Anthony Thomas Michigan-    137             549           5          4.01         45.75         27.40

Sedrick Irvin Michigan State-  246            1270          9          5.16        105.83        27.33

Marc Renaud Michigan State- 139              745          4          5.36         62.08          34.75

Thomas Hamner Minnesota-    170             663          4          3.90         55.25           42.50

Robert Holcombe Illinois-         294            1253         4          4.26        113.91          73.50

De'Wayne Hogan Indiana-        149             506          4          3.40         46.00           37.25

Jason Spear Indiana-                103             370          0          3.59         33.64             0.00

Pepe Pearson Ohio State-        192             869         10         4.53         72.42           19.20

Michael Wiley Ohio State-        105             588          6          5.60         49.00           17.50

Adrian Autry Northwestern-       244            1049         7           4.30         87.42           34.86

Curtis Enis Penn State-              228            1363        19         5.98        123.91          12.00

Ron Dayne Wisconsin-              263            1457        15         5.54        132.45           17.53

Edwin Watson Purdue-              162             886         11          5.47         80.55           14.73

Big 10 Average-                      192.29          947.07    8.21       4.93         81.85            23.41

Pardon the formatting, but Banks was clearly an above average Big 10 running back. He averaged 72% more rushing yards per game than the average Big 10 back. He also averaged 32% more yards per carry and scored a touchdown on 35% less carries than the average Big 10 running back. Here are a few graphs to look at some of the stats listed above:

Banks led all Big 10 running backs who had at least 100 attempts in yards per carry. In fact, Banks was the only one who averaged more than 6 yards per carry. Curtis Enis was very close at 5.98, but 6.50 > 5.98. Pwned State, indeed.

Banks also finished third in the Big 10 in touchdown's per carry, averaging a touchdown every 15.29 times he ran with the ball. Only Curtis Enis and Edwin Watson both averaged more touchdown's per carry. Also, only Enis finished the season with more touchdown's than Banks.

Finally, Banks also had the longest run from scrimmage on the year, when he busted an 82 yarder on Iowa State. Ron Dayne had the only other 80 yarder amongst the above group of running backs. After that, Curtis Enis' 63 yarder came in third place (Because I was looking at the 1997 season, I was unable to find the long run's from scrimmage for Ohio State's Pepe Pearson and Michael Wiley, and also Purdue's Edwin Watson).

Looking back at the 1997 season, Banks looks like the best running back in the Big 10 that year. Curtis Enis had more touchdown's than him, but Banks carried the ball 32 more times than Enis and still averaged about a half a yard more every time he touched the ball. His 1997 season was good enough to get him named First Team all Big 10, Second Team All-American, and and the Big 10 Player of the Year. He went on to be drafted in the fourth round to the Jacksonville Jaguars, where his pro career would end pretty abruptly due to injury (Fuck you, Ray Buchannon).

Banks left Iowa holding the school record for most rushing yards in a season (1691), rushing touchdowns in a season (19), career touchdowns (36), rushing yards in a game (314), rushing touchdowns in a game (4), and highest single season yards per carry for Iowa running backs with at least 700 yards rushed for (6.50). He currently still owns three of those records outright, and is tied with Shonn Greene for most rushing touchdowns in a game. He also set an NCAA record in 1997, for reaching 1,000 yards in the fewest carries. It took Banks 125 carries. That's an 8 yards per carry pace. Obviously, he didn't keep that pace up all season long, but Banks only averaged less than 5 yards per carry in a game twice that season. When you consider that Shonn Greene was held under 5 yards per carry four times in his 2008 Big 10 Player of the Year campaign, Banks' accomplishment looks like quite the feat.

All in all, Banks looks to be as great as I remember him being. It's always interesting to look back on things from your childhood. You never know if what you perceived as reality back then, actually was, in fact, reality. For instance, I used to think Smash Mouth was an awesome band as a kid. Now that I'm in my early 20's, I know for a fact that I had terrible taste in music as a child. However, my memories of Tavian Banks being the best damn running back I ever watched as a kid, still holds true. So, lucky for me, my childhood memories of my favorite player haven't been shattered. Instead, I'm even more awestruck at the numbers he put up, as he ran into the Iowa record books and made a lasting mark on my childhood. Tavian Banks was awesome, and it's a too bad that he couldn't get the carries he deserved until his Senior year. Oh, what could have been.

Numbers courtesy of Total Football Stats

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