Thornton's Banks dreams of Oregon

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Thornton's Banks dreams of Oregon

Thornton's Jalen Banks is a unique personality. He is a genuine student-athlete. He competes in two sports. He ranks No. 3 in a class of 432. And he wants to study civil engineering in college.Talk about juggling your busy schedule to accommodate classes, homework, practice, games and the recruiting process. Well, Banks has been running ahead of the curve since he received a C in reading as a fourth grader."I went to a private school early and they instilled academics in me," Banks said. "They talked about the challenges of high school. Grades are important but I don't look at it as work. I'm capable of doing it so why not? If I get a B, I get mad at myself. Why can't I do better? Competing in the classroom is like competing in football or track."Banks has worked hard to achieve success at all levels. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound safety has accumulated 10 scholarship offers and the list, which includes schools from the Big Ten, SEC and ACC, is a testimony to his ability to combine academics and football skills.He has offers from Illinois, Northwestern, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest and Western Michigan. He made unofficial visits to Iowa and Wisconsin last week during spring break. Earlier, he visited Illinois, Northwestern and Michigan State. Since he doesn't plan to commit until after the 2012 season, he can be expected to receive more offers.He hopes one of them will come from Oregon."Oregon is my dream school," he said. "Since I was 7 or 8-years-old, since I began following football and watching games on TV, I have loved Oregon. It's more than the (green and yellow) uniforms. I like the offense, the great players, the playmakers. I enjoy watching them play. I get more involved when I'm watching them. I was excited when they got to the national championship game."No, I'm not disappointed that they haven't offered yet. I have talked to them. They will see me in May. And I'm going to one of their camps in June. Theyll get a chance to evaluate me. I hope they like what they see. If I get a chance, I'd like to go there. But there are other great schools that have opened my eyes. It would be exciting to play in the SEC."But he isn't in a hurry. Coach Bill Mosel, preparing for his 27th season as head coach at the Harvey school, reminds that the recruiting process has accelerated in recent years. Offers are made sooner and sooner, sometimes when athletes are sophomores."I'll sit down with Jalen and his parents after the May evaluation period and see where they are at," Mosel said. "He needs to take visits. I don't want him to have any regrets by committing too early. Kids often renege on their early commitment because they don't take official visits and then find out a school is stockpiling talent at his position. Jalen won't commit before the season. He'll make visits in the fall."

In the meantime, Banks is eager to improve his speed (from 4.5 to 4.4) and demonstrate his leadership skills as one of four captains on a team that hopes to improve on last year's disappointing 6-4 finish. And he wants to win another state championship in track.Last year, Banks ran a leg on the winning 800-meter relay. He hopes to repeat this spring. He also competes in the 100, 200 and another relay. He enjoys track because it helps him to get in shape for football, improves his quickness and squeezes his competitive juices."The great ones are very focused. They know what they want," Mosel said. "When Jalen was a freshman, we talked about how he would like to see himself and he hasn't wavered. His career path hasn't changed."Mosel said Banks "has the opportunity to be the best defensive back we have produced, in a class with Jermaine Hampton," who played at Northern Illinois and with the Indianapolis Colts in the NFL.That's quite an accolade. Traditionally, Thornton is one of the most successful football programs in the state. A few years ago, eight of Mosel's products were competing in the NFL.Banks has played on the varsity since he was a freshman, a rarity in high school and especially at a high-profile school like Thornton. He started as a wide receiver. Midway through his sophomore year, he was moved to safety to fill a void in the defensive secondary. He likely will play safety in college. But if he gets a step faster, he could be moved to cornerback, the toughest position to fill at the college level."He has great feet. He is very fluid. He has good hips, good ball skills and reacts to the ball in the air. He also is very physical and comes up and makes tackles," Mosel said."From day one, I always liked football. It's a fun sport, a contact sport," Banks said. "There is something about hitting somebody or scoring touchdowns that makes it more exciting."Banks grew up in south suburban Hazel Crest and wasn't familiar with Thornton. But he played for the Harvey Colts youth team and attended a state playoff game and was bit by the bug. "From then on, I decided not to go to St. Rita or Marian Catholic," he said."Before I even walked into the school, I became aware of the tradition. Old-timers, the coaches for the Harvey Colts and other people were always talking about the Thornton tradition and the Lou Boudreau Room, where all the trophies and pictures of All-Staters and All-Americans are. Nothing else has to be said. You just look around and you see it and you feel it."His father always told him that, because of his size and footwork, he would be a defensive back. Jalen never objected. He relished the challenge. While others opted for the more glamorous positions such as quarterback, running back or wide receiver, he preferred defense."You get to make plays. You don't have to wait for the ball," he said. "On defense, it's up for grabs, for everybody who is hungry, 11 men flying to the ball. On defense, you can free-wheel to make plays."Banks, who was injured most of his freshman year, realized he had big-time potential early in his sophomore year. He had two interceptions in his first game. But that was only one game, he reasoned. But he stood out in a losing effort against Lincoln-Way East in the state playoff and the proverbial light bulb when on."I made a lot of plays, tackles for loss. I was matched up against (Illinois recruit) Jason Robertson. I didn't give up any big plays. It really made me feel confident, that I can play defensive back at the Division I level. I know I can hit and make tackles," he said.So Banks looks ahead to the 2012 season and the completion of the recruiting process. "I had a dream to be in this position," he said."I like being able to go out and get a feel for things, to meet players and coaches. I appreciate the personal letters. I'm looking for a balance between academics and athletics. I'm looking for a school that will help me excel as a student and as a player. I want a degree to get a guaranteed job."Every school has nice facilities. In the Big Ten, everybody has a big stadium. But do they have people within the program, people to help you get better, strength coaches and position coaches, people to look after you?"Jalen Banks is still looking.

Expansion of the College Football Playoff field continues to seem inevitable

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USA TODAY

Expansion of the College Football Playoff field continues to seem inevitable

There were six teams deserving of reaching the College Football Playoff this season. But there were only four spots.

But what if there were more spots?

An expansion of the Playoff field to eight teams has seemed inevitable from the day the four-team system was announced. Four more Playoff games means oodles more TV viewers, which means oodles more dollars.

And then we wouldn't be having all these arguments, either — but that's nonsense because of course we would, trying to figure out who got snubbed from the expanded bracket.

But this season's emphasis on the conference-champion debate might kick the efforts to expand the Playoff into high gear. Just take it from NCAA president Mark Emmert.

Now, technically speaking, there are 10 FBS conferences, each of which crowns a champion at the end of every football season. Emmert is obviously referring to the Power Five conferences: the Big Ten, Big 12, ACC, Pac-12 and SEC. He might want to pick his words a bit more carefully, considering he represents the other five conferences — the American, Conference USA, the MAC, the Mountain West and the Sun Belt — too, but his point remains understood.

This season has sparked a ton of controversy as the Playoff selection committee opted for the first time to include a team that did not win its conference, Ohio State, and it picked the Buckeyes over the Big Ten champs, Penn State. Plus, Big 12 champion Oklahoma was passed over in favor of non-champion Ohio State, too, actually falling behind another non-champion from the Big Ten, Michigan, in the final Playoff rankings.

With that decision brought the reasonable question of how much a conference championship should matter in getting a team into the final four and competing for a national championship.

The Playoff committee's mission is to pick the country's four best teams, and there aren't many people out there that will argue that Ohio State isn't one of the country's four best teams. But there's something to be said for winning a conference championship because if the Buckeyes can waltz into the Playoff without even playing in the Big Ten title game, why even have a conference championship game — besides, obviously, earning one more night of big-time TV money.

And so the call for an expanded Playoff bracket has reached perhaps its greatest volume in the short time the Playoff has existed. The obvious solution to Power Five conference champions continually being boxed out is to lock in five spots on the bracket for the five conference champions. Then, guarantee a spot for the highest-ranked team from the Group of Five conferences, and you're left with two "at-large" spots that this season would've gone to Ohio State and Michigan, two of the highest-profile programs in the country sure to drive TV viewership in battles against conference-champion Alabama, Clemson, Washington, Penn State and Oklahoma teams. And P.J. Fleck's undefeated Western Michigan squad takes the final slot.

That's quite the field. But if you think it would've solved all this year's problems, you're wrong. Still there would've been outcry that red-hot USC didn't make the field. The Trojans are playing so well that they could very well win the whole thing, despite their three early season losses. That debate over snubs will exist forever, no matter the size of the field, something we see play out each and every season in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

Also, what a damper an expanded bracket would put on the final few weeks of the regular season. Ohio State's game against Michigan, the highest-rated game of the college football season with more than 16 million people watching, would've been effectively meaningless. No matter who won or lost, both teams would've made that eight-team field, right?

Additionally, another round of Playoff football would expand the season to 16 games for some teams. That means more physical demands on student-athletes and a season cutting deep into January, which would impact their educational and time demands.

But again, an expansion of the Playoff bracket has always seemed inevitable. There's too much money to be made, and at the same time fans seem to be all about that idea. People love the postseason for good reason, and the win-or-go-home nature of the NFL playoffs make those games the most-watched sporting events of the year.

Now the NCAA president is chiming in with hopes of an expanded field. So really isn't it just a matter of time?

Road Ahead: Blackhawks dealing with rash of injuries

Road Ahead: Blackhawks dealing with rash of injuries

CSN's Chris Boden and Tracey Myers have the latest on the Blackhawks in the Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland and NW Indiana Honda Dealers.

From an injury standpoint, it's been a tough few weeks for the Blackhawks.

The Blackhawks are down two key players in captain Jonathan Toews and goaltender Corey Crawford, and now may be without defenseman Brent Seabrook who sustained an upper-body injury in Tuesday's victory over the Arizona Coyotes.

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While the Blackhawks haven't had much luck on the injury front, their upcoming two opponents are in the same boat.

"You look at the New York Rangers, a very talented team, but this is what every team goes through every season. Your depth gets tested," Myers said.

Check out what else Boden and Myers had to say about the team's upcoming matchups in this week's Honda Road Ahead