IOWA CITY - The numbers tell the whole story.
A year ago, Iowa's Ricky Stanzi was a feast or famine quarterback. He was the most frequently intercepted passer in the Big Ten. He finished 51st in the nation in passing efficiency. He frequently would have a quarter in which he would hit every pass, followed by a quarter in which he didn't complete any.
In the first half of this regular season, Stanzi has experienced very little famine.
He is putting up passing efficiency numbers that dwarf those of all his Hawkeyes predecessors, including Heisman Trophy runner-ups Chuck Long and Brad Banks. His efficiency rating of 180.49 is only 4/100ths of a percentage point away from being the second-best mark in the country. He has emerged as a prime candidate for post-season awards as well as post-graduate opportunities in football.
And the only real explanation for the change seems to be that it's because Stanzi is a devoted student of the game. He virtually lives in the film room, poring over footage of upcoming foes, and almost never encounters a situation in a game that he hasn't already seen on video.
"He's always worked extremely hard, but now he's got four years in the bank going into this year, plus you factor in his work ethic, and I think we're seeing just excellent things from him," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
Stanzi said he spends at least 3 to 4 hours a day looking at film and often is hanging around the Hawkeyes' football complex at 10 or 11 p.m.
"He's around a lot," Ferentz admitted. "He's not carrying a lot of hours. Maybe 6 or 8. He's going to graduate in December. It's just one of the benefits of being a fifth-year senior but he also was doing this when he was a full-time student."
Stanzi is finishing up a few final credits on a degree in interdepartmental studies, which he defined as meaning "you're not smart enough to get into business school."
He is taking only three classes this semester, and one of them lasted only half the term. He has an art class, a course called Alcohol in Your College Experience and another called Making a Vocational Educational Choice.
"Nothing too strenuous," Stanzi said. "I have a lot of time, which is great. I don't have to put much into school and that has given me a lot of opportunity to watch more film, be here and have a better idea of what's going on with each defense that we play."
Stanzi said he not only watches a lot of film, but he said he now has a much better understanding of how to watch it. With the help of Iowa graduate assistant David Raih, a former Hawkeyes quarterback, he has learned what to look for.
"It's about having more of a critical eye when you're watching," he said. "It's easy to just stop and start watching the game and watch the ball, but you're not even watching what you need to when you do that.
"You really need to be in tune with what you're doing when you get in that film room. It's definitely a mental exercise. Put the phone away, all the distractions, anything that can take your focus away and be very critical with your eye and just train yourself to do that."
He said he now watches full games instead of just selected clips. That gives him an idea of the overall game plan of the opponent. He also now looks at the personnel on the field as much as the scheme and said that allows him to pick up on keys and tendencies.
The result has been a remarkably mistake-free season.
Stanzi has been credited with two interceptions this fall, but Ferentz points out that the interception he threw against Arizona was right in the hands of Marvin McNutt and really was the fault of the receiver.
"The reality is there has been just one ball he's thrown down the field that he wishes he had back," Ferentz said.
Stanzi has collected at least 200 yards passing in every game, has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 15 consecutive games and has had a passer rating of 149 or better in every game this season. His season number a year ago was 131.6.
He has been much better in the second half, with a third-quarter efficiency rating of 216.8 and a fourth-quarter number of 199.0.
He is well on his way to breaking the Iowa record for passing efficiency (157.1), set by Banks in his Heisman runner-up season.
Stanzi even has started to be mentioned as a borderline Heisman candidate. Adam Rittenberg of ESPN.com this week listed him as the Big Ten's best bet for the big award.
"That's nice," Stanzi said. "He doesn't really pick the Heisman, though, does he?"
The most important statistic to Stanzi and Ferentz remains his 23-5 record in games he has started in his career.
"Winners and leaders are totally committed, and he is," Ferentz said. "There are other guys like that but he's right at the top of the list."