Bye Weeks Create Questions, Differing Strategies

By Kyle Rowland on October 24, 2013 at 9:15a
With an extra week to prepare, Iowa started fast against the Buckeyes.

The first 30 minutes of Ohio State’s eventual 34-24 win over Iowa last weekend did not go as planned. Coming off a bye week, the Buckeyes moved the football effectively but were sloppy when approaching the red zone. The defense was another story entirely.

They allowed 222 yards and a plethora of third-down conversions. It was bad enough that Mike Vrabel sprinted to the locker room, with head coach Urban Meyer describing the scene as “not pleasant.”

Slightly overlooked was the fact that the Hawkeyes were also coming off a bye week. When you’re Ohio State, opponents get up for you even if you’re in the midst of a down year. But during a lengthy winning streak – that really gets teams’ attention. Throw in an extra week to prepare for the Buckeyes, and it makes them vulnerable to an upset.

The Penn State game marks the third consecutive week Ohio State’s opponent is coming off a bye week. And that streak will grow to four, as Purdue is off this week, ahead of hosting the Buckeyes on Nov. 2.

In recent years, Ohio State has run into the issue of playing several Big Ten teams each season coming off bye weeks. The same issue has plagued Alabama in the SEC, to the extent that head coach Nick Saban and late athletic director Mal Moore asked the conference investigate the matter.

“The consensus feeling of the group was that there was inequity in the number of open dates for opponents prior to playing Alabama as opposed to other schools,” then-SEC associate commissioner Charles Bloom said.

It hasn’t reached that level for the Buckeyes, but this season could be the tipping point. Eleven Warriors contacted the Big Ten and asked if the conference does anything during the scheduling process to alleviate issues such as one team facing a substantial amount of opponents coming off a bye. Associate commissioner Scott Chipman said it’s “not a part of our scheduling parameters that are approved by our schools.”

Double byes have only made the problem worse. Both Northwestern and Iowa started fast against Ohio State and added wrinkles on offense that hadn’t otherwise been seen. Prior to both games, the Buckeyes’ coaches and players stressed that they’d have to be alert and on the look out for such things. Instead, they were still caught off guard and went into the half trailing. 

“We have to be prepared,” Meyer said. “Iowa did have a bye week, and 13 grouping, three tight ends, and we weren’t ready for it. We didn’t adjust well. That’s something we have to be prepared for when you face a team that has a bye week, and that’s going to happen again this week.

“We have to be ready, and we will be ready.”

Halftime adjustments were made against the Wildcats and Hawkeyes, with each second half featuring efficient offensive play and proficient defense. But they remain the only two games Ohio State has fallen behind in all season.

“I think that’s life in the big city,” Vrabel said. “I think you’ve got to understand, whether they have a bye week or not, you’re going to get a whole bunch of stuff. The stuff you’ve had trouble with is going to continue to show up until you stop it. The things that you do well, they’re going to try to have answers for. We need to do a great job as a staff and we need to do a great job of getting that from our minds to our players’ minds and ultimately give them an opportunity to play fast.”

Last week was Penn State’s second bye week of the season, a subject in its own right that’s become controversial. Nebraska and Illinois’ off weeks came one week apart. Ohio State appears to have the most friendly bye weeks – the midway point of the season and again three weeks later. 

The Big Ten has already dealt with multiple weeks of four-game slates. Mark Rudner, the conference’s senior associate commissioner in charge of scheduling, told’s Adam Rittenberg that the 2013 and 2014 schedules were set before expansion called for a championship game and a regular season that extended beyond Thanksgiving. It means 48 conference games over 10 weeks instead of nine. Next year, that number grows to 56 games.

“There’s a lot of firsts going on with expansion,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said.

With a whopper-jawed calendar, the college football season began in August, meaning an extra Saturday – 14 in all. It happens again next year and then there will be normalcy until 2019.

Coaches enjoy off weeks. They can recruit and it lets the team rest, self-scout and get a head start on the next opponent. Allowing injuries to heal is perhaps the biggest advantage to sitting idle. It didn’t help the Buckeyes earlier this season, though, because Braxton Miller’s MCL sprain didn’t coincide with a bye. However, the Cornhuskers have struck gold with Taylor Martinez. Nebraska’s two off weeks came when he was injured, lessening the amount of games he missed.

“Sometimes you get into a rhythm and you don’t like that bye week,” Pelini said. “If you’re a real veteran group, sometimes it’s real hard to get them through not only one bye, but a second bye.”

The Illini’s Tim Beckman takes the approach of not exerting energy toward something he has no control over. Health is the top priority, but he also wants his team’s on-field product to make strides in the right direction when they’re given extra time off.

“You live with it, you adapt with it, you make it positive,” Beckman said. “That’s what we’re doing.”

A few days rest and, say, 10 days preparation as opposed to five or six does not guarantee a win or even a sound performance. Penn State was off the final week of September before traveling to Indiana. The Nittany Lions discovered quickly that maybe they needed two weeks off after the Hoosiers steamrolled them, 44-24.

“I am probably more toward giving [players] a little bit of a break, let them study and get caught up on their academics and get healthy,” Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien said. “To me, it’s about being fresh and healthy and being ready to go on Saturday night.”

Said Ohio State offensive line coach Ed Warinner: “Another team that’s had two weeks. Here we go again. We’ve got to get ready.”

Welcome to life in the big city.


Comments Show All Comments

cinserious's picture

Leave it to Saban to bitch about his unfair SEC scheduling.

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.

whobdis's picture

Honestly I don't blame Saban on this one..I'm rather suprised the B1G does NOT include this into the parameters. Kind of interesting that what some consider the top teams in both conferences are the ones that seem to be targeted (had to work the targeting thing in).

el duderino's picture

The big question is: did those teams launch into the Bucks and Tide?

"This is a very complicated case: a lot of ins, lot of outs, lot of what-have-yous."

buckeye4life050233's picture

thing is this is like the 3rd straight year we have at least played 3 teams coming off a bye week.....while 1 team in the b1g, I can't recall who only has to do it once and most others only have the situation twice and one of our bye weeks was negated because iowa was coming off the bye week as well.....

LouGroza's picture

The extra week to prepare is huge. A good coach can take an average team and even the playing field against better opponents. Using the extra study time exploiting weaknesses that would otherwise be impossible to find time to do. Iowa and NW did just that. OSU still won. Another storyline hardly touched upon by media on the closer than expected scores of those games.

hodge's picture

That's way too deep for national media analysts.  
Inch-deep and mile-wide is the M.O. of almost all national sports media: grab the low-hanging fruit, draw a generalized conclusion, and present it in an easily-regurgitated opinion.

FitzBuck's picture

So Saban doesn't like bye weeks, four year scholarships, hurry up O, playing non conference games away games unless at a neutral site.  
Did I miss any?  

Fitzbuck | Toledo - Ohio's right armpit | "A troll by any other name is still a troll".

Oyster's picture

Salary cap.

"Scrolling hurts my finger"

(and FitzBuck was clearly the winner)

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Did I miss any?

Saban also doesn't like having to step over players experiencing a medical emergency whom are blocking the hallway to his office.

Michael Citro's picture

So Saban doesn't like bye weeks, four year scholarships, hurry up O, playing non conference games away games unless at a neutral site. 

Did I miss any?

Transparency with scholarship numbers.


DaiTheFlu's picture

But he is apparently cool with one of his assistants paying his players. Makes sense.

We can't stop here; this is bat country...


Those schools and their ADs know what they're doing with their schedules. They also know that if they were to play us a week after a tough physical game vs. the likes of Wisconsin that we'd destroy them much like the Badgers did to NW the week after we played them. They know scheduling those byes before us is the only way they're going to be able to beat us and compete with us. It's a compliment that we're regarded so highly but it's also a bigger challenge than what it normally can be. Beat their sorry asses anyway!

"Sherman ran an option play right through the south" - Greatest Civil War analogy EVER.

Buckeye1004's picture

I would like to think that playing 4 consecutive games against teams with 2 weeks to prepare would do something to the strength of schedule.  Obviously, it will not, but it would be nice to have an asterisk.

Hovenaut's picture

I agree.

Ohio State is usually a target for the rest of the B1G, often seeing their best efforts as the conference slate gets in gear.

Throw in an extra week for some to prepare, and it can be a challenge, as we've been seeing lately.

No excuses though, and I'm still expecting better from this defense.

Dread's picture

It may not do anything for the SOS, but you gotta believe it is doing wonders for the strength of this team. 
Give them all byes. I want an angry battle tested team ready for the post season.

Dayton Buckeye's picture

If anyone in the SEC has a complaint it is Miles. LSU plays Florida and Georgia about every year. I despise LSU, but they seems to get screwed on the scheduling.

Haybucks's picture

So Florida has to play LSU and Georgia and Georgia has to play LSU and Florida.  What's your point? LSU also has to play Arkansas?  It all works out. Bert makes it better.

If the world comes to an end, I want to be in Cincinnati. Everything comes there ten years later. -  Mark Twain


UrbanCulture's picture

I think his point was that the other high profile teams in the SEC west (TAMU, Bama) don't have the tough crossover games that LSU does

Oldschoolbuck's picture

Bye weeks can be a double-edged sword IMO. On the one hand, it does allow for extra prep and getting healthy. On the other, it can lead to rust and a team kinda losing its mojo.
I think we saw both on display last Saturday. We looked dazed and confused thru the 1st half. Iowa was sharp and, according to their multi-million $$ HC, they played their best half of the year. On the other hand, the bye certainly helped Braxton finally get healthy.

OSUFlash's picture

We had 2 weeks to prepare for Iowa and it sure didn't show it in the first 30 min. Great teams over come these little hurdles.


jenks's picture

Seems like we've been playing teams coming off bye-weeks all year. Wish it could at least be mentioned with the fact the teams on the schedule haven't been great.

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Actually, I think the Big Ten bye week scheduling could work out very well for Ohio State. (Knock on wood) Ohio State's prospects within the Leaders Division look pretty good and they have bigger fish to fry.
Given those ambitions, it really is "all about them" - doing everything they can to get better, so by the end of the season, they might be ready to take a shot at a big prize. Well, getting A+ games against teams coming off their bye weeks partly helps to upgrade their otherwise mediocre schedule in terms of testing the Buckeyes, putting them in challenging situations, etc. Even if that factor is never acknowledged by the media or in the court of public opinion, it helps improve the team nonetheless and, again, it's all about them controlling what they can control (what's the phrase Urbz uses to covey this point?).
Meanwhile, in addition to how their opponents' bye weeks fall, the Buckeyes' bye weeks work out well for them, too. If the goal is self-improvement, the bye weeks are well-distributed through the schedule.

45has2's picture

Good point, well stated.

"I don't like nice people. I like tough, honest people." -W.W. Hayes

saevel25's picture

I think the extra bye week is huge for the coaches. They get more time to scheme. As for the players, I think it might be bad. They are use to routine, then you break it. I would say, try to keep things as close to the same, I might even throw in a scrimmage on a Saturday, then go into the next week as it was business as usual.

Buckabroad's picture

I am glad this article was written. The number of teams facing us after a bye week has irked me all season long. As though having a major sports network slandering us to the pollers and an NCAA that gives us unjustly harsh punishments compared to southern schools (Auburn, Miami) was not enough!

"The minute we stop expecting greatness, we become Wisconsin."

KLF Buckeye's picture

I think playing these teams coming off byes has given us practice in what I will call "the art of adjustment" (cuz I'm too dumb to think of a better term). Getting good at adjusting to what teams are able to put together in two weeks is good practice for what an opponent can put together in 4 or 5 come bowl season.
That being said, I am pissed that it might be cutting into our ability to hang the big numbers that pollsters find sexy.

UrbanCulture's picture