Are bye weeks really an advantage in college football?

By Amy Daughters -

Coming into the 2018 season there are 28 Power head coaches with four-plus years at their current post. Of these, 18 (or 64%) are .500 or better coming off a bye.

It’s a ringing statistical endorsement for the benefit of a week off.

Or is it?

Is it good enough to say bye weeks are advantageous because a high percentage of coaches win games following a break? Or, would it be more comprehensive to compare the win/loss record off a bye with some other performance gauge?

If we use Urban Meyer’s impressive 9-2 (81.8%) record coming off a bye during his six years at Ohio State as concrete evidence are we telling the whole story? How does the number compare to his overall performance?

Meyer is 73-8 (90.1%) overall thus far at OSU. Even more telling – because bye weeks generally occur during conference play – he’s 48-4 (92.3%) in Big Ten action.

It means that Meyer is 8.3% more successful overall and 10.5% more successful in conference play than he is after a week off.

It makes you wonder, is Meyer an anomaly – or are his numbers indicative of a trend?

Of the same 28 Power head coaches mentioned above, only 7 (or 25%) have a better record coming off a bye week than they do in conference play.

It means that 75% of the most entrenched Power head coaches have a disadvantage, relative to their league record, after a week off.

The coach with the biggest disadvantage coming off a bye vs. conference play is Penn State’s James Franklin, who has been at the helm for four seasons. He’s 22-13 (62.9%) against Big Ten opponents vs. 3-5 (37.5%) in games after a week off. That’s a difference of 25.4%.

The coach with the narrowest gap is Kentucky’s Mark Stoops. He’s 12-28 (30%) in SEC play over five seasons vs. 2-5 (28.6%) off a bye. That’s a mere 1.4% difference.

The results are consistent regardless of the level of success. Nick Saban is 81-14 (85.3%) in SEC play in his 11 seasons at Alabama. Compare that to his 17-7 (70.8%) mark coming off a bye during the same period. It’s a 14.5% disadvantage.

It’s comparable to Boston College’s Steve Adazzio, who is 14-26 (35%) in ACC play in five seasons. That’s 15% better than his 2-8 (20%) mark coming off a bye week.

Even though the gap varies, it also applies to the three Power coaches that have the longest tenure at their current posts.

  • Bill Snyder has been at Kansas State a total of 26 years, he’s 123-84-1 (59.4%) in Big 12 play vs. 28-21 (57.1%) off a bye. Disadvantage: 2.3%
  • Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz is 86-69 (55.5%) in Big Ten play in 19 seasons vs. 14-17 (45.2%) coming of a bye. Disadvantage: 10.3%
  • Gary Patterson, with 17 seasons at TCU – is 100-40 in conference play (71.4%) vs. 28-15 (65.1%) after a week off. Disadvantage: 6.3%

It’s also true of the recently retired Bob Stoops, who went 128-30 (81%) in the Big 12 during his 18 seasons at Oklahoma. Compare that to his 32-17 (65.3%) mark off a bye week. The gap of 15.7% is within a percentage point of Nick Saban’s number at Alabama.

That leaves the seven head men with four-plus years at their current post who own a better record off a bye than they do in conference play. They are ranked from the least relative advantage to the most.

7. Chris Petersen, Washington – four seasons – 24-13 (64.9%) in Pac-12 play vs. 5-2 (71.4%) off a bye. Advantage: 6.5%

6. Brian Kelly, Notre Dame – eight seasons – 69-34 (67%) overall vs. 12-4 (75%) off a bye. Advantage: 8%

5. Gus Malzahn, Auburn – five seasons – 26-15 (63.4%) in SEC play vs. 8-3 (72.7%) off a bye. Advantage: 9.3%

4. David Cutcliffe, Duke – 10 seasons – 28-53 (34.6%) in ACC play vs. 8-8 (50%) off a bye. Advantage: 15.4%

3. Kyle Whittingham, Utah – 13 seasons – 63-48 (56.8%) in Pac-12/MWC play vs. 19-6 (76%) off a bye. Advantage: 19.2%

2. Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech – five seasons – 16-29 (35.6%) in Big 12 play vs. 5-4 (56%) off a bye. Advantage: 20.4%

1. Dave Doeren, NC State – five seasons – 15-25 (37.5%) in ACC play vs. 6-4 (60%) off a bye. Advantage: 22.5%

Though the seven exceptions appear to be as random as their counterparts with a disadvantage, they are bound by a common statistical thread – not one has a winning record at their current post against ranked opponents.

Petersen is 7-10 vs. the Top 25 at Washington, Kelly is 14-17 at Notre Dame, Malzahn is 14-16 at Auburn, Cutcliffe is 5-20 at Duke, Whittingham is 12-21 at Utah, Kingsbury is 2-18 at Texas Tech and Doeren is 2-11 at NC State.

The bigger the advantage a coach has coming off a bye, generally the lower his record is against the Top 25. Washington’s Petersen, who is 6.5% better after a week off than in Pac-12 play is 41.1% against Top 25 foes. Compare that to NC State’s Doeren who has a 22.5% advantage after a bye vs. a 15.4% record against ranked opponents.

The numbers send a clear message: the bulk of experienced Power head coaches don’t enjoy a statistical advantage coming off a bye. It’s something that’s especially true for guys who have had success against Top 25 foes.

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Comments (5)

Yes, but you’d need to consider the record of the opponent faced when coming off a bye? Most ADs work to schedule a bye before an expected difficult game. Also, technically Week 1 (or 0) games happen after a multi-week bye. Probably part of why coaches prefer the big neutral site games against OOC to happen there only. They think they’re getting more time to prep.

A lot of teams like to take a bye week before they play a big team, to (try) & recover from injuries & let the kids relax for one week. I have also seen where teams come back from a bye week & just look slow, out of it. They can not find their energy or as a lot of people would like to say, “they didn’t show up”. I think most big & great schools have a plan when it comes to bye weeks like Ubran Myer. I bye can hurt you or sometimes make you stronger.

After the bye week would be when I would want to play on a Thursday or Friday. Since your off the week before you can have your normal prep for the game and have some extra time for the following game. Or if you were in a conference that has sold its soul to ESPN and has to play everyday but Saturday, after the bye might be a good time to start scheduling such weeknight games.

Interesting article.
The author does not account for when both teams have bye the week before they play. Florida & Georgia regularly have week off before Cocktail Party. Same for Alabama & LSU. Would be interesting to take those out because there is no advantage/disadvantage, then recalculate percentage.

The game after a bye is tricky, as your team may be rusty from a week off. But they are more than useful in allowing the body to recover from the wear and tear of playing football. A bye usually means also skipping a couple practices, which can take the edge off too.

The SEC and ACC prefer to play an FCS school (or really weak G5 school) before their most important game. This allows them to sit the players most in need of rest, and get some reps in for their starters, a half or so, minimizing the risk, and still having that preparation for the big game.

The flaw in your statistic is that you need to consider the opponent after the bye. If that is a team most often with a stronger record, that may change the winning percentage. Treating Indiana played without a bye against Penn State with a bye as opponents is not apples to apples. So we need to dig a bit deeper to give a proper analysis.