“Is there a bye week advantage in college football?”

Georgia faces three more opponents that will be coming off bye weeks when they play the Dawgs, so the header question seems relevant.  The answer isn’t as clear cut as you might expect. (h/t Former Fan)

Professor Eric Howington and Associate Professor Nathan Moates at the Langdale College of Business at Valdosta State asked the question: “Is there a bye week advantage in college football?”

Their findings were published in 2017 in the Electronic Journal of Applied Statistical Analysis, a peer-reviewed publication.

“Based strictly off data from the 2010 season, it appears that it’s actually the opposite that Georgia will have a slight advantage over the teams that have the off week,” Howington said in an interview.

They looked into the 2010 season because Alabama faced six SEC opponents coming off bye weeks. Coach Nick Saban was quoted in an AL.com story then saying: “Just so everybody knows, we did research the last five years of all other 11 teams in the SEC (prior to expansion) and how they did when they had a bye week and their record is 29-29,” Saban said. ”…the statistics kind of prove it’s not an advantage or disadvantage to have a bye.”

Howington, who has a PhD in applied statistics from Alabama, decided to run some numbers on the 2010 season for every FBS team. He used a model built off others that started in the 1970s that included team strength and home field advantage. He eliminated games against FCS teams and postseason games. That left 683 regular season games between FBS teams to use as data.

“All of the scenarios considered agree that the bye week advantage is actually a ‘myth,’” they wrote.

In fact, in some circumstances the data appears counter-intuitive to what you’d expect.

The bye week disadvantage, Howington and Moates found, “appears to be magnified over the last half of the season.”

“This is particularly noteworthy, given that the assumed advantage associated with additional time to recover from nagging injuries and/or expand game preparation (such as film study) would seem most needed in the latter weeks of the season,” they wrote.

It’s possible, they wrote, that coaches save special plays or strategies offset the advantage by the team with the bye week or that players don’t perform as well following elongated breaks.

Moates, an Auburn graduate, thought that the psychological concept of “flow” or “being in the zone” factored into the findings. So “any interruption in habituated patterns, especially toward the end of the season, when such patterns would be most engrained, might disrupt the group flow of a team,” they wrote. “The interruption of flow in this scenario might provide a psychological explanation for the seemingly counter intuitive negative impact of bye weeks on subsequent performance.”

The advantage to giving key players extra time to heal seems like a clear cut advantage.  So does having extra time to prepare a defense for an exotic offensive scheme, like Georgia Tech’s now-departed triple option.  I can even see how Spurrier’s psychological ploy of opening up the week before the Cocktail Party became an advantage, although I think that’s a relatively rare example.

But I think Moates “flow” point is a good counter-example.  Read how Tyler Simmons put it:

Advantage for Georgia’s opponents?

“To some extent, I feel like it,” senior wide receiver Tyler Simmons said. “Just for them to let their bodies recoup and everything. At the same time, it’s a little harder for teams coming off a bye week to get going. As you can see last week, we were a little slow starting off, but I don’t really look at it as a disadvantage.”

That’s why I tend to think as a general rule, it’s at best a mixed bag.  How much is South Carolina’s bye week going to offset the ugly statistical reality of this?

Heading into Week #6, here’s a snapshot of Georgia’s football numbers from cfbstats:

Scoring points/game: 42.8
Points allowed/game: 10.8

‘Sakerlina is scoring 30.6 per game,
Points allowed/game: 24.4

Now, if you remove two blowouts from each team: Georgia’s 63 points vs. Murray State and South Carolina’s 72 vs. Charleston Southern, the adjusted points/game are:
UGA: 37.8
USCe: 20.25.

Georgia’s drop-off isn’t that much. South Carolina’s drop is a bit more precipitous.


Filed under Georgia Football, Stats Geek!

10 responses to ““Is there a bye week advantage in college football?”

  1. All signs point to another “suffocate the opponent” victory. If I remember correctly, there were a lot of ticket returns by USuCk before the season. Dawgs 38-10.


  2. Biggen

    We could fart around for a half and still pummel this USCjr team. They don’t have the horses bye week or no.


  3. RangerRuss

    CPO No-Fault Phil always said if you give a man 4 days off you have to retrain him.


  4. Macallanlover

    Bye weeks rarely hurt you but the amount you benefit from it varies depending on when it occurs, your injury/fatigue situation, and need for a scheme adjustment. Just no way to say for certain how big of an edge it can be. I like the two weeks of rest per year for each team, and would prefer them spaced about 1/3 and 2/3s of the way through the season rather than before a specific opponent.


  5. Biggus Rickus

    I wonder about what they’re tracking the 683 games. Saban’s 29-29 tells me nothing, because it doesn’t say anything about the matchups. It’s not so much whether a team wins or loses off the bye, but whether or not and how often the team performs better than expected.


    • Uglydawg.

      This is true, Biggus.
      You can’t expect a week off to actually give some teams a win, but you might expect them to keep it somewhat closer. I think we saw that against Tennessee….they had time to install the new QB and a few really quick passes to get him going with no pressure. Bottom line, some teams need that week and some don’t. Not sure it can be quantified with a study that just looks at Ws an Ls.


      • Biggus Rickus

        The other tricky part is coming up with a baseline expectation for how a team should perform. With the small sample size and roster turnover, college football is hard to quantify in that way. You could use SP+ or FPI or both, I suppose, but even then, early season estimates would be extremely dicey, and I’m not even sure I’d trust ratings from the week 10 or so period either.


  6. ApalachDawg

    If I was king of scheduling, I would give every team the week off at week 5 and week 10.
    No one can pull a Spurrier on anyone.


    • Dawg1

      When we were on week 9 and they had a week off prior, UGA was always the tired team (usually after a tussle with a physically tough UK team) coming in. It was an advantage to SOS.


  7. Todd

    Sounds crazy, but I always wondered how a 12:00 kickoff effects teams. The underdog, coming off a bye week, and a noon kickoff. Would you rather be the home or away team for a noon kickoff?