Football commentators regularly talk up the value of the bye week or a big early season game for the opportunity to add extra preparation from a coach staff. This week I dug into the data to see how much of an effect bye weeks and openers had on team performance and which coaches are the best and worst at using the bonus time to their advantage.
As usual, I looked at all FBS games from 2003-2012. If a team played an FCS opponent as an opener or after a bye week it wasn’t included but it wasn’t treated as a bye for the next week’s game, either. I compared how each teams EV+ (points better/worse than an average team would have done, opponent adjusted) was in openers and post-bye versus how they did overall for that season. I then assigned those numbers to the head coach and looked at how head coaches have done, under the assumption that any strengths or weaknesses under these conditions would be more coach than program. So Brady Hoke is evaluated from Ball State, San Diego State and Michigan.
Over nearly 1500 post bye week games evaluated, a small benefit did emerge. The average team performs 1 point better post bye week than in regular weeks. 53% of teams performed better than their expected based on full season performance. The data closely matches a normally distributed outcome with an average benefit of 1 point and a standard deviation of 11.5 points.
Distribution of points versus average for post bye week games
Openers were about a wash. The typical team performs about 0.2 points worse than expected in openers. Openers feature a lot more variables than just extra preparation time. The standard deviation for opening games is the highest of any week during the regular season (but lower than bowl games). That variance is pretty low however. Teams have the most deviation from their season average in week one (11.9 points) but the low point has a deviation within 1 point (11.0) that occurs during week one. So teams are most likely to have an outlier game in week one or for their bowl but overall, most weeks have a pretty similar level of deviation.
To see how current Big Ten coaches have done, I looked at their track records for both openers and after a bye week to see who has done the most and least in each situation. The bubbles are color coded based on the team and all of the reds are team coded because there are too many red teams in the Big Ten.
Positive numbers are good and bubble size indicates sample size
Mark Dantonio and Kirk Ferentz have both been able to start the year off strong with strong opening performances. New Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen along with small sample size guys Bill O’Brien and
Curtis Kyle Flood both have the best results after a bye week. Coach Hoke’s openers have been mildly below average but his bye weeks have been the most productive of any coach with a larger number of games. Urban Meyer has seen his results after bye weeks on the other end with his squads playing 3.6 points per game worse than they do in a normal week.
Other Notable Coaches
Openers on the x-axis and post bye week on the y-axis
Charlie Weis has seen his career reflect his seasons at Notre Dame. A first season/game that was significantly better than what happens afterwards. I guess his decided schematic advantage expires after one week. Barry Alvarez is apparently the king of the bye week as his teams turned 3 bye weeks under him into a +21 advantage, even after accounting for opponent and team strength. Joe Paterno was the opposite case. His Penn St teams played over two touchdowns worse after a bye week. Mack Brown and Jim Tressel also had teams that have found bye weeks to be counter-productive. The only entry several points worse on both standards was GERG Robinson during his tenure at Syracuse. LLoyd Carr’s openers were never great, even when The Horror is excluded but his teams where some of the best coming off of a bye week.
As always, let me know about any request for off-season material you would like to see.