CFB Mythbusters: Do bye weeks help or hurt your team?

This week we’re talking about bye weeks. We could all use a break around this time of year, and even more so in 2020. They help you get refreshed, get your mind right, and get back out there better than before. Or do they?

In the office, taking a break can mean playing catch-up later. What does it mean for a football team?

We looked into the results of teams coming off a bye-week, compared to their regular results week-to-week, and found the answer. Let’s take a look.

No Major Benefit to a Bye

We looked at games from 2000-2019 and split them up into regular games week-in, week-out (without bye weeks), or games coming off a bye-week. Then, we looked at the average win percentage for all teams in those games. Bye weeks actually had a lower win rate than your regular game, but the difference wasn’t statistically significant.

Teams have pretty similar results whether they’ve just had a bye-week or not.

This is all games over time, but what if you control for opponent and look again? Does it help if you’re preparing for a particularly tough or easy opponent?

Even when controlling for opponent, there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference in results. However, teams do perform better against particularly tough opponents when they have an extra week to prepare.

So, there’s not much separating bye-weeks from regular weeks, regardless of the opponent strength, that’s significant. However, from a raw numbers perspective, the win rate against particularly tough opponents was slightly better coming off a bye week than they were normally.

How has your team done with an extra week of prep?

Bye weeks have become a bit of an afterthought this year, with the Big Ten and Pac-12 leaving no room for a regular bye week. For some teams, this might make things more difficult, having less time to prepare for their opponents. However, as you’ll see below, some teams are not able to put that time to good use over the past 20 years.

Teams above the dashed line have played better coming off a bye than they do in a normal week, and teams below the line play worse after a bye week.

Now, these are small sample sizes, so no conclusions can really be drawn from this plot, but it’s fun to put fan theories up against reality. And the reality is that some teams have really struggled coming off a bye-week.

Of course, with only 14-20 games of data, you could easily have been unlucky and happened to play a great opponent in the majority of your post-bye-week games.

One thing is for sure: the best teams in college football are the most consistent. Ohio State, Oklahoma, Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, and LSU all hover right around the line, playing the same whether they’ve had a bye week or not.

The team that has benefitted most from the bye week over the past 20 years is Texas, winning 15 of their 16 games coming off a bye, while only winning 69% of all other games. Oregon St.Arizona, and Virginia also tend to perform better with a week off.

Some of the teams most hurt by the bye include Ole Miss (-21% win rate), Michigan State (-24% win rate), and, somewhat un-shockingly, Penn State (-22% win rate).

While some of these teams varied wildly in their performance after a week off, none of these were statistically significant for us to confidently say that that team performs definitively worse or better than normal.

Overall, that was the finding of the entirety of our research. There doesn’t seem to be much of a competitive edge or disadvantage to that extra week of prep. The reasons why that is are up for debate.

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