SEC bye week winners and losers in 2014
The college football season is a grind, and bye weeks can be a precious commodity.
For now, every SEC team is granted two bye weeks during the 14-week, 12-game regular season. However, beginning next year, each SEC team return to a single-bye schedule, changing the entire dynamic of the regular season journey. An early bye can leave a team weak and tired late in the season. A late bye could come too late for a team worn down by its early season schedule.
In honor of the final season of the double-bye schedule, let’s take a look at this year’s Bye Week Winners and Losers:
Mississippi State: A lot has gone right for Mississippi State in its climb to No. 1 in the national polls, and two incredibly timed bye weeks are part of the equation.
Last month, an unranked Mississippi State team made the difficult trip to Baton Rouge to face then-No. 8 LSU at night in Death Valley, a circumstance in which the visiting team rarely wins. However, the Bulldogs knew they had a bye scheduled the following week, so they sold out for their game against the Tigers and won 34-29, entering the rankings for the first time this season.
Mississippi State then had two weeks to rest and prepare for back to back games against ranked foes Texas A&M and Auburn, which were followed by the team’s second and final bye of 2014. The bye week sandwich, if you will, allowed MSU to put all its energy into that two-game stretch, and the Bulldogs won both games to rise to No. 1 in the country.
Yes, the Bulldogs are out of byes in 2014, but only two of their final six games are against ranked teams and the most difficult stretch of their schedule is now behind them. The team’s two bye weeks helped it survive that difficult stretch, so it is well worth enduring the final six games of the season without a rest knowing those byes were put to good use.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks first bye of 2014 came at the perfect time, saving them from a complete collapse midway through what has been a disappointing season.
South Carolina lost back to back SEC East games to Missouri and Kentucky earlier this season, and worse yet it led both games by double digits in the fourth quarter before blowing both leads.
It’s safe to say the wheels were beginning to come off in Columbia, but lucky for the Gamecocks their bye arrived immediately after the Kentucky loss, giving them a chance to regroup from a devastating stretch of games.
South Carolina returned from that bye last weekend with a cupcake game against Furman, allowing it a chance to ease back into its schedule after licking its wounds during a week off. The Gamecocks are now 4-3, relatively healthy and somewhat confident following a 31-point win over the Paladins, which should benefit them this weekend in a tough road game against Auburn.
The Gamecocks follow the Auburn game with a home showdown against Tennessee and then their second bye, allowing them to give their all in this two-game stretch knowing another week of rest is right around the corner.
Nevertheless, South Carolina is a bye week winner because of the timing of its first bye, which might have saved its season from a regression from disappointing to epic disaster.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks have one of the most difficult schedules in the country, but they did receive two well-timed bye weeks to help them endure a tough slate of games.
Arkansas’ first bye came in Week 6, following a five-game stretch featuring three winnable games against Nicholls State, Texas Tech and Northern Illinois. The Razorbacks won all three games, but lost a heartbreaker to Texas A&M in Week 5 immediately before the open date.
That first bye week allowed Arkansas to regroup from the loss and recover before a stretch of four games that included three top 10 opponents. The Razorbacks dropped their first two games in that stretch to Alabama and Georgia, and following this week’s game against UAB they have a showdown with No. 1 Mississippi State standing between them and their second bye of the year.
Knowing they have a week off following the MSU game, Arkansas has nothing to lose in facing the Bulldogs, allowing them to play more aggressive and with more energy than any other game this year.
The Razorbacks’ byes were evenly spread, but more importantly their byes were as timely as any byes in the SEC. One followed three straight wins and a crushing defeat. The other precedes the Razorbacks’ biggest game of the year to date. Arkansas will never have to play for than five straight games this season, something only a handful of other SEC schools can claim during the final year of the double-bye.
It may not have translated to wins on the field, but Arkansas is absolutely a bye week winner in 2014.
Texas A&M: The Aggies have had the worst bye week luck of any team in the SEC, having to play eight straight games to open the year — including four games against ranked teams — before experiencing their first bye of 2014. For comparison’s sake, Mississippi State enjoyed both of its byes before A&M reached its first open date of the season.
The Aggies just endured a stretch of three straight games against top 5 teams (Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Alabama), and now that their bye has finally arrived it feels like it’s too little, too late. Texas A&M lost all three games in humiliating fashion, failing to keep any of the three games competitive beyond halftime.
Perhaps the Aggies were tired. After all, A&M had already played five games in five weeks before that daunting three-game stretch arrived, and it appeared to be hanging by a thread following a narrow win over unranked Arkansas the week before the Mississippi State game. The Aggies are a team reliant on explosive playmakers, and they seemed exhausted in the losses to those three SEC West powers.
Now A&M has two byes in the final six weeks of the season, in addition to a cupcake game against Louisiana-Monroe. A week off is rarely a bad thing, but it’s safe to say A&M is wishing its bye came before the Mississippi State loss, and not following three straight losses and immediately before an easy game against ULM.
The Aggies had no say in when their byes fell, but they’re the biggest bye week losers in the SEC this year.
Ole Miss: The Rebels got an early bye when they didn’t need one, and a late bye that may come too late for a team chasing its first national title since 1962.
Ole Miss received its first bye in Week 3, following an easy stretch of games against Boise State, Vanderbilt and Louisiana-Lafayette. It’s safe to say the Rebels would have been just fine without the week off, as it won those three games by a combined score of 132-31. However, Ole Miss was forced to sit for a week before returning for a stretch of seven straight games without interruption, four of which were/are against ranked SEC West foes.
By the time that seven-game stretch (with games against Alabama and Auburn and road games against Texas A&M and LSU) comes to an end, Ole Miss will as tired as it is wounded. The Rebels will only have two games left following the bye, one of which is against an Arkansas team still seeking its first SEC win since 2012.
The Rebels got one bye early and one bye late in the year, but the meat of their schedule came during a seven-game stretch between bye weeks. In a tight SEC West with four teams ranked in the top 5, Ole Miss is a major bye week loser.