We've analyzed schedules backwards and forwards during this long, torturous offseason, but one thing we haven't taken a close look at it is who benefits most from bye weeks.
Now, there is plenty of evidence that suggests bye weeks don't actually have a lot of effect on whether a team wins or loses in its next game. And a week off can hurt a team's momentum or cause off-the-field headaches if players have too much free time.
Yet, if you asked players and coaches whether they'd rather play a bunch of tough games in a row or whether they'd like a break in between, I'm pretty sure which way they'd vote. Same thing if they had a choice on whether to have two weeks to prepare for a difficult opponent, especially if that opponent did not have the same extra time.
So with that in mind, which Big Ten teams seem to have an advantage from the byes, and which seem to be at a disadvantage? In my mind, good byes come either in the middle of the season or before a big stretch; bad byes (made famous by Elaine in the Bizarro "Seinfeld" episode) come too early or too late in the year.
Here's my ranking of the byes from best to worst:
1. Iowa: The Hawkeyes' bye comes at a time when they could be 5-0 before heading to Michigan State. That's a great time to get some extra preparation on the Spartans -- though if Iowa loses to Minnesota again, the bye week will seem like about a month.
2. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers have two straight marquee games to open Big Ten play, starting with Wisconsin at home and Ohio State on the road. With a potentially tricky nonconference schedule as well, Nebraska probably benefits from taking a breather in Week 7, especially with Northwestern (which beat the Huskers last season in Lincoln) and the two showdowns against the Michigan schools up after the break.
3. Ohio State: The Buckeyes' bye week comes late -- Week 11. But that gives the team an extra week to prepare for Wisconsin at Camp Randall the following week, while the Badgers are expending (at least some) energy against the Hoosiers.
4. Wisconsin: Week 10 is a little late for a bye, but the Badgers might want some time off after what figures to be a highly emotional game against Michigan State in Week 9. And with big division games against Ohio State and Penn State (on the road) looming to end the year, the bye timing seems to work out well.
5. Northwestern: The Wildcats end the season with three major challenges: at Michigan, at Michigan State and the rivalry game against Illinois. So having a bye week before that closing trifecta is probably a good thing.
6. Penn State: With some potentially troublesome depth issues, the Nittany Lions are probably well off having a bye after their first six games and before their final six. Any players who get injured in the first half of the season will have some extra time to heal for the stretch run, which includes games against Iowa, Ohio State, Purdue, Nebraska and Wisconsin.
7. Illinois: Chances are the Illini could be beat up after opening Big Ten play against Penn State and then going to Wisconsin and Michigan. Getting a chance to reset after that in Week 8 could be a good thing for Tim Beckman's club.
8. Michigan: The Wolverines' week off comes before Big Ten play even starts, which seems a bit too early. But when your nonconference schedule includes games against Alabama, a pesky Air Force squad and a road date at Notre Dame, getting refreshed before league play is not a bad way to go.
9. Minnesota: The Gophers get a break after their first Big Ten game against Iowa. That's pretty early, but it could give them time to plan for a potential win at home against Northwestern in Week 7.
10. Indiana: Anybody up for a Hoosier State scrimmage in Week 4? Like Purdue, IU gets a very early bye week. The Hoosiers have a chance to get off to a good start with their first three games against Indiana State, UMass and Ball State. But any momentum gained there could be stalled.
11. Purdue: The Boilermakers have a week off between their third game of the season against Eastern Michigan and the fourth game versus Marshall. Hardly seems necessary.
12. Michigan State: Just like last year, the Spartans will have to grind through a difficult schedule stretch. They play Iowa, at Michigan, at Wisconsin and Nebraska in a rough four-week stretch before finally getting a bye in Week 11. Michigan State seemed drained at the end of last year's brutal stretch in the Nebraska loss, and Mark Dantonio will have to hope his team's depth helps keep it fresh.