TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It was a scheduling anomaly that generated its share of headlines in the offseason.
Alabama tried to get it changed, but nothing ever happened.
Beginning at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at South Carolina, the final six SEC opponents on the top-ranked Crimson Tide schedule will come off a bye week.
Alabama coach Nick Saban took a preemptive approach to the issue in his weekly news conference Monday afternoon.
“I know somebody is going to ask about bye weeks, so let’s clear this up for the year,” he said. “Everybody out there assumes that having a bye week is an advantage. And I’ve always answered the question saying I don’t know if it is an advantage or a disadvantage.”
To back up his point, Saban cited research done within the program concerning teams coming off an open date. Looking at the past five seasons, the other 11 SEC schools have a combined record of 29-29 coming off bye weeks, Saban said.
“I’m not saying I’m right and you’re wrong, but the statistics kind of prove it is not an advantage or a disadvantage,” Saban said. “It probably depends a lot on the circumstances.”
Over that same span, the Tide went 4-1 coming off bye weeks with the only loss coming in 2007 when Saban’s first Alabama team lost to LSU 41-34 to start a four-game slide that closed the regular season.
Though Saban made similar statements over the summer about the lack of an impact bye weeks had on teams, he along with athletic director Mal Moore lobbied the SEC to get some relief from the scheduling they thought was unfair. Ultimately, nothing could be done and the only change to the schedule came when Georgia State agreed to play the Tide (5-0, 2-0 SEC) on the Thursday before Auburn comes to town the following Friday.
For No. 19 South Carolina, the time off likely came at an opportune stage of the season.
After winning its first three games and taking a 20-7 halftime lead at Auburn, the Gamecocks (3-1, 1-1) lost three turnovers in the fourth quarter and ultimately the game, 35-27. There was unrest with the quarterbacks when Stephen Garcia was benched following his two fourth quarter fumbles, but Steve Spurrier said last week that he’d start over Conner Shaw against the Tide.
There is also time to heal injuries and throw in a wrinkle or two to the game plan with that extra week between games.
That doesn’t mean much to quarterback Greg McElroy.
“I think bye weeks are totally over blown,” he said. “I think they can be a blessing or a curse.
“A lot of times, if you’re playing well going into the bye week, it can really kill your momentum and ruin everything you’ve done up to that point.”
The open date last year was certainly a good thing for the Tide in 2009. It limped out of the Tennessee game with the 12-10 win and into a two-week cram session for the visit from LSU that Alabama won to secure the SEC West title.
The offense played progressively worse in the weeks heading into the bye and seemed to turn a corner afterwards.
Despite playing two straight top-10 opponents, Alabama nose guard Josh Chapman isn’t worried about tired legs against South Carolina.
“We’re still rested,” he said. “We rest on Sundays.”
After returning from Columbia, the next rested opponent on the schedule is Ole Miss.
Rebel coach Houston Nutt joked with reporters about Alabama’s dilemma.
“I think every team deserves an open date before they play Alabama,” he said Sunday.