by Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan)
Northwestern has a bye this week, which is typically sold as a much-needed break in the middle of a long season, particularly when it comes as late as it does for the Wildcats this year. But is that perception true? Obviously, a bye can be big for a team dealing with injuries or for one that has just come off a devastating loss. That could help NU, as it gives corners Nick VanHoose and Quinn Evans another week to rest up. However, it also kills momentum, especially for the offense, which just got rolling.
Historically, byes have not been kind to Northwestern under Pat Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald likes to point out that history means nothing, and he's right, but it's interesting just how bad Fitzgerald's teams have been off of bye weeks. Here's the whole breakdown of how the Cats have fared coming off of byes during Fitzgerald's tenure:
2008: L, 37-20 vs. Michigan State (beat Iowa 22-17 previous week)
2010: L, 35-27 vs. Michigan State (lost to Purdue 20-17 previous week)
2011: L, 38-35 at Illinois (lost to Army 21-14 previous week)
Obviously, that's just a small sample size, but Fitzgerald is 0-3 off of bye weeks. If you count "extra rest" games, as pointed out by the Chicago Tribune's Teddy Greenstein, Fitzgerald is 0-7. He is also 0-3 when having an extra day or two to prepare — going from a Thursday or Friday game to a Saturday game the following week — including losses to New Hampshire and Penn State in 2006 and a loss to Purdue in 2007. So for games with any more than a week to prepare, Fitzgerald is 0-10 in his tenure. For all other games, he's 47-28. That's a .627 winning percentage, compared to a .000 winning percentage.
Big Ten teams are 5-3 off byes this year, while NU and Wisconsin have their byes this week and Ohio State and Michigan State have yet to have their. NU plays five teams coming off byes this year, and is 3-1 so far, with wins against South Dakota, Indiana and Minnesota and a loss to Nebraska. The Cats still must play Michigan State coming off the Spartans' off week. While, on the surface, it might look like the extra week has hurt teams against NU, the Cats' record against such teams is likely more a result of the skill of their opponents rather than the bye.
Really, none of this matters. History won't decide how this NU team fares — trust me, Fitzgerald has made that clear to the media many times. However, it's clear that if the Cats wants to reach new milestones this year — particularly playing in a top-tier bowl game — they'll have to get over their bye week hurdle to do so.
Getting over that hurdle will require beating Michigan in Ann Arbor. That's one "milestone" Fitzgerald has already accomplished.