Early Break In The Season Can Be A Positive

FAYETTEVILLE -- The college football season is only a week old, and already No. 18 Arkansas has a Saturday off.

When coach Houston Nutt first glanced at the 2007 schedule, he admitted he wasn't thrilled to see that the only bye the Razorbacks have is this week.

He's since warmed up to the idea, especially after seeing in last Saturday's 46-26 win over Troy University that his team has plenty of room for improvement.

"I'm glad (the open week) is at this time, I really am," Nutt said. "We think we can really take this film and just scrutinize, analyze, go through every part of it, dissect it and really get better and correct some things."

It might seem like a waste for a school to schedule its only bye for the week after the first game of the season.

Starting with next Saturday's highly anticipated game at Alabama, the Razorbacks (1-0) will play 11 consecutive games and not get another week off until after Thanksgiving. That makes for a long grind.

But having such an early break in the season is not necessarily a bad thing, and some coaches are actually fans of it.

For the fifth time in six seasons, top-ranked Southern California will have the week following its season opener to correct any problems that might have already popped up.

"We love this bye," USC coach Pete Carroll told reporters following last Saturday's 38-10 win over Idaho. "We've always liked it, and (we) have a real clear intention of what we're trying to get done."

Most schools prefer to schedule their open week either at the halfway point or toward the end of the season.

The thinking is that the bye will break up a grueling 12-game schedule and give their injured and tired players some much-needed rest. Having a Saturday off in September isn't needed.

Sixty-two teams in conferences affiliated with the Bowl Championship Series will be in action this week. That includes every school in the Big Ten, Big 12, Big East and Atlantic Coast Conference.

Only three teams from BCS conferences have their only bye this week: Arkansas, USC and Stanford.

"I think you need to have an open date, and nobody knows at the time whether it's the right time to do it or the wrong time to do it, to be honest with you," former Arkansas coach Ken Hatfield said.

"This is not a bad time to have one -- after an opening game -- because you really can focus in on the things you did poorly and it gives you extra time to really see your personality because now everybody on your team has a game under their belt."

Arkansas' coaches have tried using this week to address concerns with the secondary, improve the timing in the passing game and prepare for the start of the Southeastern Conference schedule.

"Now we're back to basic SEC football," Arkansas defensive coordinator Reggie Herring said. "We needed this open date to get our minds and our bodies and our mindset -- our spirit -- back on setting on hard technique."

No other SEC school has its open week as early as Arkansas. Vanderbilt plays three homes games before having off Sept. 22, and No. 24 Tennessee has its only bye the week of Sept. 29.

Teams with early open weeks tend to use that time addressing immediate concerns, some that went unnoticed in preseason camp.

Every coach has questions about his team in August, but only so much can be seen in practice. Coaches know a lot more about their team's strengths and weaknesses after the first game.

"Once you play a game, other people game-plan your schemes, other players compete against your players," Virginia coach Al Groh said. "You start to get a little premonition of where your team is and what you need to do."

A few years ago, Groh had an open week immediately after his season opener. He said he used the time like another training camp, where his players could work on team development.

Herring, for one, said he liked the way the 2007 schedule shaped up for Arkansas.

The early bye has given him two weeks to address problems, work on fundamentals and prepare his players for a physical Alabama offense.

"Really, this was a critical open date for us," Herring said. "It really was."

Early Fall Break

No school in the Southeastern Conference has an open week as early as Arkansas. The Razorbacks have this Saturday off.

Here is a breakdown of when all 12 SEC schools have their only bye of the 2007 season, in chronological order:

School Open Date

Arkansas Saturday

Vanderbilt Sept. 22

Tennessee Sept. 29

Florida Oct. 13

Georgia Oct. 20

Alabama Oct. 27

LSU Oct. 27

Kentucky Nov. 3

Miss. State Nov. 3

Ole Miss Nov. 10

Auburn Nov. 17

South Carolina Nov. 17

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