The "bye week" is really an extra week of work. The key decision is how to walk that fine line between too little or too much physical contact.
During a normal in-season week of practice, the amount of full hitting is usually limited to two days. Even those practices are toned down to the point that there is little full-go tackling. You don't want to lose a player in practice. Depth charts aren't deep enough to take a chance of a key player getting banged up in practice.
The bye week does give the staff a chance to sharpen up player fundamentals by going back to the basics. One or maybe two longer, somewhat more physical practices can be added to the schedule. It does give the younger players an opportunity to get more attention on the field since they get limited or no action on Saturdays.
Often times, these kids stay out after the starters are dismissed to work with their positions coach or have the so-called "Showtime" scrimmages against each other.
One of the obvious advantages of the off week from competition is the fact that it does allow injured players to heal up. It is practically impossible for a player to completely heal up in season. The bye week gives the medical staff the opportunity to dish out a little more physical therapy to the "walking wounded".
You can be assured the players and staff have been spending a lot of time watching Penn State film. The extra evaluation allowed by having an extra week of preparation is vital. Not only does it give the coaches a chance to really dissect the opponents' offense and defense, it really gives the coaches and players the chance to analyze the opposing personnel. Picking up a few keys can be the difference between winning and losing.
During the bye week, coaches also have the opportunity to hit the road recruiting. They may take a couple of days to evaluate out of state talent they normally can't get to during the season. Because of NCAA limitations, the chance to get into a school, talk to counselors, watch practice or even see a game is invaluable in the recruiting process. In many cases, it is the first opportunity to actually see the recruit in person unless the player made it to the school's summer football camp.
Extra practices, added film evaluations, a chance for players to heal and recruiting are all of the added benefits of a bye week. Coaching staffs, at the same time must be alert to potential pitfalls.
A week off from competition can cause a team to lose its sharpness. It's difficult to maintain concentration for a two-week period before the next game. Coaches need to work hard to keep practice enthusiastic and up tempo.
Over the past two seasons, the bye weeks haven't benefited the Buckeyes. In the 2003 season, Ohio State lost to Wisconsin 17-10 after an early October bye week. Last season, an overtime loss to Northwestern followed by two more consecutive losses occurred after an off week after the buckeyes had defeated North Carolina State 22-14.
As a matter of fact, the last victory after a bye week was in 2002, when the Buckeyes defeated a less than formidable opponent in Kent State by a score of 51-17. That is why a lot of coaches would rather keep the same routine instead of having an open week.
The bottom line is that the bye week advantage is in the eyes of the beholder. As a head coach, if you can sell your staff and players on the fact that the benefits outweigh the negatives, it can be a positive. It also helps if you can have a weak opponent or a home game.
The 2001 loss to UCLA, the 2003 loss to Wisconsin and the 2004 loss the Northwestern all were after the open weeks and all were away games. The Buckeyes haven't lost to Penn State in the last three years. Hopefully, the 2005 open week provided the needed preparations as the Buckeyes march into Happy Valley.
Is JoePa Back?
When Penn State beat Minnesota this past week by a score of 44-14, it marked Joe Paterno's 101st victory since going into the Big Ten Conference.
That is quite a feat since Penn State has only been in the conference since 1993. Even though only 59 of those wins have been in Big Ten play, JoePa will go down as one of the all-time greats.
The 2005 Nittany Lions have a spark they haven't had the last few seasons. A mix of experience (18 returning starters) along with the talented youth of wide receiver Derrick Williams and defensive back Justin King, give Penn State a completely different personality than the Nittany Lions that have gone 7-16 that last two seasons.
Penn State is not only undefeated in the 2005 campaign but also is averaging nearly 40 points per game. Although their schedule hasn't been the toughest, the victory over Minnesota was impressive.
I have all the confidence in the world the Buckeyes will be victorious in Happy Valley, but it will likely be one hell of a fight. A talented Buckeye team against a determined Nittany Lion squad.
I still think the Buckeyes should march on to sweep the Big Ten Conference, but there is one thing you can be sure of Saturday -- there will be a pair of white socks and some old black coaching shoes worn by a guy everyone had counted out. JoePa will give it his best shot and so will his players. Joe Paterno is Penn State and Penn State fans need to appreciate their living legend.
Many Happy Memories
I had the opportunity to coach as an OSU assistant in six different games at Penn State.
I was there in 1994, when the Nittany Lions defeated Ohio State 63-14. That was the year we put on black socks to go with our white jerseys and gray pants. Needless to say, that didn't work.
But a year later, we came back and beat them 28-25 over there. That was the game where we went vertical at the end and Bobby Hoying threw downfield to tight end Rickey Dudley for a long pass play that set up Eddie George for the winning touchdown. That was memorable to go back there a year after losing by 49 and pull out a great win against a really good team.
Probably the most disappointing game there was in 2001, where we scored early in the game and had a nice lead before they came back and beat us 29-27. We missed a field goal that would have won us the game. That was disappointing because we felt we had the better team.
I can also remember the comeback backup quarterback Scott McMullen engineered in the 21-20 win we had there two years ago. He had to replace Craig Krenzel when he went down with an injury.
The things I think about when I think about Penn State are that you don't care what the records are. It is always going to be a tough football game. Their crowd is really into it. Even in the years where they didn't have a lot of talent they still always play you hard.
They play especially hard over there and they play hard for Joe.
I also remember some of the traffic problems we had getting in and out of there and to the airport. Sometimes, the best view of Happy Valley has been when we were in the air, on our way back to Columbus.
EDITOR'S NOTE -- Bill Conley is in his second year as football analyst for Bucknuts.com. He spent 17 years as an Ohio State assistant coach. He can also be heard on his weekly radio show each Sunday morning on WTVN-AM (610) from 9 a.m. to noon.
Coach Conley will host his next Chat session at the special time of 1 p.m. Eastern on Monday.