The Bye Week: Rust or Respite?

Stanford is what is commonly referred to as <i>en fuego</i> these days, and that brings this bye week with mixed emotions. The team gets an opportunity for rest, repair and preparation. But is the break likely to derail the freight train instead? terry looks back at the bye weeks and subsequent results from the last two decades for answers.

Well, Stanford has a bye this week.  This is the hole in Stanford's schedule that opened up when the Notre Dame game was moved to the end of the season. Think for a moment about what might have been . . . wouldn't you have loved to see Stanford play Notre Dame at Stanford Stadium this weekend?  Wouldn't you have loved to see the Irish drag their dinged-up egos and their tarnished gold helmets into town right now?  Does anybody have any doubt that Stanford would have served up the last round at Davie's wake?  But... Notre Dame wanted the game moved so they could have a Thanksgiving weekend trip to California every year, and that's what they got.  Thus, the bye this week.  Stanford had the same bye in the first week of October two years ago, and they'll have the same bye two years from now.  So be it.  Here's hoping the Fighting Leprechauns go even further into the tank by the time they visit in November...

So, regretfully putting aside the delicious vision of thumping Notre Dame, what about the bye week?  Is it good to have a bye this week, or not? Stanford is in a groove right now.  I almost hate to see them take a week off.  On the other hand, Washington State looks tougher than expected. Stanford's extra week to prepare could be a big bonus.  Also, the extra week will allow Greg Schindler and any other injured players to get healthy again.  From the Stanford viewpoint, the bye has its good points and its bad points, though neither the advantages nor the disadvantages are hugely compelling.

But from the Washington State viewpoint, the emotional dynamics this week will be compelling indeed.  Washington State plays Oregon State this Saturday in Pullman.  The stars are lined up for the Cougars this weekend. They're 4-0 and they're on a roll.  It's their homecoming game.  They have a traditional rival coming to town:  this will be the 87th game between the Cougs and the Beavers, which makes this the Cougs' second longest-running rivalry.  The opposing coach is the despicable Dennis Erickson, who jilted Washington State after only two seasons as the Cougs' coach, leaving behind the wholesome wheat and lentil fields of the Palouse for the glitzy beaches and babes of Miami.  WSU's coach Mike Price has special incentive to beat Erickson:  the two of them are long-time friends, having gone to high school together in Everett, Washington.  The Cougs will be looking for revenge for last year's 38-9 drubbing by the Crips from Corvallis.  Oregon State suddenly looks vulnerable -- WSU is a 10 point favorite, if you can believe that.  The Cougs are still getting no respect, despite their 4-0 start. They are looking for a "statement" game -- and this game against the Sports Illustrated cover boys from Oregon State is it.  If they win, they'll be ranked.

No, the Cougs won't be worrying about Stanford this week.  And they're bound to have a let-down when they visit Palo Alto next week.  By that time, they may even be looking ahead to their next two games, both home games against top 10 opponents, Oregon and UCLA.  For Stanford, that's all good.

At least, that's all good in theory.  But what about history?  How has Stanford done after having a bye week?  The record is mixed.  Since 1980, Stanford's record after a bye week is 7-7.  Here's a history of Stanford's performance after bye weeks.

1980 -- A 6-4 Stanford team, under first-year coach Paul Wiggin, has a bye before the Big Game.  Despite having six All Pac 10 players on offense, including All Americans John Elway, Ken Margerum and Darrin Nelson, Stanford loses to a 2-8 Cal team.  Ugly . . . and an unfortunate sign of things to come in the Wiggin years.  The bye week obviously didn't help, might have hurt.

1987 -- Stanford, coming off its Gator Bowl season, opens with a road loss to Washington, then gets a bye.  After the bye, Stanford loses at Colorado. Stanford then loses at home to San Jose State and UCLA (49-0 -- remember that?), before rallying to win 5 of the last 7 games, ending up 5-6.  The bye didn't seem to make any difference.

1989 -- In Denny Green's first year, Stanford opens with road losses at Arizona and at then-doormat Oregon State (ouch).  After a bye, Stanford defeats Oregon, 18-17.  Stanford then loses its next five games, including losses to weaker opponents such as San Jose State, Utah and Washington State, and ends up 3-8.  The bye week probably helped.

1991 -- Stanford opens with losses to Washington and Arizona.  After a bye, Stanford defeats Colorado, 28-21, on the huge Stanford Centennial celebration weekend.  Vardell runs and runs, in a way that would become familiar later that year.  After a loss to Notre Dame, Stanford reels off seven wins in a row and is 8-3 before losing the Aloha Bowl.  The bye may have helped get Stanford on track.  Of course, replacing Jason Palumbis with Steve Stenstrom two weeks after the bye may have helped too.

1992 -- Stanford opens with a loss to Texas A&M on August 26 in one of those  pre-season "classic" games.  Stanford then has a bye before beginning its regular schedule.  Stanford wins the next five games, but probably would have done so without having a bye.  That was just a good team, ending up 10-3 with a #9 ranking.  The bye probably made no difference.

1993 -- Coming off its best season in many years, Stanford starts the year with a disappointing 2-3 record.  Stanford gets a bye before a critical game against highly-ranked Arizona.  Stanford desperately needs a win to get back on track.  They don't get it. Stanford plays a surprisingly good game in Tucson, but a heart-breaking Stenstrom fumble late in the game allows the Wildcats to pull it out. Stanford limps to a 4-7 record. Hard to say whether the bye helped or hurt.

1995 -- First year coach Tyrone Willingham leads Stanford to a 3-0-1 start, including a win in Eugene over the defending Pac 10 champion Oregon Ducks. Stanford then gets a bye week before going to Tempe to face Arizona State. The defense comes up with a key 4th quarter stop to win the game.  Stanford goes 7-3-1 before losing the Liberty Bowl.  The bye week might have helped.

1996 -- Under new quarterback Chad Hutchinson, Stanford struggles on offense, scoring only 10 points in a loss to Utah and getting shut out by Wisconsin.  Even Stanford's then-habitual win over San Jose State is not very reassuring.  Stanford takes a 1-2 record into the bye week.  However, they find no answers to their offensive problems, losing 27-6 at Washington after the bye.  Stanford later turns around the season to finish 7-5 with a blow-out win over Michigan State in the Sun Bowl, but the bye week didn't seem to help.

1997 -- Stanford starts the season 4-1, then has two disastrous games against the Arizona schools, turning the ball over 5 times in each of those games.  The bye week seems to be fortunately timed, allowing Stanford a chance to get back on track.  Nope.  The horror show continues after the bye, with losses to UCLA, USC and Washington State in which Stanford has a total of 12 turnovers.  The bye didn't help.

1998 -- In hindsight, we can see that the 1998 team was a young but talented team that was gaining the experience it needed to reach the Rose Bowl the next year.  Some of us said so at the time (I will take credit for being a believer).  However, other Stanford fans thought the 1998 team wasn't young -- just bad.  One thing o


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