Vanderbilt Football: Bye-Bye To An Extra Bye
Notice one very specific detail about the 2015 college football schedule: It’s something you might not easily notice at first… because it’s not there.
What you need to notice is not the presence of something, but the absence of something, and it forms the basis for this general overview of Vanderbilt’s 2015 schedule on the gridiron.
Last season, the FBS college football carnival of color got underway in the middle of the final week of August. The first big game night was Thursday, August 28, 2014. This year, there is no late-August opener. Why is this the case, you might ask?
It’s a simple enough point of distinction. Last year, Labor Day fell on September 1, and since college football will always accompany Labor Day weekend, a full slate preceded that Monday holiday. This year, though, the movement one day forward puts September 1 on a Tuesday, which makes Labor Day as late as it can possibly be: September 7. This means the last weekend of August is no longer the lead-in to Labor Day. Since we have moved beyond the era of the “Kickoff Classic” or the special early-season thirteenth game, the 12-game campaign starts for everyone no earlier than Labor Day weekend (including the Thursday and Friday before it). For some particularly unlucky teams that start in week two of the season, Labor Day weekend is not so much a bye (it’s hard to have a bye when you haven’t started your season yet) as a weekend of waiting before a very packed schedule.
In the Big 12 Conference, the reality that there’s no conference championship game means that teams can play regular conference games on the final (non-Army-Navy) Saturday of the regular season. This year, that day is Saturday, Dec. 5. For the Big 12 teams playing on that Saturday, this season won’t be as compressed as it is for teams in conferences that do have a league title game. The SEC is obviously one of those leagues, which means that Vanderbilt has a tighter schedule this year.
Again, we’re not focusing on opponents – not immediately, at any rate. The main point being pursued here is that Vanderbilt will have fewer bye weeks this year compared to 2014. One less bell to answer, one less bye to enjoy. Given the gauntlet Southeastern Conference football has been for quite some time, that’s a real disadvantage for Vanderbilt. However, there’s more to the story than that.
The good news about Vanderbilt’s 2015 schedule, relative to this reduction in bye weeks, is partly rooted in the fact that the 2014 bye week didn’t do the team any good. The Commodores were smashed by Mississippi State coming out of a November bye. Narrowly viewed, it’s not as though the 2014 bye delivered extra value to the Dores or changed their fortunes.
The other piece of good news in 2015, relative to the lost bye from 2014, is that the one bye which does occur exists in the middle of the schedule, in October. If you’re going to have a one-bye season, your bye should be as centrally located as possible. If it’s early, the grind of the latter portion of the season could prove to be overwhelming. If there’s no bye late in the season and you get your only rest period in September, any downturn in fortunes in early October cannot be buffered or addressed with a teaching week and the respite which accompanies it. Vanderbilt can at least be thankful that its bye is in the right spot.
However, let’s not think that the lack of a bye couldn’t help. This is where the discussion takes one final turn relative to 2014.
Naturally, having a second bye is better than no bye at all, but Vanderbilt – at this stage in the program’s development – clearly needs (and needed) a second bye in September. The bye in November last year occurred much too late for VU to be able to change its spots, and for first-year coach Derek Mason to make significant course corrections AND have the ability to implement them. In year two of the Mason regime, one should expect some more consistency and stability, since players now know what to expect and are much more familiar with the system, which can be genuinely ingrained and more fully installed. Yet, with the program rebuilding under Mason – no one should pretend it’s not – the early portion of the second season is still a time in which a lot of learning will take place. It’s still a place on the schedule when a week off in the middle of September could be just the thing to enable to Dores to step back, gain a measure of added clarity, and see the way forward in 2015. That’s where the lack of a second bye could definitely hurt this team.
It’s true that in week three of the season, on Sept. 19, Vanderbilt hosts Austin Peay, an FCS team. This is as close to a bye week as Vanderbilt could realistically hope for. As much as outsiders might rail against the presence of FCS teams on the schedule, putting one in that week-three slot represents excellent scheduling by Vanderbilt. That is a necessarily more manageable opponent, sandwiched between two SEC games against Georgia (home) and Ole Miss (away). Vanderbilt did the best it reasonably could under the circumstances, and that bye week properly precedes a brutal stretch of division games (plus a road trip to Houston), but it remains that the Dores are going to have to learn on the fly in September and then power through late October and early November.
Bye-bye to an extra bye: It might not mean everything to Vanderbilt this season, but it might make 2015 just a little bit more challenging than it was already going to be.
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