BY Larry Lage
By LARRY LAGE
The Associated Press
Kirk Ferentz has almost seen it all in the Big Ten, leading Iowa’s program for 15 seasons and spending nearly a decade on Hayden Fry’s staff earlier in his coaching career.
For the first time this year, he is getting two Saturdays off this fall.
“There’s a lot of firsts going on with expansion,” Ferentz said Tuesday.
When football seasons start in August and ends after Thanksgiving – as it does this year in the Big Ten – teams will have two byes over 14 weeks.
After that happens again for conference teams again next year, they will not have two Saturdays off again until the 2019, 2024 and 2025 seasons. The other years, they’ll have only one bye during 13-week regular seasons.
The byes give players a chance to rest and relax and the coaches get a chance to take a breath. Some use the time to recruit, as Nebraska coach Bo Pelini and some of his staff did last week.
“Some coaches went on the road, I went on the road,” Pelini said. “It’s an off week for a game, but there’s a lot of work that needs to be done and we try to make the most out of every opportunity.”
Teams – such as Indiana against Penn State – have taken advantage of having two weeks to prepare for a game they ultimately won. The Nittany Lions, coming off a bye, hope the extra time they had last week helps them upset No. 4 Ohio State on Saturday night.
Planning for bye weeks is a balancing act for coaches, who weigh the positives of giving players a breather against the negatives of not having many hard-hitting practices to improve on the field.
“I am probably more toward giving them a little bit of a break, let them study and get caught up on their academics and get healthy,” Penn State coach Bill O’Brien said. “To me, it’s about being fresh and healthy and being ready to go on Saturday night.”
No. 25 Nebraska, likewise, will have had two weeks off before it plays Saturday at Minnesota.
In Pelini’s program, though, the Cornhuskers don’t get a lot of time to sit back and chill during a bye week, not when they had three tough practices with the first-string offense facing the first-string defense a lot.
“I told the guys, ‘You’re going to get your rest, but when we’re going to go, we’re going to go because we have a lot of improvements that need to be made,”’ Pelini said.
Wisconsin is off this week, and that might give standout linebacker Chris Borland enough time to get healthy enough to play next week against the Hawkeyes. Borland left the Badgers’ 56-32 win at Illinois on Saturday after aggravating the same right hamstring that caused him to sit out the final two games of the regular season last year.
“It’s a good time for us, especially with a little bit of a tweak to Chris to allow him to heal him get back,” Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said. “I like where this one fell. The timing is good and maybe is a little bit fortunate for us.”
And, Ferentz felt lucky that a bye earlier this month allowed him to simply be a grandfather for a change on a Saturday in the fall.
“I went to a granddaughter’s first birthday party that afternoon,” he said. “So, it was a pretty good day.”
Follow Larry Lage on Twitter: http://twitter.com/larrylage