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Double bye: Bad for fans, so-so for teams

Two games in a four-week stretch isn't any football fan's idea of fun, but it's an unfortunate reality for supporters of Illinois and Nebraska.

The Illini are off this week for the second time already (they also didn't play in Week 4), and Nebraska has a bye next week after not playing in Week 5, along with five other Big Ten teams. The double bye has reared its ugly head this season around the FBS, creating unsatisfying Saturdays in the Big Ten and elsewhere.

This week's Big Ten schedule features only four games, just like the Week 5 slate.

In May, I took a close look at the double bye, which is in place both this season and next because of the extra week in the schedule. As league schedule czar Mark Rudner told me then, the fact that most of 2013 and 2014 schedules were completed before the Big Ten implemented a championship game and moved its regular season to after Thanksgiving forced the league to spread out 48 conference games across 10 weeks rather than nine. Things will be better in 2014 as there are more conference games (56) with Maryland and Rutgers joining the league. There's also additional flexibility with nonleague games, of which all but one were bunched up at the start of this season.

But right now, it stinks. October, on the whole, lacks many marquee Big Ten matchups to begin with, as the crossover schedule leaves much to be desired. The double-bye certainly doesn't help.

You know how I feel, and I think I know how you feel. What about the teams?

"Normally, I don't think I'd like it," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said, "but with the youth on our team, it's kind of what the doctor ordered for us. I think it'll help us get better, not just injury-wise, but giving us a chance to grow, especially on the defensive side of the ball. I like the way it's set up for us."

Injuries are the biggest reason why open weeks can be helpful for teams. Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez injured his toe before the team's first open week, which allowed him to rest and allowed the coaches to prepare redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong for a bigger role.

Although Martinez is making progress and will play as soon as he can, possibly Saturday at Purdue, Pelini acknowledged that the upcoming bye week will play a role in how they proceed.

The second bye also allows Illinois to heal up. Coach Tim Beckman hopes to get defensive lineman Teko Powell back and others back in the mix. Powell could return for Illinois' Oct. 19 home game against Wisconsin.

Beckman hasn't dealt with two bye weeks so close together before in his career, and seems lukewarm about it.

"As a coach, you hate to get away from it because you're with a young football team and you want a young football team to stay in a schedule as much as possible," Beckman said.

Illinois players will use the week mainly for self-evaluation. Sophomore cornerback/returner V'Angelo Bentley, for example, will review the 237 plays he has logged through the first five games.

Pelini thinks the double bye would be tougher to deal with if he had an older team that needed less refining outside of the game setting.

"It adds another week for you, and sometimes you get into a rhythm and you don't like that bye week," Pelini said. "If you're a real veteran group, sometimes it's real hard to get them through not only one bye, but a second bye. But I don't think we're in that situation."

Pelini liked Nebraska's plan in the first open week and will repeat it after the Purdue game.

"I'm not in control of scheduling and having open weeks and that sort of thing," Beckman said. "So you live with it, you adapt with it, you make it positive. That's what we're doing."