Wisconsin keeps pedal down in bye week

It's a myth in college football that teams play better after bye weeks, and it especially holds true in the Big Ten.

The arrival of a permanent bye week has given Big Ten players extra time to recover and Big Ten coaches extra time to recruit. But it hasn't automatically equated to success on the field.

In 2008, the last time there was a league-wide bye week, the Big Ten went a combined 3-7 in games after byes (Purdue's bye week came in Week 1, which I didn't count). Things are a little better this season but still not great, as Big Ten teams have gone a combined 4-3 after bye weeks.

What's the secret to mastering the bye week? Wisconsin hopes it has found the answer.

The Badgers spent a large chunk of last week with their first-team offense and first-team defense on the practice field. Although they squeezed in "development-only" practice periods where younger players, especially true freshmen redshirting the season, could get in some extra work, they didn't take their foot off the gas.

"We played a lot of good on good, a lot of speed vs. speed, our ones vs. ones," coach Bret Bielema said, "did that every day over the course of the week that we practiced, just so that our guys stayed fresh and got used to the speed of the game and didn't have a lull."

Aside from last Tuesday's practice, which featured a lot of development-only periods, Wisconsin essentially operated as business as usual.

"Wednesday, Thursday, Friday stuff was a lot more of speed vs. speed," Bielema said. "If it was an 18-period practice, 12 of it was that and six of it was developmental, so there was still good work for those guys."

Bielema hadn't experienced such an aggressive bye-week approach before he joined Barry Alvarez's staff at Wisconsin in 2004. He has continued to use it and saw good results last year, when Wisconsin had two bye weeks and followed them with a 37-0 win against Purdue and a 51-10 win at Hawaii.

The ninth-ranked Badgers resume play Saturday at Purdue.

"You've got to stick to what you know," Bielema said. "We just wanted to stay fresh and stay fast."