The Michigan Wolverines will enjoy a bye this weekend and will resume the season Oct. 29 against the Michigan State Spartans. “Improvement Week,” as head coach Jim Harbaugh likes to call it, is a chance for the team to rest, recover and prepare for the final five-game stretch of the regular season.
However, some teams and coaches look at these weekends as more of a detriment to success because the weekend can disrupt habits, routines, focus, and momentum. Under Harbaugh, the Wolverines have fared well after the bye, posting a 5-2 overall record and 4-1 record in home games.
In large part, bye week effects are overblown and the majority of the time, the team before the off week, is the same team after. Excluding 2020 where there were no bye weeks, let’s take a closer look at how Michigan has performed in each game following a bye in the Harbaugh era.
2015 – Oct. 31, W at Minnesota, 29-26
The week before the bye, Michigan said one of the hardest losses of the Harbaugh era, and it can be summed up in four words to avoid discussing it in more painful detail: “Trouble with the snap.”
Facing Minnesota, the Wolverines came out sluggish but slowly got their sea legs beneath him as the two teams exchanged the lead six times. Michigan overcame an injury to starting quarterback Jake Rudock and held at the goal line as time expired to bring the Little Brown Jug back to Ann Arbor.
2016 – Oct. 22, W vs. Illinois, 41-8
In what could have been perceived as a trap game the week before the Wolverines went to East Lansing, Michigan left zero doubt and sprinted out to a 21-0 first quarter lead. Michigan outgained the Illini 561-172, and Illinois’ only points came late in garbage time.
2017 – Oct. 7, L vs. Michigan State, 14-10
Michigan came out with a pass-heavy approach (35 attempts) with a back-up quarterback in John O’Korn in a monsoon. It is Harbaugh’s worst game plan to date and Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio simply — and smartly — let the Wolverines beat themselves.
In a game that featured 17 combined punts and Michigan losing the turnover battle 5-0, the Paul Bunyan Trophy returned to East Lansing. Michigan’s only home loss following a bye came against Michigan State at night, so I do not blame any fan for feeling uncomfortably superstitious about next weekend’s matchup.
2018 – Nov. 3, W vs. Penn State, 42-7
Michigan had just beaten Wisconsin 38-13, and won at Michigan State 21-7, to spark the “Revenge Tour” before the bye week. Fans were worried that perhaps the break would disrupt the train, but it instead served as a catalyst for Michigan to gain steam and run Penn State off the tracks.
The No. 14 Nittany Lions only had one drive longer than four plays before they were down 42-0, and were only able to prevent the shutout once the backups were in the game.
2019(A) – Sept. 21, L at Wisconsin, 35-14
Before the bye, Michigan struggled to an overtime win against a run-heavy Army team in Ann Arbor. Against a run-heavy Wisconsin team with Jonathan Taylor at running back in Madison after the bye, it was 28-0 before you could blink.
The final score was not indicative of the actual beating Michigan took in this one. The Wolverines were 0-for-11 on third down and were out-rushed 350-40. If fans were dubious about defensive coordinator Don Brown before this game, this sealed his fate in the court of public opinion.
2019(B) – Nov. 16, W vs. Michigan State, 44-10
2019 was a weird calendar year in college football and Michigan was afforded two bye weeks. The results following the latter were much more encouraging as Michigan embraced a pass-first identity.
In Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio’s final game against Michigan, he was dominated like never before. The Wolverines scored 24 unanswered points after briefly trailing 7-0 in the first quarter and coasted to victory.
Behind quarterback Shea Patterson’s best day as a Wolverine — 24-of-33 for 384 yards and four touchdowns — Michigan brought the Paul Bunyan Trophy home in their most lopsided win in the rivalry since 2002.
2021 – Oct. 23, W vs. Northwestern, 33-7
After an emotional win in Lincoln before the bye and Michigan State looming a week away, several looked at Northwestern as a trap game. But aside from one play —Northwestern running back Ryan Hull’s 75-yard touchdown scamper before the end of the first half — Michigan easily rolled through the Wildcats.
The Wolverines were lethargic early, but a 17-point third quarter put this one away for good, and Michigan reached 7-0 for the first time since 2016.