Inside North Carolina’s odd rest advantage pattern against Tech

The Georgia Tech-North Carolina series has been rife with anomalies.

The Yellow Jackets won 14 of 16 against the Tar Heels from 1998-2013. Tech and North Carolina played in the highest-scoring game in ACC history, a 68-50 win for the Jackets in 2012.

Last year, the Tar Heels came back from a 21-0 deficit to win 38-31 at Bobby Dodd Stadium, the largest lead that Tech has given up in a defeat in school history. (Duke would have tied the record had it held on against the Jackets last week, as it rallied from a 28-7 hole to take a late lead before succumbing.)

So, perhaps this nugget — one that Tech fans with persecution complexes pick at like a scab — fits squarely into the unlikely outcomes that this series produced. When Tech and North Carolina meet Saturday afternoon, it will be the fifth time in coach Paul Johnson’s nine seasons that the Tar Heels will be coming off an open date and the Jackets will not.

“Sure, (the extra rest) helps,” Johnson said. “Anytime you’ve got a down week before you play somebody it helps. More than anything, with being healthy, getting your guys back and that kind of thing, it’s got to help.”

The conventional wisdom goes that open dates before facing the Jackets are particularly valuable because they give defenses extra practice time against Tech’s unconventional spread-option offense. It’s why Tech opponents often devote time in spring practice and in the preseason to ready the defense to play the option, as well as to give extra prep time to the offensive scout team to mimic it.

The frequency is curious. Since 2008, Johnson’s first season at Tech, the most that any other ACC team has faced any one team with a rest advantage is three times — Miami, against Virginia Tech. No one else has had that break against a particular opponent more than twice.

Johnson asserted Wednesday that teams, who are allowed to make scheduling requests (though not always granted), can ask to play a particular opponent coming off their bye week.

“I think that’s what happens,” he said. “I’m serious.”

He apparently is mistaken. In an email, an ACC spokeswoman said that teams cannot make a request to play a specific team after its open date. Asked about it this week, Duke coach David Cutcliffe said that teams don’t have control over when byes are, much less who they play after it.

North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said: “I don’t have any control over it. I wish I did.”

Johnson might be excused his disbelief, particularly given the anomalous frequency that the Tar Heels have had byes before the Jackets. Further, over his tenure, the Jackets have faced conference opponents who had advantageous rest 10 times, including twice this season. That ties Wake Forest for second most behind Virginia Tech, with 11.

However, all 10 of Georgia Tech’s games with disadvantaged rest were against Coastal opponents, where only seven of Virginia Tech’s were.

Conversely, Tech has had five games against ACC opponents when they had an advantage in rest.

Virginia Tech has been disadvantaged most, with 11 games, although only seven were against Coastal opponents. Wake had nine against Atlantic teams.

Conversely, Tech has had five games in which it had more time to prepare than its ACC opponent.

By comparison, North Carolina has had six games in which a conference opponent had more rest, four in the division. (In scheduling games, the ACC does not treat division and non-division games differently.)

A statement to the AJC from ACC senior associate commissioner for football Michael Strickland did not directly answer emailed questions about whether the ACC was aware of North Carolina’s preponderance of games against Tech in which it had a rest advantage, or if it might take that into consideration going forward.

“When building our conference schedule, the charge from our schools is to create a schedule that complies with our parameters to ensure competitive equity, fulfills our television obligations and maximizes exposure for ACC Football,” the statement read. “Within the logistics of this process, it must also take into account all of the institutionally scheduled non-conference games.”

Perhaps a significant factor in this situation is that the ACC’s model of competitive equity does not incorporate equal rest as a scheduling principle except in instances when teams play Thursday nights after Saturday games. Another, certainly, is that because building the schedule is puzzle with multiple moving parts, tweaking one specific game is unfeasible.

The considerable irony in this situation, though, is that the Jackets were 3-1 in the four games in which North Carolina had extra rest, and 0-2 in the past two seasons, when both played the previous week. In the other five Johnson-era games when ACC opponents had extra rest, Tech is 2-3. The Jackets are 5-0 in conference games when they’ve come off a bye and the opponent has not.

On Saturday, Fedora’s team will take the field at Kenan Stadium rested and eager to stop one pattern while extending another.

“I don’t know if you get to pick the ideal time, but for us, we really needed it,” he said. “We were beat up physically and mentally, and it just so happens that it gives us some extra practices on Georgia Tech. So you hope that that’s beneficial.”