Having a bye week is almost universally seen as a positive for football teams.
Usually, they enter the next game a little bit fresher and a little bit healthier, without building up too much rust missing just the one game.
But what happens if that bye comes in the first week of the season?
That’s what the NJCAA 10th-ranked Garden City Community College Broncbusters are facing as they begin their season at 7 p.m. Saturday at Broncbuster Stadium against visiting Dodge City, a week after most other teams in the NJCAA opened.
The Conquistadors, for example, opened their season a week ago, suffering a 38-20 loss to Independence.
“There’s definite advantages and definite disadvantages,” GCCC head coach Jeff Sims said. “The advantages are they haven’t seen us (play) and we’ve seen them. We can evaluate their tape and see what they’ve got.”
The disadvantage is that most, if not all, football coaches believe their largest growth in a season is between Game 1 and Game 2, when first-game errors and jitters can be corrected through film and practice.
For the Conqs, those mistakes included a dropped kick-off return and a dropped long snap on a punt — three turnovers total.
“We don’t have a first game to correct those mistakes,” Sims said. “If we have those first-game mistakes, and they (Dodge City) play like it’s a second game, we’re going to lose.”
Sims’ counterpart, Dodge City’s Gary Thomas, agreed with that assessment, and is hoping his team will correct some of their miscues against the Pirates, and take advantage of whatever mistakes the Busters make.
But how do the Conqs prepare for an opponent who has no game film in 2018?
“I would think Garden is probably somewhat similar on defense as they’ve been the last two years,” Thomas said. “They haven’t had any turnover on defense (defensive coordinator Josh Hager is in his third year), and they’ve been pretty consistent. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
But offense is a slightly different animal. The Busters, who went 8-4 in 2017, leaned heavily on the arm and legs of Terry Wilson last season, as the now-Kentucky starter accounted for 31 touchdowns in 2017.
“I don’t think they’ll be running triple option or anything,” Thomas said. “I know Jeff (Sims) would do anything at any time if it means winning a football game, but I don’t think he’s a true believer in running the option. I think they’ll be relatively similar to us on offense than different.”
That’s usually meant a more traditional offense, leaning heavily on the run game and then throwing in some downfield passes and a few option wrinkles.
The Busters have a stellar stable of running backs, led by Charles West (972 rushing yards and 7 TDs in 2017) and Georgia Tech transfer Dedrick Mills. They’ll be helmed by either Nick Bohn or David Moor at quarterback and five returning offensive linemen anchor the front.
The Conqs, meanwhile, are using a two-quarterback system to begin the year, with Drew Harris and John Lux.
“We have two guys who did everything we asked them to do,” Thomas said. “We feel like we’re competitive with both of them on the field, so I wanted to give them both opportunities.”
Harris was 10 of 17 for 128 yards and a touchdown against the Pirates, and Lux was 7 of 13 for 69 yards and an interception.
And while the Conqs — who return a good bulk of their offensive line — managed just 2.3 yards per rush as a team, much of the negative yardage was due to five Independence sacks and a fumbled punt snap.
On defense, the Conqs return a pair of sophomores in Lakia Henry, a four-star inside linebacker committed to Tennessee, and Koby Perry, a three-star safety.
“They’re a talented football team,” Sims said of Dodge. “If they correct their mistakes, they’re going to play well. We have always felt that Dodge City has the best coaching staff in the league, and they always do a good job presenting schematics that give you problems on both sides of the ball.”