Barry Alvarez rarely talked about national championships when he was the head coach at Wisconsin. On occasion, during his 16 seasons leading the program, he was asked whether winning a national title was a goal, and he largely brushed it aside. His philosophy was if you win the Big Ten, then you’ll be in position to play for more at the end of the year.
The landscape has changed significantly since Alvarez was the full-time coach, with the move to a playoff system in 2014. Still, with a large number of current players stating this spring that their goals included making the college football playoff and winning a national title, it made sense to see how Alvarez, now the athletic director at Wisconsin, views their comments.
“I think it’s healthy,” Alvarez said Monday. “Our guys aren’t backing away from it. They went in last year with high expectations and lived up to them. They were one possession away from playing in the [playoff]. They’ve got a good nucleus coming back — a very good nucleus. [They’ve got] some of the best players in the country at their positions.
“I think they understand how you have to work in the offseason and how you have to come together as a team. All of that comes into play. It’s not just having good guys. There are some other things you have to do to become a good team.”
Wisconsin returns 10 of the 11 players that started on offense in the Orange Bowl and have All-Big Ten players such as linebacker T.J. Edwards and safety D’Cota Dixon returning on defense. It’s led many to put the Badgers very high in their way-too-early Top 25 rankings, including USA Today having them at No. 3.
“The fact they think [they can win a national title], that’s great. I think it’s awesome,” Alvarez said. “I think they have a chance to be a really good team.”
Joe Ferguson tryout with the Packers
Former Badgers safety Joe Ferguson, Alvarez’s grandson, got the opportunity to tryout with the Green Bay Packers during their rookie orientation camp on Friday and Saturday. A backup for much of his career at Wisconsin, Ferguson played well last fall when injuries cropped up in the secondary. He tied for the team lead in interceptions (4) and returned one of them for a touchdown.
It was a year that made the possibility of a professional career something to think about for Ferguson and his family.
“Joe came to me and said he wasn’t finished and that he wanted to continue playing if he could. I gave him my blessing,” Alvarez said. “If he wants to take a look and see how he matches up, [that’s great]. If something works out for him, I’d be thrilled for him.”
Tryout players weren’t made available to the media, but, according to Alvarez, Ferguson felt good about what he was able to accomplish during the two days of practice.
“He thought he did pretty well,” Alvarez said. “He got a lot positive comments during practice. He picked up the defense quickly. He didn’t make any huge plays but was never out of position.”
Alvarez said that Ferguson has another tryout scheduled with the Indianapolis Colts when they hold their rookie camp later this week.
Bucky on Parade
Monday was the start of Bucky on Parade, an art event that will see 85 Bucky Badger statues placed throughout Madison and Dane County over the next four months. All of them will have a different theme. The one at Camp Randall Stadium is called “Bucky Alvarez,” and it’s dressed like Alvarez – headset, sunglasses, sweater vest and khakis.
“Yeah, that’s a game day outfit,” Alvarez said when asked if he liked it. “Absolutely.”
All the proceeds from the event will benefit local charities, including basketball coach Greg Gard’s initiative, “Garding Against Cancer.”
“I think the project is good,” Alvarez said. “It’s for a good cause, and you can have a little fun with it at the same time. It’s very positive.”