"I kind of sit back and see where we are," Alvarez said Friday. "Then I like to see where this team is during practice. Then we'll sit down and I'll list some goals myself. Then I'll sit down with… the leaders of the team and the seniors and we just talk about it… ‘here are some of the things that I'd like to set as goals and what are some things that you'd like to do?' We get together and I kind of lead them through it."
Alvarez and his players have always emphasized that the expectations they set for themselves are their only concerns. How well regarded the Badgers are outside of their locker room, they feel, is irrelevant.
It is not that UW has been entirely wanting for respect. This will likely be the first season since 1996 that the Badgers have not cracked the preseason top 25 in both the Associated Press and the coaches' polls. But good or bad, outside expectations have no bearing on what Alvarez's aims are for the year.
"Our expectations are always higher than the outside expectations," Alvarez said.
That mentality helped UW defensive end Jamal Cooper, for one, laugh it off when he picked up a couple college football preview magazines earlier this summer.
"It was kind of funny so I put them down," Cooper said in a telephone interview earlier this month. "You can't look at those too much."
Most prognosticators have picked UW to finish in the bottom half of the Big Ten this season. The reason is simple and logical: the Badgers have to replace 14 of 24 starters this year, more than every conference team except Northwestern.
"You can't pay attention to those because it's all speculation on who's coming back," Alvarez said. "How could somebody rate us high when we had so many seniors on the team (last year)? We got a lot of guys that no one knows who their names was. But a year ago today no one knew Erasmus James either."
"Football's football," Alvarez said. "Somebody sitting in New York writing a magazine or whatever, what the hell do they know? Really, it makes for good reading. It's interesting, but it really, you know, as long as I've been in this league I've never seen; we won back-to-back Rose Bowls and had the whole team coming back and I don't think we were picked to win the Big Ten. It's always Michigan and Ohio State. That's the way it is."
Last season the Badgers were ranked No. 21 in the nation prior to the season, rose to No. 4, and finished No. 17 after a 9-3 campaign. This year an above .500 season could be viewed a success outside of the UW locker room.
"We are going out there with the attitude to win every game," Cooper said. "It is just like the same thing that we did last year, ‘1-0'. And that's the basic concept of this team. That's how we are going to treat everything. We are trying to stay 1-0."