Obviously, the most important reason UW traveled here Christmas day was to prepare for the Jan. 2 game, but the early arrival also gives the Badger team a chance to experience everything that goes along with a bowl game.
Head coach Barry Alvarez said Tuesday afternoon that he was making many of the week's scheduled festivities—which include a trip to Universal Studios, Walt Disney World and an Orlando Magic game—optional, but that most of the team had been going to the events.
"I want them to experience it," Alvarez said. "I talk to them about taking advantage of the experience and not being a fool and sitting back at the hotel."
Most of the events take place early in the week, allowing players to enjoy the events while taking part in the lighter practices. When the harder practices begin in the three days leading up to the game, the extra activities will need to be set aside.
"It's nice to take care of these things now and then once you get closer to focus [on the game]," offensive lineman Matt Lawrence said. "But you can't beat this weather." Mid-70s and sunny has been the typical forecast this week.
The senior Lawrence also said that each bowl game has its own appeal.
"Each bowl game has it's unique aspect to it," Lawrence said. "You want to take advantage of the opportunities you are given. You've got to do that stuff."
Luckily for the players, Tuesday night's trip to Gatorland was not optional. Once there, they got to watch their coach face off with Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville.
The two coaches were pitted against one another as they raced to see who could pull an alligator—with its mouth taped shut of course—from the water.
Alvarez won, and luckily walked away uninjured.
"I almost got a fourth hernia in three years … it was a strain," Alvarez said. "I got it out of the water before Tuberville."
All jokes aside, however, Alvarez wants his team to enjoy the experience, but also come to practice prepared.
"Experience it, but when we practice and when we meet I want their attention," he said.
Alvarez stands behind Bielema
Current defensive coordinator and future head coach Bret Bielema will have a lot on his plate to open 2006, including filling his new staff and maintaining recruiting efforts as he prepares to take over for Alvarez.
But Alvarez said Tuesday that those objectives were not getting in the way of bowl preparations.
"Bret's working hard as far as recruiting, making a lot of contacts and interviewing people as far as staff, but not at the expense of his first priority, and that's this game, and game-planning," Alvarez said. "He's kept me abreast of exactly what he's doing and how he's doing. He's been a tireless worker."
The current head coach also stood behind his coordinator and future replacement, deflecting some of the criticism he has taken this season.
Bielema's defensive unit was among the best in the country a year ago, but has struggled this season, giving up 432.5 yards per game, No. 100 in the nation.
That production has led some fans and media members to question Alvarez's choice and the timing of his decision to make Bielema the Badgers' future head man. But Alvarez is not buying such quick criticism.
"I think some of you guys have jumped to conclusions," Alvarez said. "I think our fans should be excited about our football team that will be returning. … Let him coach, let's not start judging somebody too soon."