Alvarez Verbatim

Coach Barry Alvarez addressed the media Thursday afternoon in Chicago at the annual Big Ten Luncheon. Here is a look at what Alvarez said, verbatim, as he addressed topics from Lee Evans' status, to the Badgers' 13-game schedule, to a look at his top returners and his outlook for the Big Ten.

Good morning. It's a pleasure to be here with you. I got confused a little bit ago. I walked into the back of the room and really wasn't paying much attention to who was up here. I guess it was (Northwestern Coach) Randy Walker. I started to get a cup of coffee and heard about Tiger Woods for five minutes. I wondered where the hell I was. But I guess this is the right place.

Let me tell you a little bit about our football team. We have an interesting schedule. We'll have 13 regular season games, the most in the history of the school. The thing that that does, is it really makes us as a staff go back and take a look at how you practice, re-evaluate how you go about things, make sure your players are fresh at the end of the year. It's new for us. So we've spent a lot of time talking with some NFL people and some guys in the Big 12 who have had very long seasons, and how they've tried to adjust practices and adjust their schedules to help your players along. So I think we have a good plan. I like the fact that we're playing 13 games. I think it will be a very challenging non-conference. Obviously the conference is going to be very challenging. But before I made the decision to play 13 games, I talked to the players and particularly the seniors to see if they wanted to play the games. They were in favor of it, so we moved forward.

As I look at our football team, I think we have a very good nucleus. People talk about baseball teams, you always talk about, to be strong, they have to be strong up the middle. I think as a football team, we're strong up the middle. We may have our best offensive line returning. Five starters back from last year. I thought by the end of last year they played extremely well. Al Johnson, our center – we've had some great centers – I think will be the best one that we've had. He will be a three-year starter, captain. Ben Johnson at left tackle will be a four-year starter. He's outstanding. I know he's rated extremely high, has a chance to be one of the better tackles that we've ever had. We've got two starting guards that were freshmen last year that really progressed well. When you have a line that could be the strength of your football team, that's always a good starting point.

The most important position I think is quarterback. I think we have two that have been productive. I don't know how many quarterbacks that are still around that have a win in the Rose Bowl under their belt. Brooks Bollinger has won a lot of football games for us. He will be a four-year starter. Very productive. Probably more important than anything else, he's probably the best leader that I've ever been around. The one thing we've got to do with Brooks is teach him how to protect himself. He's tough to a fault. He's missed some games just by trying to be more physical than he has to be at quarterback. Jim Sorgi has stepped in and has been very productive in a backup role and has started a number of games for us. Many of the games that he's started have been against some of the better quarterbacks at that particular time. His first start was against Purdue and Drew Brees the year they went to the Rose Bowl. I think his numbers were better and he had an outstanding game. Last year against Oregon and (Joey) Harrington, he played well enough to win the football game, so I feel good about that position.

Running back, we return Anthony Davis, who led the league in rushing last year. He's about 10-12 pounds heavier, he's stronger. I would lie to you if I stood here and told you I expected him to have those numbers a year ago. He was a pleasant surprise. Yet I expect now that he will be even better this year than he was a year ago, so I feel very good about that.

Lee Evans is a question mark, and unfortunately he had that injury. Who would think…you talk about all the great receivers that have ever played in this league. And I know we're known for a team that is just going to run the ball. We've got 10 straight years with a 1,000-yard rusher. But a receiver from Wisconsin sets the all-time season record for receiving yards. That's what Lee Evans did last year. He had an injury at the end of spring, and I'm really happy to report he's progressing extremely well. He went to see his doctor for the two-month checkup the other day. He's been running. He ran stadium steps the other day. He's been cleared to practice once a day with us. When we start camp he will rehab in the morning and will practice in the afternoon. We will not put him on the field until he's ready. And he had the best line I've ever heard. He said in an interview he was doing, someone asked him when he's going to play. He said, "When I play, you're not going to see Lee Evans' brother on the field. You're going to see Lee Evans.' And I think that sent a strong message. And we're not going to put him back out there until he's 100 percent, until he feels better. When that will be, I don't know. I know he at least wants to play in all the Big Ten games. I would be very surprised if he isn't here before that, but that remains to be seen.

So I think we have a chance to be very good offensively. Darrin Charles is a 6-7 wide receiver. He played for us and was very productive as a true freshman. He's going to have to step up as well as some others. I think we have a chance to be balanced on offense and very effective.

Defensively, I think we list three starters back, but I think we have eight guys that have started. It's a little deceiving when you take a look at our defensive line. We have Darius Jones and Jake Sprague who were both starters going into the season a year ago. The very first day of practice, both were injured. Both sat the season and redshirted. They'll be back. Anttaj Hawthorne started for us at the end of the season as a true freshmen at noseguard. He was very productive, and has a chance to be outstanding. Erasmus James has a chance to be one of the best pass rushers we've ever had. So I really think our defensive front will be one of the better ones that we've had.

Jeff Mack played extremely well. We moved him back to inside linebacker. We will have to be more consistent in the back end, and probably the one question area for us going into the season is developing some consistency in our kickers. Our kickers alone probably cost us at least three games a year ago. So we signed a junior college kicker. He's a punter and kicker. Hopefully we can create some competition, and get some more productivity and consistency in the kicking game. So I feel good about this football team, and I'm anxious to get started. With that I will open it to any questions you may have:

QUESTION: Could you talk a little bit about what an advantage it is to be the only school in the Big Ten with a returning senior quarterback?

ALVAREZ: Whether it's a senior or not, I think if you have a quarterback…that's the most important position. Because there are so many things that a defense can do to dictate a game, that a quarterback always has to be able to answer a blitz question. You always rely on the quarterback to make a first down and move the chains. When you have someone that's returning who has done it, who's been through the fire, I think you have an advantage. Particularly when they're a good one. And I look around the league and I see a few good ones coming back. But Brooks has been through a lot of wars, he's been in front of a lot of big crowds. He's handled about every situation that you could possibly be in, he's been experienced in it all, and I think that's essential to have a great season.

QUESTION: With your 13-game schedule, including a bye week in September, how do you respond to the claims of those that say there's not enough time in the college football schedule for a playoff?

ALVAREZ: I'm not in favor of a playoff myself. I would be in favor of an additional game. I like the bowl situation as it is. I think bowl games are a tremendous experience. I don't think there's ever been a bad bowl. It's a tremendous experience for the (players). I would not like to lose the bowl structure. Yet I see at the end of the bowl season, there's been controversy. I can see adding one more game, where you can have a consensus of maybe the top four, and then those two two teams playing, where it wouldn't take much more time.

QUESTION: Are you re-emphasizing special teams this year? Because Wisconsin for many years was known as the best special teams program in the Big Ten.

ALVAREZ: We aren't going to emphasize it any more than we have in the past. I think we were maybe lulled to sleep. We had a string of great kickers, and we were very productive in the kicking game. I think we had three years in a row where we had the finalist for the (Lou) Groza Award. We had the Ray Guy Award winner, and maybe you take the fact that it's just going to happen for granted. Yet we let it slip last year. We've always put a great emphasis on it. We put just as much emphasis on it last year as before, we just didn't get the productivity. So we're going to create a little more competition this year and hopefully get back to where we were.

QUESTION: What if your seniors said, 13 games is too much, we don't want to play?

ALVAREZ: Good question, and let me first preface this…my chancellor asked me if we would play that game (Fresno State). The state had taken away, I believe it was $700,000 away from the athletic department. Our projected budget would have been $500,000 in the red. He asked if I would consider playing that game. I told him I would get back to him. I wanted to talk to the players. If the players were adamant, if they did not want to play that game, I would have gone back to the chancellor and told him I did not want to play that game.

QUESTION: Wisconsin has been a fixture in the postseason in recent years. What was it like last season, not going to a bowl game?

ALVAREZ: I love my home, but I don't want to spend Christmas at home. It wasn't a lot of fun for any of us. I think what it did, was it created more of a focus for all of our players and staff, things we have to do to make sure it doesn't happen again.

QUESTION: In 1999, the Big Ten had three teams in the top 10 at the end of the year. Last year it didn't have any teams in the top 10, and for five weeks during the season. Do you believe the league is in a transitional period? Or do you feel there are some teams in this league that could be among the nation's elite?

ALVAREZ: I think that remains to be seen. This is a great time for us. We're all optimistic. Have you ever heard somebody say, we had a bad spring? Or a bad summer? None of my guys are in shape coming back? Everybody is optimistic at this point. I think we have several teams in our league that have a chance to be an elite team. It's cyclical. Back in that particular year, if you remember, everybody was asking the same question about the Pac Ten. They hadn't won so many Rose Bowls in a row, they weren't in the top 10. What was the matter with Pac Ten football? Then all of a sudden there were several teams from that league that came out and were in the top 10, and did very well in bowl games, etc. I think we have a chance to be a very good league. I don't see a bad team in our league, and I think there are several that have a chance to be great.

QUESTION: Can you talk about going into the season without a big-time corner like Fletcher or Echols, and who do you see stepping into that role?

ALVAREZ: Well Scott Starks started for us as a true freshman last year. At times he weighed less than 150 pounds. He played against some very good receivers. He held his own, was burned a few times. He works extremely hard. He's from the same mold as Jamar Fletcher. We have a young man that's had an inconsistent career in B.J. Tucker. He's one of the faster sprinters in the Big Ten. I saw a maturity and confidence level from him in the spring in the way he's gone about carrying himself since spring practice, that I think those two really have a chance to take it to the next level and be outstanding.

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