After making three December bowl games in four years under late head coach Dave McClain, Wisconsin went eight straight seasons without being bowl eligible, sporting a record of 25-64 under four different head coaches.
It was not until Alvarez's fourth season that the bowl games began pouring in. In the next 13 seasons under Alvarez, Wisconsin made 11 bowl games, winning eight of them, including three Rose Bowls.
Now, with Wisconsin heading to its fourth-straight January 1 bowl game, a first in program history, the Badgers are looking to join Michigan as the only Big Ten school to defeat an SEC opponent three straight years.
"It's exciting and I am happy to be somewhere down south," said senior Tyler Donovan, who will make his fourth trip to Florida as a member of the Badgers. "It's something we've earned and it's an expectation for us as players that it's somewhere that we expect to be. If we're not playing in January, we know we did not do something right."
But with Wisconsin being one of 10 teams in the nation to have at least 40 wins over the past four seasons, the Badgers have not made a BCS bowl game in eight years.
Ranked in the preseason top 10 for the first time since 2000, Wisconsin was picked to finish first or second in the Big Ten by a number of media outlets and was expected to return to the Rose Bowl.
But after five lackluster performances against below average opponents, Wisconsin, ranked fifth in the nation, were ‘upset' at favored Illinois and delivered a clunker the following week at Penn State. In a 14-day span, Wisconsin was relegated to a second tier.
Knowing that, not everyone shares Donovan's excitement
"We would have liked to have done better," Jack Ikegwuonu said. "There are things we wished we could have changed to make this season live up to the expectations. Simply put, we didn't get the job done at times."
So instead of preparing for a January bowl game in Southern California, the Badgers find themselves in the middle of Florida for a fourth-consecutive year, dealing with the normal distractions of warm weather, sunshine, beaches and tourist traps.
But with the Badger seniors used to the Florida atmosphere, don't expect Wisconsin to be sunning by the pool anytime soon.
"There are so many distractions that can take your mind off football, especially with it being sunny," Ikegwuonu said. "You need the upperclassmen to keep everyone grounded. As much as we want to have fun, we need the older guys to step outside and keep everyone together and focused on the task at end."
But failed expectations aside, Wisconsin continues to set the program bar higher and higher, which might lead to BCS games down the beaten path. By taking another stepping stone, the Outback Bowl is not a bad consolation prize in the least.
"We're obviously happy that we achieved the goal of playing in January," Ikegwuonu said. "We're playing a great opponent on national television. It's not about making it there, it's about winning it."
Wisconsin's Past Outback Bowl Appearances
Jan. 2, 1995 - Duke - 34-20 win (known as the Hall of Fame Bowl)
Jan. 1, 1998 - Georgia - 33-6 loss
Jan. 1, 2005 - Georgia - 24-21 loss