Barry Alvarez sees the ideal number of College Football Playoff entrants at eight and still is irked about the Badgers men’s basketball team’s loss in the 2015 NCAA Tournament.
Alvarez, the University of Wisconsin’s former athletic director, was a guest on Barstool Sports’ “Pardon My Take” podcast Friday and shared thoughts on a variety of college football and college sports subjects. “Pardon My Take” — hosted by UW alum Dan “Big Cat” Katz and Eric “PFT Commenter” Sollenberger — is the No. 1 sports podcast in the country.
Here are some highlights of Alvarez’s appearance on the show, edited for length and clarity.
Katz: We’re leading up to the Notre Dame-Wisconsin game on Saturday. So let's start there. You actually had a lot to do with planning this game and getting it scheduled. What’s it like when you're trying to figure out how to plan these nonconference games, what goes through an athletic director’s head, what goes through a football program’s head of like, "Hey, we want to schedule big games. We also don't want to hurt ourselves playing too many big games in a single season."
Alvarez: Yeah, there has to be a good fit in there and some common sense used as you lay out your schedules. Having to play nine conference games when the Southeastern Conference, Big 12 or in the ACC, they’re only playing eight, you put another burden, an excess burden on your players.
You have to be smart. But you know, I think it's fair to our fans. I know our players like to play in big games. When you have an opportunity to play someone with a tradition, rich background like Notre Dame, I just felt it was something that our players deserved, our fans deserved.
Katz: Obviously you're not the AD anymore, but the situation Wisconsin’s in, Paul Chryst is a fantastic coach, but you also have an incredible defensive coordinator, Jim Leonhard, who obviously played for you. How does Wisconsin go forward in an era now where assistants are getting paid an insane amount of money? Do I need to donate? Do I need to make more money and donate? What do I have to do?
Alvarez: Yeah, we've been waiting for that. … We've tried to take care of Jimmy. He's going to chances — he had one opportunity this year to take a head coaching job, and it was a very good head coaching. I told the person who called me, I said, "If he wants to be a head coach, he’ll be a good head coach."
He's got three young kids, they're happy here, they're happy in school. If you go to the NFL sometimes as a head coach, you're going to be bopping around. I think Jimmy likes to have his roots settled, he played (10) years in the league. He's been very good with his money, he’s got a beautiful home and lifestyle right here. When you're happy, it's tough to buy happy. Hopefully we try to take care of him and keep them here. Hope that that works and we can keep him a long time because he's really a good coach.
Sollenberger: So looking back at your career, which of these stats do you think you're most proud of: The 120 career wins, the 9-4 record in bowl games, or the 1,272 hours of unused vacation time that you retired with?
Alvarez: (Laughs) I know which one my wife liked. One of the local writers asked me, "How do you build up that much time?" I said, "Coaches don't take vacations. We don't punch a clock." My vacation was always during semester break, Christmas vacation and semester break, that was it.
That's a good question.
Katz: You were on the selection committee for the (College Football Playoff). The hot topic, it seems like every year that pops up is, what does a Group of Five team have to do to break into the big boys club? Maybe UCF was close, but was there ever a chance that you sitting on that committee where a team from the Group of Five had a legitimate chance or is it impossible until they expand?
Alvarez: It'll be very difficult until you go to eight or 12. I'm trying to think back … I would think this year with Cincinnati’s schedule — they have Notre Dame ahead of them, they played Indiana … and then the way they played Georgia in the bowl game, I think you'd have to give them consideration.
But I can't say honestly that in my tenure there that there was anyone close to the top four. I wasn’t there when Central Florida was good.
Sollenberger: Are you in favor of expanding to eight or 12 teams?
Alvarez: I like to expanding to eight, eight is my number. I think 12 … if you look at the number of games, and I think coaches would manage that — the FCS plays, they have a playoff. They get through it OK. But I think 12, selfishly, for our league eight is better. I think it's fair for the players. You can guarantee all your conference champions get in, you have at-large teams that have an opportunity to get in and that opens the gate for more. And it just doesn't carry on into the second semester.
Katz: The way college football is set up right now, it definitely feels like there's three or four programs that are so far ahead of everyone else that it's hard to break in. Do you think this is a cyclical thing? Or do you think this is kind of how it's going to be for a while and it’s Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, those teams, Oklahoma if you want to throw (it) in there. They're going to recruit better guys, they're going to keep it rolling. And it's going to be pretty much impossible for other teams to break into that party.
Alvarez: Yeah, I'd like to think it was cyclical. But other than last weekend where there was some scares, a couple of those teams don't look quite as dominant as they have. But all you have to do is look since we've had the CFP, it’s the same three schools the majority of the time. That's why I’d like to go to eight. I wish it were cyclical, but … I don’t know if I see that next cycle.
Sollenberger: You’re the special adviser for football to the Big Ten commissioner, what’s your day-to-day like?
Alvarez: The commissioner and I have regular visits. We talk about future scheduling, we talk about TV, we talk about the CFP. Just the different issues that come up in football. He bounces things off of me. I've been in the league since ‘79, other than three years at Notre Dame, and been involved in a lot of the committees. I'm just a good sounding board for him.
Sollenberger: You’re a lifetime Big Ten guy, and conference realignment is a thing that’s happening, like it or not. How do you balance protecting the conference right now with the future of the schools that are involved in the conversation?
Alvarez: Well, you have to evaluate what they bring to the table. What does this specific school bring to the table? How do they match our philosophy? Are they broad based in their thinking as far as sports? In our league, it believes in a broad base, not just football, broad base for sports with Olympic sports, etc. Academically, we want somebody that fits.
Plus we need eyeballs, you know? Somebody that draws, that has a following and has viewers, that brings something to the table as far as our TV package.
Sollenberger: Hypothetical situation for you here. Let's say this Saturday, you're getting ready for the game. Paul Chryst gets stuck in traffic, the entire coaching staff gets stuck in traffic. Your phone rings, and they’re like, "Barry, we don't have any other options. Our entire coaching staff is not going to be able to make it to the game. We've got a chopper for you in your lawn right now. We need you to step up and interim coach one game." Could you do it?
Alvarez: Again? Hell yeah. (Laughs) It’s like riding a bike, boys.
Katz: Have you gotten over the Duke loss (in the 2015 men's basketball national championship game)? Because I have not. … Are you over it? Maybe you being over it could get me over it?
Alvarez: I’m pissed because the officials changed how they called the game from first to second half.
That’s part of coaching, I give credit to Coach K (Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski). … Coach K worked the refs hard and they changed how they called the game. And I will say that to my dying day.
Wisconsin vs. Notre Dame football: 3 keys to victory, why the Badgers' running game matters so much and a prediction
WHO HAS THE EDGE
When the Badgers have the ball
The Badgers should have the ability to attack the Notre Dame defense where it is weakest — between the tackles. Notre Dame doesn’t feature a standout middle linebacker or defensive tackle and likely will have trouble keeping UW’s offensive line on the line of scrimmage. Big things could be in line for an emerging stable of Badgers running backs if the Badgers keep defensive end Myron Tagovaila-Amosa out of the backfield.
Chez Mellusi has gotten the lion’s share of the work thus far, but there seems to be enough carries to go around after Mellusi, Isaac Guerendo, Jalen Berger and Braelon Allen all scored touchdowns two weeks ago. How UW manages its backs’ workload will be interesting to see because keeping fresh legs attacking Notre Dame’s front will be important.
Quarterback Graham Mertz has yet to throw a touchdown pass this season after one was called back by a penalty and another was dropped against Eastern Michigan. Notre Dame’s secondary, led by safety Kyle Hamilton, is difficult to crack — their 232.7 yards per game allowed was inflated by pass-heavy Purdue. UW may need to use more motion in an effort to get the secondary out of position or rely on more play-action passing if the running game is working.
Senior receiver Danny Davis has been solid for the Badgers with 11 catches for 129 yards. Look for receivers Kendric Pryor and Chimere Dike to get more involved, especially in the flats, where they can catch the ball and create yards.
Edge: Slightly Wisconsin
When the Fighting Irish have the ball
UW fans know Notre Dame quarterback Jack Coan well after watching him start 16 games for the Badgers, but freshman Tyler Buchner has been earning snaps in part because he’s the better scrambler of the two and Notre Dame’s line has struggled thus far.
The Irish have had three left tackles start games this season after Blake Fisher and Michael Carmody were injured in the first two games. Tosh Baker started last week against Purdue and ND again had difficulty handling pass rushers, allowing four sacks and 16 pressures against the Boilermakers.
Tight end Michael Mayer is Coan's and Buchner’s top target, hauling in 17 catches for 206 yards and three touchdowns. Running back Kyren Williams is a tackle-breaking playmaker, but the O-line struggles have limited him so far this season (46 carries, 224 yards, 2 TDs). Senior receiver Kevin Austin Jr. will be a tough matchup for UW because the 6 foot 2, 215 pounder is adept at winning one-on-one battles on the sideline.
Williams is a difficult cover in the passing game, especially when he’s matched against a linebacker, so the Badgers will have to identify where Williams lines up in the formation and ensure they have the right personnel defending him.
A big challenge for UW’s defense will be to limit the big pass plays the Irish are capable of — cornerbacks Faion Hicks (listed as questionable) and Caesar Williams will need to be physical without committing penalties down the field.
Edge: Slightly Wisconsin
Collin Larsh has been solid for UW after winning the starting kicking job. Excluding the short kick that was blocked against Penn State, Larsh has made a 43-yarder and tries from 33 and 39 yards.
UW hasn’t had many chances in the return game thus far, and don’t expect them to come this week. Notre Dame only has allowed six punt returns for a total of 34 yards and it allows just 21.7 yards per kick return.
Don’t look now, but UW punter Andy Vujnovich has become one of the best in the Big Ten, ranking fourth at 48.9 yards per punt. He’ll have to direct his punts well to keep the ball away from Williams, who is returning punts for the Irish.
This will be the first time since 2001 that the Badgers play two ranked teams in their first three games. UW lost to No. 7 Oregon and No. 19 Fresno State that season. Paul Chryst never has started a season 1-2 since taking over at UW, but Chryst is 10-15 at UW against AP Top 25 teams.
Brian Kelly’s Notre Dame teams are 6-5 in their first game against a ranked opponent in a season. Kelly is 3-2 in his last five games against Big Ten Conference opponents, dating back to 2015. He notched his 105th official win at Notre Dame last week, tying Knute Rockne for most by an ND coach.
UW last played at Soldier Field in 2011, when it defeated Northern Illinois 49-7.
THREE KEYS FOR THE BADGERS
1. Bracket Mayer: Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer is one of the best offensive weapons in the country, and quarterback Jack Coan is finding him often. UW should plan on using its outside linebackers to disrupt Mayer’s route off the line of scrimmage and ensure a safety is covering the 6-foot-4½, 251-pound target. The Irish have multiple weapons who can make plays, but taking away option A in Mayer is a good place to start.
2. Attack the offensive line: The Irish’s offensive line has been OK at its very best in its first three games this season. It allowed four sacks to Florida State, six sacks against Toledo and four sacks against Purdue. Pro Football Focus statistics count 38 pressures allowed by the line, and Notre Dame has rushed for just more than 100 yards per game. UW’s front — especially with the return of inside linebacker Leo Chenal — is one of the best in the country and should continue to expose an O-line that’s beaten up by injuries.
3. No turnovers: This one isn’t rocket science, but the Badgers can’t afford to give away the ball and put its defense in tough spots. After three turnovers in a loss to Penn State, UW’s offense gave up the only points Eastern Michigan scored with a pick-6. It’s likely the Badgers’ offense again relies on the ground game given Notre Dame’s difficulty stopping the run (145 yards rushing allowed per game) and the ball-hawking presence of safety Kyle Hamilton. Ball carries must protect the ball and quarterback Graham Mertz has to secure handoffs better than in the first two game this season. Mertz also has to be smart with his throws and not put too many attempts in danger of being picked off.
THREE KEYS FOR THE FIGHTING IRISH
1. Decide on run game quickly: The Badgers defense has allowed a total of 66 yards rushing on 36 carries, less than 2 yards per attempt. Both Penn State and Eastern Michigan ditched running between the tackles, and the former had success getting to the edge with quick passing then challenging UW downfield. Notre Dame should do the same if its banged-up offensive line can’t generate push. Wasting downs trying to establish a run game is exactly what UW wants Notre Dame to do.
2. Play Hamilton in the box: Mertz hasn’t been challenging teams downfield often thus far. Notre Dame usually has star safety Kyle Hamilton play deep or in the slot so he can be close to the ball, but the Irish likely will need him in the middle of the field to make a bigger impact. Mertz most often targets the middle of the field between 10-15 yards, so placing Hamilton there and allowing him to read Mertz’s eyes creates the most opportunities for turnovers or other disruptive plays.
3. Gives your tackles help: The Irish have to do a better job giving their tackles help against pass rushers, especially if they again are down to their third-string left tackle. While there are a multitude of reasons the Irish have been bad protecting the passer, many of which stem from the line losing matchups, relying on that group without help too often is another culprit. With UW outside linebackers Nick Herbig and Noah Burks both showing improved pass rushing skills this season, Notre Dame needs to keep a back, tight end or both in protection to keep Coan upright.
Series: UW trails 6-8-2
First meeting: UW won 54-0 at home in 1900
Last meeting: UW lost 31-7 at Camp Randall in 1964
UW's longest winning streak: Three games (1900, 1904, 1905)
UW's longest losing streak: Four games (1929, 1934, 1935, 1936)
UW has the advantage on both lines of scrimmage, something it’s used to and knows how to use to control a game. If the Badgers can avoid turnovers, score touchdowns when they get in the red zone and force Notre Dame’s offense to go for long drives instead of allowing big plays, they should be able to come away with the win. Fail in those areas, and Notre Dame ekes out another close one.
Badgers 21, Notre Dame 17
The Badgers and Notre Dame at Soldier Field ... Who do you like?— Badger Beat (@BadgerBeat) September 20, 2021