Bielema vs. Alvarez

BuckAround is very much a “Mom and Pop” operation.  There isn’t a whole lot of support infrastructure like you see with bigger “name brand” sites.  There are no high priced web designers here.  We had to cobble together this mess ourselves.  And sometimes we break it.   There is no image bank at our fingertips. We have to go find them ourselves. You get the idea.

So when I put together an article back in March that took a look at the Bielema-Alvarez Era and why Gary Andersen might provide some fresh ideas for the program, I had to compile all the stats for that article manually.  We can’t pay for a STATS subscription.  It was a whole lot of manual entry and pivot tables.  It was a lot of time and a lot of late nights.

Given all that time, it seemed a shame to let them go to waste in a smaller supporting role.  They deserved to be explored in a bit more detail and given their time to shine.

That’s what was done here.  With all of the vitriol piled on the recently departed coach by Badger fans - and the less than graceful way he's responded since his exit - it’s only fair to put Bielema next to his Hall of Fame predecessor and see how they stack up. 

This comparison is not meant to be exhaustive or a final word in this discussion.  We had some statistics laying around that needed to be put to use and we did just that.  I make no claim to the settling any debates here.  Think of this as a jumping off point for a bigger discussion

As with our previous piece, we will compare the coaches using the 1993-2012 seasons.  The 1990-92 rebuilding seasons are not included in the comparisons as Bielema inherited a program with a decade of success behind them; Alvarez had to build his program from the ground up.

It’s posed as a series of questions, almost like a trivia contest.  Who fares better in certain comparisons may surprise you.

Who had a better winning percentage against the B1G?

Bielema gets the nod as he won 67% of his games against B1G opponents while Alvarez won only 57%.  An interesting aspect of the comparison: Bielema was an amazing 25-5 in home and conference championship games, but was an even .500 at 14-14 on the road.  Alvarez was far less dominant at home combining for a 31-19-3 record but fared better on the road at 27-23.

Who had a better winning percentage in non-conference games (excluding bowl meetings)?

Bielema wins out again.  Bret had an amazing 27-1 record against non-conference opponents.  Alvarez was certainly respectable at 39-7-1 but his winning 83% of non-conference games falls well short of Bielema’s 96%.  There is some context to that.  Alvarez faced a total of 15 BCS conference opponents over his time; Bielema played only four.  Bielema had 7 FCS foes, Alvarez only 2.  As was the trend across all of college football non-conference schedules have weakened in recent years and Bielema benefitted from it.

Who was more successful vs. ranked opponents in road games?

Alvarez.  While Bielema beat up on opponents at Camp Randall, Alvarez had greater success against quality teams on the road.  While still below the .500 mark, Alvarez’s 9-12 mark far outshines the 2-7 that Bielema put together. 

Which coach averaged fewer points allowed over the entire timespan?

Tie.  The defenses averaged 20.3 PPG under both coaches over their entire Badger career.  However, if the comparison is limited to just ranked opponents, Bielema’s defense gave up just over 26 PPG, while Alvarez’s limited teams to 23.3. 

Which coach averaged the fewest points per game allowed over a single season?

Alvarez wins here but it’s close.  The 1998 Rose Bowl winning squad allowed just 11.9 PPG.  Bielema’s best total was in his first year as head coach in 2006 where his teams only allowed 12.1.

Who played in more games where their opponents scored 10 or fewer points?

Alvarez wins by a landslide.  Alvarez complied an amazing 43-1 record when his defense kept the pressure on.  Even though he coached in more games, Alvarez accomplished the feat more than a quarter of the time.  Bielema’s teams did it less than 20% of the time and lost one game – this past season against Oregon State.

Who had a better record when their defense allowed 30 or more points?

Bielema gets the nod here but neither coach had a winning record.  In his seven years in Madison the Badgers allowed 30 or more points 23 times, compiling a 10-13 record.  Alvarez fared horribly in these situations; his teams here were a miserable 5-28. 

When the bar is raised to 40 points allowed, Alvarez falls to 1-10 while Bielema lost three games without a win. 

Which coach was shut out more often?

Alvarez was shut out three times in his career against Northwestern (1995), Iowa (1996), and Syracuse (1997).  Bret Bielema’s teams were never held to fewer than seven points over the course of his Badger career which was done three times.  It occurred twice against Penn State (2007 & 2008) and this past season against Oregon State.

Who coached more games scoring 40 points or more?

Alvarez gets the nod here but just barely and it took him a lot more tries to do it.  Alvarez did it 33 times losing only twice (to Northwestern in 2000 and 2005) while Bielema went a perfect 29-0 in 71 fewer games.   

Which coach had a better winning percentage in games decided by 7 points or less?

Bielema, but this one was close to the point of being statistically irrelevant.  He won 56% (19-15) of his games while Alvarez won 53% (31-23-4).  If Alvarez’s ties are eliminated from the equation (overtime rules were in place by the time Bielema became head coach) their results are essentially identical.


Bielema measures up very well against his predecessor, Those who wish to criticize him can rightly point to Bielema’s clock management issues or his questionable use of timeouts but in the end it has to be recognized that he was able to maintain the success of his predecessor, keeping the Badgers in the top rung of college football

But no matter how close the numbers may look, in the end there may be one simple fact that separates Bret Bielema from his predecessor: Barry Alvarez took over a program that won five games over the three seasons prior to his arrival; Bielema took over a program coming off it’s 3rd ten win season in eight years. 

Time heals all wounds and Bret Bielema will probably get his just recognition from Badger fans once the sting of perceived betrayal wears off.  But ultimately Barry’s ability to build a name brand football program probably trumps any statistical comparison that can be made between the two.  Bret was a good coach in his time in Madison who should be shown his proper due by fans.  Barry is cast in bronze.  One can't argue the difference.