Maragos' Championship Preview
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Maragos' Championship Preview

After two standout seasons in the Wisconsin secondary, Chris Maragos is finding his niche in the NFL. He rejoins Badger Nation for a weekly insider look at Wisconsin football, breaking down and previewing the Big Ten Championship game

MADISON - The football journey of Chris Maragos is something that most every Wisconsin natives dream about growing up.

A high school player in the state, Maragos got a chance to walk-on to the Badgers' football program in 2007 after two uneventful seasons at Western Michigan. From there he changed positions, started two seasons at safety and became a team captain on a 10-win team in 2009.

Now as he prepares for his third year in the National Football League, he kicks off his third year with Badgernation.com to break down the Badgers.

Every week, Maragos will breakdown the previous week's game and answering subscriber questions posted on the insider board. Using his knowledge of Wisconsin's defense and its personnel, Maragos' contributions give added insight to Wisconsin football.

This week, Maragos breaks down and previews the Big Ten Championship game.

Badger Nation: After watching this team all season and seeing the ups and downs, what is your biggest concern heading into Saturday's championship game?

Maragos: The offense, largely in part of the passing game. With Jared Abbrederis possibly being out and the way the season has gone to this point, that would be my main concern to this point. I think I share that view with a lot of fans out there.

Badger Nation: If you are a captain on this team, how do you build confidence in your teammates? The numbers have been there this season, but they haven't been there against the better defenses on Wisconsin's schedule.

Maragos: I think you need to get your key players involved early. I think that's really important to get those guys comfortable early in the game, put them in situations that usually yield success and get their confidence up by getting the ball rolling. I think having a quarterback that has only started a few games in his career, you have to get him in a rhythm throwing, get everybody settled and get the offense balanced. From there, you take your shots downfield and pound the ball. You really have to get all your key players in rhythm.

Badger Nation: You go through this at least three times a year in the NFL playing a team twice a season. What's the key when you are seeing a team again for a second time: do you focus on your strengths against that team or your weaknesses and what didn't work well?

Maragos: It's real tricky. You start to understand teams, know teams' personal and get a feel for what they do well. You start to learn the players and what their strengths and weaknesses are. In this situation, you need to focus on yourself. Executing, attention to details and being familiar with style of play are the important things you need to get done so you have every little detail taken care of.

Badger Nation: What does Wisconsin need to better against Taylor Martinez that it didn't do well the first time, but has done well against every quarterback on its schedule since that meeting?

Maragos: I think the biggest thing that the guys will have to do is put a lot of pressure in his face. One of things he probably isn't as good at is throwing, but he definitely has improved in that area. He's a really good runner, so if you can get some pressure in his face, make him throw some bad passes and get him rattled where he doesn't get comfortable, can't see the field and can't throw in rhythm, he'll give up some opportunities. You don't necessary need to get sacks, but having those play were you effect the quarterback are really important to do for the success of the whole defense.

Badger Nation: How important is defensive line play going to be this week, especially defensive end play from David Gilbert and Brendan Kelly in containing the edges against the best rushing team in the conference?

Maragos: It's going to be huge. I think they are going to have the set the edges against Nebraska to make sure everything is contained and not breaking out in long runs. In the passing situation, you have to give pressure so Martinez can't get out of the pocket and make big plays. No pressure means a lot of time to throw and guys getting open downfield. It's very difficult to cover when the play breaks down and guys are just running all around the field. It's going to be very important for the entire makeup of the game.

Badger Nation: Does playing this game indoors favor Nebraska or Wisconsin?

Maragos: I would say Nebraska, largely in part because Wisconsin is a run-oriented team with good linebacker play. Wisconsin can play in conditions that are less than ideal and playing outside favors those teams. Nebraska has an edge in the passing game, so being in a situation where you are playing indoors and on a better surface favors those teams.

Badger Nation: Bret Bielema said the word ‘revenge' isn't his message to the team this week and I know you follow that logic. Having been in the locker room, did any players use the word revenge when you lost to a team a year before and you were playing them that week?

Maragos: That never really came up and it never really was a payback mentality. It left such a bitter taste in your mouth that you want to go out and play better. Anytime you are a competitor or an athlete, you want to play against the best and prove yourself against those teams. I wouldn't necessary say it's revenge and hatred. From a competitive aspect, it makes you want to go out and prove that you can play.

Badger Nation: What team do you think is hungrier: a team that can do something no Big Ten has done in over 30 years of going to three straight Rose Bowls or a team that hasn't won a conference championship since 1999?

Maragos: It's tough to say because I am not in both locker rooms. I know how hungry the Badgers are, but this is what I would say: I think Nebraska has got to be very hungry. Not to say Wisconsin is any less hungry and want it more or less than anybody, but Wisconsin has played in the Rose Bowl the past two years and asserted themselves. Nebraska hasn't had that. The want and desire to get those things that the Badgers have obtained, I can really see how Nebraska would be hungry to obtain those things. Both teams are going to be very motivated to play this game and prove that they are the best in the conference.

Badger Nation: Is the key for Wisconsin defensively to keep playing how they have been playing since they last faced the Cornhuskers? The Badgers have virtually shut down every offense since allowing Nebraska to put up 30 points in Lincoln.

Maragos: I think the big thing is that anytime you come together as a collective unit, find a rhythm with each other and play off each other, that's going to help out with everyone being comfortable. A lot of guys on that defense have been in the program a long time, especially the seniors in the secondary. They have played a lot of football and played a lot together that they have that cohesiveness. Anytime you have a group that has played a lot of football together, you are going to play well. That's good defense when you play collectively together, and that's why they are playing so well.

Badger Nation: Who is the key offensive player and defensive player that need to play the best game of their career for Wisconsin this weekend?

Maragos: That's a good question right there. I think it's twofold on offense. You are obviously going to have the running game and the offensive line playing an important. I think Abbrederis and Curt Phillips need to play their best games. They really need to stretch the field, put the defense back and get those linebackers in situations where they are guessing because everybody knows Wisconsin is run first. Wisconsin needs to throw the ball well and get those guys going, because they are important for the success of each other.

On defense, I think any of the linebackers because Wisconsin relies so heavily on its linebackers. Mike Taylor and Chris Borland are going to have to make a big play - a forced fumble, interception or just being stout in the run game – to stop what Nebraska likes to do.

Badger Nation: You haven't picked against Wisconsin in three years, but is this the first time you do it? Does Wisconsin make it back to a third straight Rose Bowl or are they going to Florida?

Maragos: I tell you what, this is one of the hardest games for me to look at because Wisconsin has had a lot of close losses and back-to-back deflating losses. I think playing for the Big Ten Championship and a Rose Bowl is all the motivation they need to put that stuff behind them. When you look at Nebraska, they've been focused on a Big Ten Championship and a Rose Bowl all season to prove that they belong in the Big Ten and they can be a power in this conference. They've been playing well down the stretch, so I can definitely see both teams really being able to compete.

I think this is game is going to be really close. I think it's going to be a real run-heavy game with both teams relying on its defenses. It's going to be a low scoring game and with the Badgers having been in so many close games, they really have to focus in on those little details. I think they've learned from the adversity this season. I say the Badgers pull it out, 17-14.