If the Badgers beat Northwestern, Ohio State beats Michigan and Michigan State wins at Penn State, the team ranked highest in the final BCS standings, released Dec. 5, will earn the automatic berth. The BCS standings are used because two of the tied teams, Ohio State and Michigan State, don't play this season, and the Badgers lead the Buckeyes by a decent margin.
If Wisconsin and Ohio State win but Michigan State loses, the Badgers would earn the automatic berth based on its Oct. 16 win against Ohio State. Needless to say, Maragos, and thousands of fans in Badger Nation, are confident they'll spend New Years in southern California.
Maragos continues his weekly feature with Badger Nation, talking about Michigan and previewing the final game of the regular season.
What does a big play from a defensive lineman, like J.J. Watt's interception, do for the rest of the defense, when you get a play like that from an unexpected source?
Maragos: I think that was big seeing as where it came in the course of the game. Somebody needed to stop the momentum and stop what Michigan was doing by coming up with a big play. He's been huge all year for the guys. A play like that which can disrupt the rhythm of the offense can do huge things for the whole team, especially when your front line can give the defense more than just pressure.
This team finished 4-1 on the road this season, including 3-1 in the Big Ten. Talk about that badge of honor and how tough it was for you to go and compete on the road?
Maragos: Just with the dynamics of the conference and how tough it is to play week in and week out, anybody in that conference thinks they can win any game. Michigan thrives off the people that are there and the storied program, which will make them play hard. I think when you look at the season and what they've been able to do and how they've been able to do it, it's very impressive. The coolest thing about the Badgers is we've seen some pretty big performances but even against the bigger teams, we haven't seen them use their whole playbook and show what they really can do.
Look at Nick Toon, who rarely has caught a lot of big plays down the field. Lance Kendricks can get more involved. A lot of guys can get more involved … they just don't need it. That's the best thing about this offense is that they are so talented that they don't need it. If one thing is not working, the offense can go to a different thing and be just as successful. Offensively, they have probably one of the best balances between toughness and athleticism that I have seen.
From a defensive perspective, grade out the last three games and their performances against three unique spread offenses.
Maragos: The hardest thing for me to do in college football is play against the spread because it's so different. There are so many different things you have to do between cross keys, look at the quarterbacks with the dive-run-pitch option and so many different things because they aren't a traditional offense. You have to approach it so differently and they've done a great job taking away tendencies. They've play well, the coaches have put the guys in good positions to go out there and make plays. They have the right guys on defense to make plays.
Who or what has been the biggest surprise on defense?
Maragos: I think honestly one of the things for me to seeing what the team did have. You knew the running game and the offensive line would be strong, you knew Scott Tolzien and J.J. Watt would be tough, veteran linebackers coming back and Jay Valai and Aaron Henry having experience, but to really see the cornerbacks coming along this year and making a lot of plays when necessary has been real impressive. I think that's been really exciting to see those guys making steps and becoming mature players.
Do you see a weakness right now on Wisconsin?
Maragos: On the offensive side of the ball, as long as they don't beat themselves, I don't see to much that can slow them down. Tolzien is efficient with the ball with a strong running game and receivers that can catch the ball. Defensively, they need to continue to play consistently and play team defense, recognizing the plays and where the coverages are. That's the only thing that can beat them because when they play mistake free football like they are playing, there aren't too many teams that can beat them.
I know it's quite to the same degree but you have a wife and another responsibility outside yourself. Antonio Fenelus and his girlfriend recently had a child. Can you talk a little bit about how hard it is to balance life and football when you have that extra responsibility like that?
Maragos: No doubt, because it's another level of responsibility that you have. What you are seeing out of Antonio is you are seeing in grow up. You are seeing that maturity on and off that field, and he has that extra responsibility that he has to take care of. On the field, he's making strides as an athletes, going out there and competes and he knows where he is going now, understanding the defense and his leverage points. He's putting himself in position to make plays and he's making plays. It's really neat to see him start doing that and seeing his growth from when he came in.
Where did the game at Northwestern rank last year in terms of post-game disappointment?
Maragos: I can remember just being extremely disappointed. When you look at the dynamics of our season and what we were trying to accomplish, playing a team like Northwestern, it was tough. We had opportunities to win the game and we didn't capitalize. A lot of the guys of the team has learned from that, have matured and they don't take anything for granted. I think that's why you see them playing so hard and steamrolling teams. Anybody that is associated with the program or a fan of the university has to be extremely proud of those guys.
What do you remember from preparing against Northwestern that bothered you?
Maragos: I came from Western Michigan, which was a bunch of guys that weren't really recruited highly and because of that, always had a chip on their shoulder and played that way. When you look at Northwestern and Coach Fitzgerald's mentality, Northwestern plays like the guys that get recruited at Ohio State or Penn State. They have a chip on their shoulder. They aren't quite as talented, but they play hard, tough football. More importantly, they play mistake free football and when you get a bunch of guys on the same page, that's really dangerous. I knew how they worked and how hard they play, and they went out there and played ball.
Northwestern has injured problems and Wisconsin is peaking at the right time. I sense you are predicting the Badgers to win at least a share of the Big Ten conference title?
Maragos: The Badgers understand that they can have a share of the title with a win and they are going to go out and mop Northwestern up at home. Northwestern is coming in hurting at some key positions. I see the Badgers winning this one by 28 points, 42-14.