Monday's Musings from Maragos

After two standout seasons in the Wisconsin secondary, Chris Maragos is collecting a NFL paycheck in San Francisco. He rejoins Badger Nation for a weekly insider look at Wisconsin football, talking this week about the 2011 Wisconsin football team.

MADISON - In the professional sense, last season could not have gone any better for former Wisconsin safety Chris Maragos. Although not drafted, Maragos' hard work and persistence earned him a spot on the 49ers roster, made his professional debut at Green Bay and finished with two solo tackles in three games.

When he wasn't playing or preparing, Maragos watched his friends and former school win the first conference championship in 11 years. Life certainly couldn't have gotten better. That was then, but this is now.

It's a new season for the Badgers and for Maragos, as both will need to prove themselves all over again. Wisconsin's roster and the Big Ten conference are different and more competitive while Maragos is in a heated roster competition on a team loaded with safeties, as he is hoping to be one of the final players on the roster and be a contributor on special teams.

One thing that hasn't changed though is Maragos' knowledge of the Big Ten and the University of Wisconsin. In the return of our popular weekly feature, Maragos talks everything Wisconsin with as he answers subscriber's questions and gets fans ready for next week's game.

BN: Before we dive into Wisconsin, what's it been like working for an old college coach and your new head coach in Jim Harbaugh?

Maragos: He's a great coach and he obviously has a good understanding of the game being a former quarterback. He knows his x's and o's and he's a great guy, too. You look at the body of work that he's been able to accomplish, it's been at a high level, and I think it's going to carry over to this level. We're excited to have him for sure.

BN: You were once a former transfer to the Badgers and you have the luxury of time in getting acclimated to the school, the Wisconsin way and the surroundings. Russell Wilson had a little over a month to do what you did in a little over a year. How hard is it to come in from a whole different system and learn everything that quick? How hard are those first couple weeks?

Maragos: I think just from talking to some guys on the team, it's been such a smooth adjustment for him because he's a Wisconsin-type guy. That's what he is, who he is and the type of person that he is. I just think of a guy like him as a Wisconsin football player having played for another team. Now that he's playing for Wisconsin, I think it's such a smooth transition and that's why it's gone so well and that's why he was elected team captain in such a short amount of time. I think for him, other people could be different, but he's made it look easy.

BN: Talk about the three other senior captains – Patrick Butrym, Bradie Ewing and Aaron Henry. Having been teammates with those guys, talk about the qualities they are bringing to the table and how they represent what Wisconsin is all about?

Maragos: People always ask me how the Badgers are going to do this year and the first thing I always look for is leadership and chemistry. I feel those are the two most important things to a team's success. You look at the four captains, they have such a great chemistry and more importantly, they are great leaders. Each one of them brings something different to the table. Bradie Ewing leads by example and does everything you ask. He's a glue guy that holds everything together. Russell Wilson is going to a blockbuster, star quarterback that is going to lead by his play and his mentality.

On defense, you have a similar guy in Pat Butrym that is going to do everything you ask. He's a blue-collared guy, works for everything he has and does all the details. A guy like Aaron Henry, he's going to be an emotional leader. He's going to be a guy that is going to get everything riled up and make plays for the team. It's just a really good mix of guys that they have and they have good things going for them right now.

BN: What do you think the biggest obstacle is for a team that has been hyped up with so many expectations with people labeled this team as championship contenders? How do you block that out when you hear so much of that during fall camp?

Maragos: I think that this team has a whole lot of expectations and a whole lot of expectations equals a whole lot of nothing right now. There should be expectations, but I think a lot of young guys where there two years when we had a lot of high moments and some low ones. They really understood that you have to put in the work to get what they want. The coaching staff puts them in great positions to have success. They are practicing hard, they aren't taking it easy on them and diving into the mentality that nothing is given to them, I think they are going to handle the expectations just fine. They also have the senior leadership put in place to help them stay the course.

BN: What's the attitude of the team after a successful season that ends with a bowl loss? How long does a loss like that sit with a player? Will it be over after the opener or does it linger for awhile?

Maragos: The Rose Bowl loss might linger for a little longer but the losses we had to Tennessee and Florida State, guys were a little upset about that until about the middle of spring football. That's when they turned the page and understood what was going on. It's still in the back of the guy's minds that they lost the Rose Bowl and that's going to upset them. Still, those guys are going to move on and focus on every opponent without that loss coming into play. These guys don't want history to repeat itself. They'll forget about it, but they are going to work hard enough to make sure they don't have to go through that again.

BN: What concerns you at this point with this team and what do you think the strengths are going to be of this team, position wise or player wise?

Maragos: A potential weakness could be our depth at wide receiver. I think that's one of the things that could potentially be an issue is guys don't stay healthy. You have a couple good receivers but after that, they have a lot of guys who are unproven. Depth at wide receiver gets me a little nervous and if they can't play, you become a one dimensional offense. The secondary depth looks pretty good, the linebackers look good, there are great players on the defensive line, offensive line look strong and you have a quarterback that can play. I think the biggest strength is the cohesiveness on the defensive line. After being around the guys this summer and see the way they are handling their business, I get excited about those guys. Of course, I think the running game is going to be a big strength, as well.

You have a set idea of what's going to happen at the beginning of the season, but you evolve as a group as the season goes on when you overcome some adversity, see some things gel and really find out what your identity is going to be for the season.

BN: What's the biggest thing you have to guard against in a season opener? Wisconsin has had some grinders in the past couple years against some non-BCS teams.

Maragos: I'd say knocking the rust off. Any year, you are going out there to play hard, but the biggest thing is going out there to make sure you are clicking on all cylinders. You're trying to get back into a game rhythm. A lot these teams like UNLV and Northern Illinois, I was a part of a team like that in Western Michigan, and this game is like their Super Bowl. They are going to come in and give it everything they got. They have to match their intensity. I always tell people that when you play the smaller schools at the beginning of the year, they are going to come out with a lot of energy and you have to knock them down early. The minute you knock them back, they start doubting themselves. If you give them a little bit of hope, they are going to feed off that confidence and keep coming. That's when things get scary and it becomes an issue.

BN: Last year, you were a respectable 11-2. What's your prediction for Thursday?

Maragos: I am going with a Badgers win here. I think the running game is going to come out real strong. I think Russell Wilson is going to get into a nice groove as the game goes on. I'd say the Badgers win 42-12.

BN: What's your season prediction? What will Wisconsin's record be and what bowl game are they going to be playing in?

Maragos: I'm saying they are going to go 12-1 and I have the Badgers in the Rose Bowl against Stanford. For the record, I think they can win all of them, but you can throw it out there saying they are going to go undefeated. I think they are going to lock it down at home but if there's one game that can pose a problem, I would say the loss would be at Ohio State.

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