Who is the one player you think might take the biggest leap from the final regular-season game to the bowl game and why?
Tom VanHaaren: Blake Countess will have an excellent game in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. He struggled a bit in the Ohio State game, when he was paired with Devier Posey, and this is a chance for him to step up. He'll have had a lot of time to break down film and get a grasp of what the Hokies are going to throw at him.
Chantel Jennings: Expecting to see big things from Countess. Bowl-game preparation is so key for young players, and Countess told me last week that he has really felt nurtured while learning coverages leading up to the bowl game, because he has almost a month rather than a week to prepare. I'm excited to see what he looks like when he takes the field with so much preparation. The pressure and nerves haven't gotten to him this season, so I don't think that'll change in New Orleans. But Virginia Tech might throw at him a bit to start the game, since he's the youngest in the secondary, and the Hokies could be in for a big surprise.
Michael Rothstein: Sticking with a freshman, just a different position group. Coaches have been high on linebacker Desmond Morgan all season, and much like Countess, he'll have a month without a game to really start to understand things. There is major playmaking ability there, and the extra month of practices and a couple of weeks of non-finals, football-only focus should help. With a Virginia Tech team that likes to run and has a dual-threat quarterback, Morgan will have opportunities to make plays.
The Michigan basketball team has one game left before Big Ten play starts. Who has surprised you the most this season?
Jennings: Eso Akunne. The junior missed only one shot this entire season (he has taken only eight, but still ... that's impressive). He's 4-for-5 from 3-point range. Last season he was 1-for-3. And in nine games, he has scored 18 points -- that's more than his entire Michigan career. He hasn't been a huge contributor by any means, but if someone told me in October that Akunne would have a better shooting percentage than junior guard Matt Vogrich and senior guard Stu Douglass combined, I would've laughed. Props to Akunne. He has done it and looked solid on the floor for the Wolverines.
Rothstein: Expected more out of Jordan Morgan at this point. While his numbers don't signify a significant drop in production (he's averaging 2.1 fewer points and .9 fewer rebounds in four fewer minutes a game), he just hasn't looked like the same player. Part of it could be that he had unbelievable chemistry with former point guard/roommate Darius Morris, but he still gets in foul trouble way too often and will need to find the fire he played with last season for Michigan to have success in the post in Big Ten play. Even as Jon Horford, Blake McLimans and Evan Smotrycz come along, Morgan is still Michigan's best option in the post. The Wolverines need more from him.
VanHaaren: Trey Burke really surprised me. He was highly touted as a recruit, but the fact that he's stepped in right away and played as well as he has is very impressive. His range has been outstanding, and I knew he would help the team, but the fact that he has turned the offense into an offense that he runs has made him indispensable.
Of the 2012 football recruits still out there, who is the most important for Michigan to land?
VanHaaren: I think the secondary is still a concern for the coaching staff. That Countess has stepped up is huge, but J.T. Floyd graduates after next season, and the coaches really want to land a lockdown corner in this class to go along with Terry Richardson.
So to answer the question, I'd have to say either Yuri Wright (Ramsey, N.J./Don Bosco Prep) or Armani Reeves (West Roxbury, Mass./Catholic Memorial). If Michigan can land one of those two, I think it's a huge deal. It makes the potential of the defense that much better.
Jennings: Offensive tackle Josh Garnett (Puyallup, Wash./Puyallup). He wants to go to med school and play Division I football, and he's willing to put in the time and make the sacrifices to do both. I could see this kid being a huge help in the Michigan offensive line, and four years down the road, he could be a David Molk or Mark Huyge-type leader for the Wolverines. On the field, he's very quick and fits in well to the type of guy offensive line coach Darrell Funk likes. Depth along the offensive line is at a low, so Garnett might be called upon early if he were to choose the Wolverines.
Rothstein: Alex Kozan (Highlands Ranch, Colo./Valor Christian). He appeared on Michigan's radar relatively late considering this class, but the offensive guard could play early and would provide instant depth at guard. He could be Michigan's best prospect there since Stephen Schilling. His offer list is impressive -- half of the SEC -- and his quickness fits well with both run and pass blocking. Guard is also a position where Michigan's talent needs a boost, and Kozan would provide it.
And a bonus fourth question: Since Hanukkah is in full swing and Christmas is a few days away, what is the best holiday-ish gift you've ever received?
Rothstein: I'd have to go with original Nintendo. Spent many hours playing that with friends and my dad. It was the gift that truly kept on giving.
Jennings: In elementary school, Santa Claus gave me a Barbie car. (I'm not going to pull a Zoltan Mesko here and say Santa doesn't exist, either) But my parents promptly took it away from me once spring came and my 5-year-old sister and I put on rollerblades and "skied" behind the Barbie car through our neighborhood. We learned the hard way that it hurts more to crash into a tree than in water.
VanHaaren: I have one of the worst memories known to mankind, so this is a hard question for me. As a cop out I'll say my son, who is about to be born in a few weeks. Plus this will be in writing, so I'll be able to show it to him once he's a teenager and acting up.