Mailbag: O-line, best games and big jumps

With a few weeks before your next fill of Michigan football, what are you guys doing? I hear there’s a pretty decent basketball game in town this weekend.

But, enough basketball… let’s talk football. On to the mailbag.

Michael Wittingen, Litchfield, Michigan: What is your predicted starting five on the offensive line next year?

A: Erik Magnuson is going to be charged with taking over the left tackle position. But they say if you’re going to have youth somewhere, it’s better to have it on the outside rather than the interior (saw that this season, no?). Right now in bowl practices, he has mainly been playing guard but I think eventually he’ll settle in at tackle. At left guard I think it’ll be a pretty good competition between Chris Bryant and Kyle Bosch. Both got playing time and good experiences this season so it’ll just be a matter of who has the better offseason. At center, Graham Glasgow will probably keep his spot (though I think Pat Kugler will be nipping at his heels). At right guard, it will be Kyle Kalis who has solidified the position with his performances of late. And right tackle will be Ben Braden. A young line, but one that will have the chance to gel not only in bowl practices, but also spring practices and next fall.

Andy A., Toledo: Any consideration Devin Gardner switches out jersey #98?

A: I agree. Gardner has had a rough season. But I think people are putting way too much on him. When you have a line that can’t pass protect and your team is devoid of a running back that does too much (until late in the season), opponents are going to send numbers. At times, it was like a one on four back there, and people are upset with Gardner? No. That’s not on him. If anything, the fact that he did get up every single time he got hit (over and over and over again) would make Tom Harmon very proud. When he got a line that played together and a running back that actually produced, he didn’t look too shabby in the pocket.

Charlie R., Grand Rapids: Of the incoming 2014 class, which names do you think could be big surprises?

A: Offensively, depending on how the wide receiver position shakes out, Drake Harris could be a name you hear a lot. And depending on what the depth at tight end looks like, and if they want a back up to someone like Devin Funchess who blocks a bit and catches a lot, Ian Bunting (assuming he bulks up some) could be a name people hear.

Defensively, it's harder. I think the obvious one is defensive back Jabrill Peppers. But outside of him, I’m not sure we’ll know too many true freshmen. The linebacker position basically returns everyone, and I don’t see a true freshman cracking the two-deep there. The D-line is in a similar position.

James B., Saginaw: What will be the three best games next season?

A: Ohio State, Michigan State and Penn State. The Wolverines will travel for OSU and MSU but will host PSU. Ohio State is always going to be good so there’s no reason to waste time explaining why. Michigan State will be an interesting one. The Spartans' defense will, again, be good even though they’re losing quite a few people. But offensively, coach Mark Dantonio will have to decide whether he’ll stick with Big Ten championship game MVP Connor Cook as his quarterback or whether he wants to transition into a more spread offense with Damion Terry. So Michigan will either be matched up against a seasoned QB or one that’s freaky athletic. And I think Penn State will be good because that’s a team that will get better and better every season with Bill O’Brien and Christian Hackenberg. They’ll need to find someone to take Allen Robinson’s receptions, but they’ll be fine.

Zeke, Ann Arbor: Which player do you think will make the biggest jump from this season to next?

A: In a lot of ways, I think it’ll be Gardner. But he was better this season than he got credit for (due to the O-line and lack of run game), and we finally saw that in the final game when he was, physically, probably at his worst. However, from an actual skill level, I think it’ll be Frank Clark. Another year in the weight room and with Greg Mattison will really make him an elite pass rusher. We saw snap shots of it this season, but it’ll be a constant in 2014.