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Thursday, April 18, 2013
Poll: Which struggling unit surges this fall?

By Adam Rittenberg

Brian and I on Wednesday debated which struggling unit from the 2012 season -- Illinois' offense, Indiana's defense, Iowa's offense, Michigan State's offense or Nebraska's defense -- would take the biggest step forward this fall. I went with the MSU offense, while Brian picked Nebraska's D. Now it's time for you to weigh in with your vote.

We want you making an educated choice, so here's a quick look at each unit.

Illinois offense

National rankings from 2012: 119th in total offense, 119th in scoring, 107th in passing, 97th in rushing

Case for improvement: It can't get much worse, right? Illinois brings in an experienced playcaller in Bill Cubit, boasts a three-year starter at quarterback in Nathan Scheelhaase and two capable running backs in Josh Ferguson and Donovonn Young. Junior-college arrivals like receiver Martize Barr drew good reviews this spring.

Case for status quo: It's the third offensive system in as many years and Scheelhaase's head has to be swimming a bit. Wide receiver is a major question mark, and the offensive line loses two veterans from a group that underperformed in 2012.

Indiana's defense

National rankings from 2012: 103rd in total defense, 101st in scoring defense, 116th in rushing defense, 98th in pass efficiency defense

Case for improvement: Nine starters return and Indiana brings in its best defensive recruiting haul in recent memory. Incoming recruits like Darius Latham could make an immediate impact. There's good leadership in the back end with Greg Heban and Mark Murphy, and David Cooper should be a solid contributor at linebacker.

Case for status quo: Indiana has been bad to dreadful on defense for the better part of the past two decades. It's debatable whether the Hoosiers have enough proven depth to consistently slow down Big Ten offenses. IU also loses its top two linemen -- Adam Replogle and Larry Black Jr. -- from a unit that struggled mightily to stop the run.

Iowa's offense

National rankings from 2012: 114th in total offense, 111th in scoring, 101st in rushing, 99th in passing

Case for improvement: The Hawkeyes are more accustomed to coordinator Greg Davis' system and return a strong stable of running backs headlined by Mark Weisman. The offensive line could be a strength as Brandon Scherff and Andrew Donnal return from injuries. Tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz has the skills to be a superstar.

Case for status quo: Iowa lacks a quarterback who has taken a snap in an FBS game. Davis' system has clicked in the past, but the coach drew heavy criticism at the end of his Texas tenure and did little to help his cause in 2012. Wide receiver is a major question mark. And while the running back group looks strong, AIRBHG is lurking.

Michigan State's offense

National rankings from 2012: 95th in total offense, 108th in scoring, 75th in rushing, 85th in passing

Case for improvement: The offensive line returns seven players with starting experience and gets tackle Fou Fonoti back from injury. Quarterback Andrew Maxwell enters his second year as the starter, and promising young receiver Aaron Burbridge has experience under his belt. There are also more options at quarterback with Connor Cook, Tyler O'Connor and incoming freshman Damion Terry.

Case for status quo: Michigan State loses its top two weapons -- running back Le'Veon Bell and tight end Dion Sims -- from an uninspiring unit. Although the team has a new offensive playcaller in Dave Warner, he comes from the existing staff and will keep the same structure in place. Running back and tight end are significant concerns.

Nebraska's defense

National rankings in 2012: 35th in total defense, 58th in scoring defense, 90th in rushing defense, ninth in pass efficiency defense

Case for improvement: Bo Pelini hasn't forgotten how to coach defense, and while the Huskers will be younger at some spots, they also could be better. The secondary returns Ciante Evans and several other potentially dynamic players. Jason Ankrah is embracing a leadership role on the line, while linebacker David Santos gained valuable experience last fall.

Case for status quo: Ankrah and defensive tackle Thad Randle are the only returning starters in the front seven from a defense that struggled to stop the run for much of the season. Nebraska has lacked a difference-maker along the defensive line since moving to the Big Ten. As Brian wrote this week, Santos, a redshirt sophomore with one career start, is already considered a veteran on the unit.

Now it's time to vote. Make yours count.