Even though Minnesota struggled mightily last year, there were still a few bright spots on offense. MarQueis Gray is a talented quarterback who has battled injuries and been moved back and forth from receiver in his career at Minnesota. His senior season should be his best one; Gray is in his second year at quarterback full time and in his second year in offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover's system. Unfortunately for the Gophers, there isn't much help around Gray: the leading returning running back only rushed for 243 yards last season and Da'Jon McKnight -- who graduated -- was Minnesota's only reliable receiver. Continuity and a competent coaching staff should help this unit, but there's little around Gray, who's a bit inconsistent himself.
11.) Penn State
Even though Bill O'Brien is bringing in his impressive offense from New England, Penn State is facing a serious dearth of proven playmakers with the departures of Silas Redd and Justin Brown. Matt McGloin is back under center for the Nittany Lions and he should certainly benefit from improved coaching, but he hasn't been that impressive so far in his career in Happy Valley. Penn State was projected to lean heavily on its running game, but since Redd transferred to USC, Curtis Dukes and Bill Belton -- both of whom are quite inexperienced -- will have to pick up the slack. The Penn State offensive line doesn't figure to be a strength either, with only one returning starter. O'Brien's system should benefit Penn State in the long run, but it could get off to a rough start early on.
The Hoosiers had some pretty decent offenses under Bill Lynch, though last year was a bit rough. Improved consistency will benefit Indiana as they won't cycle through quarterbacks as much this year: dual-threat sophomore Tre Roberson eventually won the starting job near the end of last year and will start this season. Stephen Houston is a promising running back; the junior college transfer led the Hoosiers in rushing with over 800 yards and scored eight touchdowns last year. Receiver Kofi Hughes could have a breakout year as Roberson's number one option in the passing game. Indiana used quite a few freshmen on the offensive line last year and should benefit from the experience this season. Year two under Kevin Wilson (who was widely considered to be one of the best offensive coordinators in the country at Oklahoma) should go much better for the Indiana offense.
Nathan Scheelhaase is in his third year as a starter, but this time he'll have a new system to work with: new head coach Tim Beckman is bringing in a hurry-up spread from his last job at Toledo. This should benefit Scheelhaase -- he's a dual-threat quarterback and actually led the Illini in rushing last year -- but there figure to be a few growing pains; Illinois is turning to Donovonn Young at running back and has few, if any, proven receivers. There's some consistency along the offensive line, which should help Scheelhaase out a bit, but he's going to have to shoulder most of the load on offense as his young teammates grow into their respective roles. Illinois has better coaching though, so perhaps that will help.
Northwestern's trademark spread offense is undergoing a bit of turnover personnel-wise: gone is Dan Persa, one of the best quarterbacks in Northwestern history, as well as tight end Drake Dunsmore and receiver Jeremy Ebert, two very dependable pass-catchers. In steps Kain Colter at quarterback, who filled in for Persa at times when he was injured; he's more of a runner than Persa was but he's not a terrible passer. Mike Trumpy and Venric Mark are the two favorites at running back, and while there's some promise at receiver -- notably USC transfer Kyle Prater -- they're relatively unproven as well. Northwestern's system excels year-in and year-out, but there will be quite a few new faces on the field in Evanston this season.
Purdue is certainly not short on options offensively: three quarterbacks (Caleb TerBush, Rob Henry and Robert Marve) have started at points of their Boilermaker career), Ralph Bolden was once a Second Team All-Big Ten selection as a running back, but he tore his ACL against Indiana and is facing some legal issues so his availability is in question, but Akeem Shavers was the MVP of the Bowl game filling in for Bolden. Receivers Antavian Edison, OJ Ross, and Gary Bush have each had decent seasons and form a solid corps of receivers, and the offensive line returns three starters. If whoever wins the quarterback job -- likely TerBush -- stays healthy, the Boilermakers could have a pretty potent offense.
6.) Michigan State
Running back Le'Veon Bell is certainly talented -- he'll likely have to shoulder a ton of responsibility as State's dependable offensive option much like Javon Ringer did in 2008 -- but he's pretty much alone in terms of proven players on the Spartan offense. Most of an underachieving offensive line returns intact so they should improve, but the quarterback and receivers positions are big question marks. Andrew Maxwell has spent several seaosns being groomed as Kirk Cousins's successor, but he's yet to have meaningful playing time at any point in his career. There are some intriguing options at receiver, notably DeAnthony Arnett and Aaron Burbridge, but they too are unproven. Look for Bell to have a couple hundred carries for the Spartans as they revert back to that extremely run-heavy offense that was effective in 2008.
5.) Ohio State
The Buckeyes are a very interesting team with Urban Meyer taking over, and it will be incredibly fascinating to see how their offense looks this year. Braxton Miller is a promising dual-threat sophomore quarterback who seems to be a phenomenal fit for Meyer's spread offense,but he was very inconsistent last year and will be learning a new system under Meyer. Jordan Hall figured to be the starting running back for Ohio State but his status is in question because of a foot injury sustained this offseason. Jake Stoneburner moved out to receiver from tight end and he's Ohio State's only reliable returning pass-catcher, but there are a few young receivers who could step in and make an impact. Their offense could be much higher than number five at the end of the year and could even be a little lower, but at the very least, it will be exciting to see an Urban Meyer-led offense in college football again.
Nebraska's offense looked a bit dysfunctional last season -- I mean, Taylor Martinez was throwing the football -- but it was still pretty effective: Rex Burkhead is one of the best running backs in college football, he ran for over 1,300 yards and is adept at catching the ball out of the backfield, and Martinez -- to his credit -- is a very good runner as well. Kenny Bell is a promising receiver; he caught 32 passes for 461 yards and three touchdowns last season, and he, along with Ameer Abdullah, provide plenty of speed for the Husker offense. The offensive line is a bit of a question mark with only two returning starters, but Martinez and Burkhead should still be able to carry Nebraska's offense to a fairly successful season with one of the Big Ten's best rushing attacks. If Martinez improves a lot as a passer, this offense could be incredibly dangerous.
James Vandenberg is likely the best pure passer in the Big Ten this year; Vandenburg threw for 25 touchdowns and over 3,000 yards last season in his first year as the full-time starter. The departures of Marvin McNutt and Marcus Coker hurt -- McNutt was one of the best receivers in the conference last year and Coker rushed for almost 1,400 yards. There are still some fairly reliable targets in the passing game: Keenan Davis might be the best returning receiver in the conference and CJ Fiedorowicz is primed for a breakout season at tight end, but Iowa has to find some running backs that can play. The passing game could -- and should -- be the best in the Big Ten, but it's hard to put Iowa higher on the list with their questions at running back.
With Denard Robinson at the helm, Michigan's offense should be very exciting, obviously. There are still quite a few question marks on offense -- Who can step up to be a decent number one option at receiver? What will happen at the unsettled left guard spot? Can Thomas Rawls step in ably during Fitzgerald Toussaint's suspension? Those are all valid questions and concerns but the offense's success basically boils down to the ups and downs for Denard; he needs to cut down on his interceptions and improve as a passer, but there's really not a more explosive offense in the conference because of his playmaking ability. His ability to improve in the passing game has been debated ad nauseum, but Michigan's offense -- Denard's gifts, the best offensive line in the conference, and some decent options at running back -- should be very good regardless.
The Badgers could have very well had the best offense in the country last year -- Russell Wilson was a dynamic quarterback, the Wisconsin offensive line was amazing, and there were a few good receiving options. Wisconsin's bread-and-butter, its running game, returns -- Montee Ball was a Heisman finalist who put up ridiculous numbers as the nation's best running back last year and James White has proved to be a very capable backup. The quarterback position is unsettled and there has been some attrition on the offensive line, but the Wisconsin offense should still be exceptional with Ball and White at running back. The ceiling for this unit is probably lower than it was last year, but still, Wisconsin should have am incredibly potent one-two punch and a very solid offense again this year.