The Hope and Concern series wraps up with the Northwestern Wildcats.
Biggest reason for hope: A restocked offense
Northwestern returns nine starters on offense, including the nation's second most experienced offensive line (137 combined career starts). It's unknown whether quarterback Dan Persa will recapture his All-Big Ten form after rehabbing from a ruptured Achilles', but the senior has been ahead of schedule throughout his recovery. The Wildcats boast arguably the Big Ten's deepest group of wide receivers and tight ends, led by All-Big Ten selection Jeremy Ebert. While they have plenty to prove in the run game, the pieces are in place there. It all adds up to an offense that could be among the Big Ten's most productive in 2011.
Biggest reason for concern: Question marks throughout the front seven
Fixing the defense has been a focal point throughout the offseason, as Northwestern tries to regain the assertiveness it displayed in 2008. The Wildcats have to replace two starting linebackers and identify more playmakers along the defensive line. Senior end Vince Browne is a nice piece to build around, but Northwestern needs big seasons from tackles Jack DiNardo, Niko Mafuli and Brian Arnfelt and must build greater depth at the end position. The coaches think they've upgraded their athleticism at linebacker in recent recruiting classes, and they'll need younger players like Damien Proby, Collin Ellis and Tim Riley to step up this fall.
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