Shifting into gear

For the second straight year, the Huskers will be looking to replace their center. Justin Jackson converted from the defensive line and was solid in that role last season. There’s plenty of experience returning, but Nebraska will have to develop some depth among some young, untested players and a couple of junior college transfers (tackle Matt Finnin and guard Chongo Kondolo).

Quarterback Taylor Martinez said the line is the strength of the offense. OK, so those guys are charged with protecting Martinez’s back side, so it doesn’t hurt to flatter them. But this should be Bo Pelini's best line in six years as Nebraska's head coach.

One offseason coaching change involved John Garrison taking over the lead role in guiding the line. Last season he spent much of his time with the tight ends.

Key loss

Seung Hoon Choi

The key players

No.; Name;Yr.; Ht.;Wt.

56; Mark Pelini; Jr.; 6-0; 295

Played in the seven games last season and took over in first quarter against Iowa when Justin Jackson was sidelined by injury.

61; Spencer Long; Sr.; 6-4; 315

An All-America candidate and the anchor of the offensive line.

62; Cole Pensick; Sr.; 6-2; 275

A little undersized, but plays hard and is versatile enough to play a couple of positions.

63; Andrew Rodriguez; Sr.; 6-6; 330

Nebraska’s A-Rod got a lot of good experience last season in the regular rotation and hopes to become a full-time starter this year.

68; Jake Cotton; Jr.; 6-6; 305

Cotton proved himself valuable as last season progressed and earned more playing time. Now he needs to take another leap to make himself a starter.

71; Jeremiah Sirles; Sr.; 6-6; 310

Sirles is well-spoken and started every game at right tackle in 2012.

76; Brent Qvale; Sr.; 6-7; 315

Another senior who has seen it all, Qvale should be another valuable asset for an experienced offensive line.

Taking the wheel

Spencer Long didn’t come from nowhere, but almost. As a former walk-on, he is the kind of player the coaches like to hold up as an example of where hard work can take you. Long credits his teammates and coaches for helping him, but he put in a tremendous amount of work to become one of the Big Ten’s best offensive linemen.

He has started 27 games at right guard the past two seasons, helping pave the way for a Nebraska offense that led the Big Ten in rushing (253.4 yards per game) and total offense (460.8) in 2012. As a sophomore, he was basically unknown to begin the season, but emerged to start every game and earn second-team All-Big honors from the media.

Drive time with Spencer Long

Your dream car? “I’m a truck guy normally, but it’s going to be something outrageous if I can get anything. Probably a sports car, a Lamborghini.”

Who in your position group has the ugliest car? “Jeremiah Sirles has a pretty ugly, old F-150. It has a stick shift, real old-school. But she still runs.”

Is there a gearhead in your position group? “Justin Jackson was, but he graduated. Brodrick Nickens was but he moved to D-line. Other than that … if I had to say anyone I’d probably say Cole Pensick. But if I had a problem I’d probably still go to Nickens, he lives right down the street from me.”

What was your first car? “It was a hand-me-down F-150 truck that went through both my sisters. It was a beat-up old truck.”