Air Force has been to three consecutive bowl games, the first time that has happened at the school since 1990-92. The bowl trip happened with one of the youngest teams in the nation; the Falcons had just 15 seniors and had a national-high 20 freshmen see action.
AIR FORCE AT-A-GLANCE
Tim Jefferson returns at QB for Air Force.
Coach: Troy Calhoun Last season: 8-5 overall, 5-3 in the Mountain West. Beat Houston in the Armed Forces Bowl.
Spring dates: Feb. 18-March 17.
The problem is that some of those seniors played key roles, making this an important spring practice for the Falcons along both lines and at linebackers.
Here's a look at Air Force as it prepares to open spring practice.
Positions of strength
Air Force is set at the skill positions. RBs Jared Tew, Asher Clark and Savier Stephens return after combining to rush for 2,252 yards and 19 touchdowns last season. The Falcons also bring back starting QB Tim Jefferson, who topped 100 yards in four of the final five games, and No. 1 receiver Kevin Fogler. The Falcons were fifth in the nation in pass defense last season and should give opposing quarterbacks trouble again with three starters returning in the secondary, including Rivals.com All-Mountain West CBs Anthony Wright and Reggie Rembert.
Help is needed
Though all starters at the offensive skill positions are back, their effectiveness will depend on the development of the line -- where Air Force must replace all five starters. The biggest challenge will be at center, where Michael Hampton played nearly every snap the past two seasons. New defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt -- promoted to replace Tim DeRuyter, who left for Texas A&M -- needs to retool the middle of the defense. The Falcons lose all-conference NT Ben Garland, two inside linebackers and standout SS Chris Thomas.
Three guys to watch
TE Chaz Demerath: Demerath will replace departed starter Sean Quintana, though he caught only one fewer pass than Quintana last season with five. At 6 feet 2 and 195 pounds, Demerath doesn't have the look of someone who will be a factor in the trenches.
LB Wale Lawal: He finished his freshman season as a starter. On the first play of his career, against Nicholls State, Lawal forced a fumble and ran it back for a touchdown. But the remainder of his first season was fairly quiet.
G A.J. Wallerstein: The rebuilding of the offensive line will start with Wallerstein, the only returning lineman with any starting experience.
The pressure is on
LBs Ken Lamendola and Patrick Hennessey: Both were starters early in 2009 but finished the season on the sideline because of injuries. An inside linebacker, Lamendola will be expected to nail down a starting job in spring drills; the other candidates lack experience. Hennessey, an outside linebacker, needs to impress in spring. If he doesn't, he is going to fall behind a bunch of relative youngsters on the depth chart.
Air Force built momentum for the spring with a convincing 47-20 victory over Houston in the Armed Force Bowl, but the Falcons have much work to do. There are fresh faces all over the offensive line, and coaches need to find out who will take over in the middle of the defense. The Falcons run a 3-4 set, and return just two full-time starters in the front seven.
David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.