Spring football practice kicks off

Air Force running back Mike DeWitt practices catching and securing the football during a spring football practice drill at the Air Force Academy's Holaday Athletic Center Feb. 27, 2012. DeWitt carried 117 times for 567 yards and 12 touchdowns during the 2011 season, finishing third on the team in rushing. (U.S. Air Force photo/John Van Winkle)

Air Force running back Mike DeWitt practices catching and securing the football during a spring football practice drill at the Air Force Academy's Holaday Athletic Center Feb. 27, 2012. DeWitt carried 117 times for 567 yards and 12 touchdowns during the 2011 season, finishing third on the team in rushing. (U.S. Air Force photo/John Van Winkle)

Senior quarterback Connor Dietz participates in a passing drill during spring football training Feb. 27, 2012. Dietz will compete for the starting QB job. In 2011, Dietz went 9-of-15 for 128 yards and one score, and 38 rushes for 252 yards and two touchdowns as the backup quarterback. (U.S. Air Force photo/John Van Winkle)

Senior quarterback Connor Dietz participates in a passing drill during spring football training Feb. 27, 2012. Dietz will compete for the starting QB job. In 2011, Dietz went 9-of-15 for 128 yards and one score, and 38 rushes for 252 yards and two touchdowns as the backup quarterback. (U.S. Air Force photo/John Van Winkle)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- The face of Falcons Football's 2012 team is being forged with the start of spring football practice.

Spring ball started Feb. 24 and runs through March 22.

That face will be mostly new, with only three starters returning on offense, and two on defense. Special teams skill positions will be solid, with punter David Baska and placekicker Parker Herrington both returning.

A number of significant contributing lettermen are also stepping up, vying for an increased role this season, with increased responsibility and impact. The biggest question on the offensive side will be the new starting quarterback, replacing four-year starter Tim Jefferson. The utterly fearless senior quarterback Connor Dietz returns, along with junior Tucker Tipton. Both received playing time last year, and are the current front-runners to be starting quarterback. But for the past eight years, an unknown freshman quarterback has emerged in the fall to become a four-year starter under center. So who will lead the option offense next year is still at Falcon Stadium is anybody's guess.

In the backfield, junior running backs Wes Cobb, Mike DeWitt and Cody Getz return, along with junior wide receiver Mikel Hunter.

Defensively, familiar faces will be few and far between. Linebacker Alex Means and defensive back Brian Lindsay will be seniors and the only returning starters. Freshman defensive lineman Nick Fitzgerald will lead a group of young faces on the defensive line, and expect to see sophomore defensive back Chris Miller getting lots of playing time in the backfield when the 2012 season kicks off Sept. 1 home against Idaho State.

The Idaho State game will mark Parents Weekend. The other games with firm dates established are Sept. 8 at Michigan, Oct. 6 at home versus Navy to begin the battle to retain the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy, and Nov. 3 at Army.

The Mountain West conference portion of the football schedule will be finalized later this summer, but will give the Falcons home games against Colorado State, Hawai'i, Nevada-Reno and New Mexico, and away games at Fresno State, San Diego State, UNLV and Wyoming.

But the face of the Mountain West conference will also change, with the departure of San Diego State after the 2012-2013 academic year, and the upcoming merger of the Mountain West and Conference-USA. The merger is the latest change in the continuing shift of the college football landscape. Announced Feb. 13, the merger of the two conferences will create a new mega-conference to begin competition in the 2013-2014 academic year.

Barring continued shifts in the conferences' memberships, this will consist of the Air Force Academy, Alabama-Birmingham, Colorado State, East Carolina University, Fresno State, Hawai'i, Marshall, Nevada-Reno, New Mexico, UNLV, Rice, Southern Miss, University of Texas at El Paso, Tulane, Tulsa and Wyoming.

With the exception of Hawai'i as a football-only member, the participation would involve all sports in which the current MW and C-USA conferences participate in. A name for the new conference has not been announced yet, but it will reach further than any existing conference, with member schools stretching from the Atlantic coast to Hawaii.

The merger of the Mountain West and C-USA will bring the new conference up to 16 teams for football and 15 for other sports. But in the merger announcement, the conferences referenced having 18-24 teams, leaving the door open for continued additions.

The conference will also have two divisions, regular scheduling between divisions, a championship basketball tournament and a championship football game format that includes semifinal matchups.