Navy will be venturing into largely unknown territory when it plays in the Emerald Bowl in San Francisco on Dec. 30.
The Midshipmen have never encountered New Mexico during a football history that began in 1879 and - with the exception of their annual grudge match against the Air Force Academy - have had little exposure to the Mountain West Conference, which is a rather obscure entity to collegiate followers east of the Mississippi River.
Air Force aside, Navy's recent experience with MWC opponents has been limited to 1994 and 1997 games at San Diego State, both defeats.
A canvas of Navy's players indicates only general knowledge of the Lobos, the runner-up to undefeated Utah in the league.
"I don't know a whole lot about them," said co-captain Josh Smith, "except that they like to run the ball a lot on the option. But every team is pretty much unknown until you play them. You just hear a lot more about other teams because they're closer. We know they're good or they wouldn't be where they are."
"I know a little bit, but you don't see them on TV much back home because the Big 12 dominates there," said defensive back Jeremy McGown, a Houston native and special teams player of the game in the Houston Bowl last year. "I know one of their players came out and said we weren't very nationally ranked, so they don't know what football is like here. It'll be fun to prove how it plays out."
August Roitsch, considered Navy's top offensive lineman and another product of Houston, pointed out that the Lobos' top-ranked MWC defense is "very unpredictable and very fast. They have some defensive formations that are pretty weird, a lot of different looks."
Cornerback Vaughn Kelley pointed out that this year New Mexico "beat Texas Tech [27-24] and that's always something to look at. It's not like we never heard of them." Texas Tech overpowered the Midshipmen, 38-14, in the Houston Bowl.
"They're the Lobos. That's Spanish for wolves," he added.
Navy will have to cope with a Lobos offensive line that averages 315 pounds - NFL proportions - and an excellent running back in DonTrell Moore, who is 17th nationally with a 108.2 rushing average.
"They are big," said Smith. "But every team we play is a big one to us."
"That running back is something. We watched one film where he pretty much brought the team back on his own," said Kelley. "He and No. 18 [wide receiver Hank Baskett] are their go-to men."
Air Force is the only common opponent for the teams. Navy won in Colorado Springs, 24-21, on Geoff Blumenfeld's field goal in the waning seconds, and New Mexico lost to the Falcons on the road, 28-23, in a game it played without starting quarterback Kole McKamey.
Navy head coach Paul Johnson has more experience with New Mexico after spending 1987 through 1994 as the offensive coordinator at Hawaii, which met the Lobos almost annually during that span.
"Coach Johnson is pretty familiar with them and knows what to expect," said Kelley. "That's what we have going for us."
Honor for Eckel
Navy fullback Kyle Eckel has been named an honorable mention All-American by Sports Illustrated after rushing for 1,062 yards and 11 touchdowns during the regular season. He was thrown for a loss only once - on a pitchout.
Eckel stands fourth on the school's all-time rushing list with 2,821 yards and needs to match his career high of 179 yards to become only the third running back in Navy history to run for 3,000.
Next for Navy
Matchup: Navy (9-2) vs. New Mexico (7-4) in Emerald Bowl
Site: SBC Park, San Francisco
When: Dec. 30, 4:30 p.m.
TV/Radio: ESPN2/WJFK (1300 AM), WNAV (1430 AM)
Line: New Mexico by 2 1/2