November 7, 2013 Updated: November 8, 2013 at 4:56 pm
Bob Davie spent eight years at Notre Dame, playing year after year against Army, Navy and, of course, Air Force.
He didn't forget those games, storing them in his memory as he left coaching and became an ESPN announcer.
"I knew if I ever got back in this game that we were going to be as close to that model as we could be in our own situation," said Davie, now in his second season at New Mexico.
He has held true to his word.
Under Davie, New Mexico has 14 staffers canvassing campus to ensure players are in classes as they begin and when they finish. The program has instituted tighter recruiting standards and has raised the discipline on those they do bring in - not that there are that many chances to stray, as the Lobos kept their 115 football players on campus through the summer to keep closer tabs on them.
And, of course, like the service academies, New Mexico is running like crazy. The offense ranks third in the nation at 313.6 rushing yards per game.
"In the way we run our program, I joke with our kids a lot that we are Air Force, just in Albuquerque, New Mexico," Davie said. "We're asking our kids to do a lot of things - maybe not as much as the academy does - but we've kind of modeled our program after theirs. That gives us a chance."
The Lobos posted the biggest point differential turnaround in the nation last year. They had been outscored by 26.3 points per game in 2011 and by just 4.4 points in 2012 during a campaign in which they went 4-9 but lost four games by five points or fewer - including a 32-29 loss to Boise State. Air Force was one of those close calls in beating the Lobos 28-23 last year. Kasey Carrier ran for 338 yards and three touchdowns against the Falcons in the game that came down to a late fourth down in Air Force's territory in which the Falcons held.
"Freshman year against New Mexico was a completely different team than when we played them sophomore year," Air Force junior Nick Fitzgerald said. "They had talent and they still do have talent - they probably always will, they're a great football team - but when we played them freshman year they didn't use their talent to the best of their ability. They weren't what I would call a team. They were a bunch of players out there trying to make plays, but I don't think the coaching was there."
The improvements have largely carried over to this year, though New Mexico's record, 2-6, again might not reflect it. Three losses have come down to one possession, including a 38-31 defeat at Wyoming and a 35-30 setback at San Diego State.
Such disappointments come with building a program, but Davie said they won't make him stray from his plan.
"I'm not going to compromise," Davie said. "I'm not going to panic and take some kid I shouldn't take to try to win some games. We're going to build this the right way."
Air Force coach Troy Calhoun sees the on-field similarities between the programs, but he also reminds of the vast differences.
"There's no comparison in size," Calhoun said. "I think you look at size of institution, size of players, there's virtually nothing in common.
"They do run the ball quite, quite well and the numbers bear that out and I think Carrier is as good as there is as a tailback in the country."
Unlike Calhoun, who came aboard a program where the standards had long been in place, Davie had to rattle a few cages when he arrived. There were some defections, but he said that none of the players he and his staff have brought aboard have departed.
"That's just the situation we're in," Davie said. "When you take over a program like we took over, that's what you have to do. That's your chance to win."