Since head coach Rocky Long's return to Albuquerque in 1998, the University of New Mexico has steadily developed into one of the nation's finest college football programs. Built upon a simple foundation of pride, character, commitment and consistent success, the New Mexico program has displayed its strength and integrity year after year. No matter how much or little preseason hype has accompanied the team, Long and his blue collar Lobos have gone to work the same way every day with the singular goal of winning.
How successful has New Mexico been? One would have to go back to the early 1960s to find a time when New Mexico football prospered like it currently is under Long. In fact, some of the numbers put up in the Long-Era are unprecedented.
New Mexico has won at least seven games in three consecutive seasons for the first time in program history. The 22 wins since 2002 tie for the most in a three-year period, while the Lobos' 15 victories in Mountain West Conference play are the most ever in a three-year span at UNM. Only Utah (16) has won more MWC games since 2002. UNM has also produced a minimum of six wins in four straight years for the first time since 1961-64 and has posted four straight non-losing seasons for the first time since 1958-64.
Meanwhile, for the first time in 106 years of New Mexico football, the Lobos have played in three straight bowl games - a feat no other team in the MWC can match. UNM has made four postseason appearances in the past eight years after qualifying only five times in its first 98 seasons.
In the midst of all the team success, New Mexico has developed some of the finest players in the nation, under Long's tutelage. Since 1998, eight UNM players have combined to earn All-America honors 10 times, 19 have participated in collegiate all-star games and four players have been selected in the NFL draft.
New Mexico boasts a talented and experienced team that returns 43 lettermen and 17 starters from a year ago. While the memorable senior class of 2004 will be missed, six all-Mountain West Conference honorees are back to lead the squad this year, including three first team selections.
With all the success surrounding the program, expectations have risen in recent years. Coaches, players and fans alike now enter each season with goals of winning the conference title and a bowl game. The 2005 season will be no different as New Mexico boasts a talented and experienced team that returns 43 lettermen and 17 starters from a year ago. While the memorable senior class of 2004 will be missed, six all-Mountain West Conference honorees are back to lead the squad this year, including three first team selections. The Lobos will also have All-America candidates on both sides of the ball and an eighth-year head coach patrolling the sidelines who will finish the season atop the school's career victories list.
No season is ever a walk in the park, however, and New Mexico will face several big obstacles on its 2005 schedule, including three opponents that played in bowl games last season. Keeping with Long's willingness to play any team in the country home-and-home, the Lobos open the non-conference schedule on the road against a hungry Big XII team in Missouri, which is lead by standout quarterback Brad Smith. UNM then returns home to face its new-look rivals, New Mexico State, before traveling down the Rio Grande to renew acquaintances with Mike Price's rejuvenated UTEP team. The Mountain West Conference schedule doesn't offer any room to rest with Air Force, BYU, Colorado State and UNLV coming to Albuquerque and road trips at defending MWC champion Utah, San Diego State, Wyoming and new league member TCU.
"The schedule will be very challenging once again and our conference has gotten better," Long said. "Last year I thought it was a very young league with the only experienced team being Utah. This year it's a very experienced league and experienced teams usually play better. I think it will be just as competitive, but the quality of football will be better."