With Ricky Dobbs as the focal point of the triple option, Navy has one of the nation's top rushing offenses.
San Diego State, though, could have the defense necessary to make running the ball very difficult while it tries to end a long postseason drought.
The Midshipmen head to the Poinsettia Bowl for the third time to meet Brady Hoke's surprising Aztecs on Thursday night in water-logged San Diego.
Navy (9-3) will play its third bowl game in San Diego in six years, returning to the city with the largest naval base on the West Coast. In 2005, the Midshipmen routed Colorado State 51-30 during the inaugural Poinsettia Bowl before falling 35-32 to Utah two years later.
A postseason victory on the Aztecs' home field would give the service academy 10 wins in consecutive years for the first time.
Weather, though, may play a role in this contest. Several days of heavy rain left the field under several inches of water just more than 24 hours before kickoff.
"We have every intention of kicking off at 5:06 p.m.," executive director Bruce Binkowski told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "The stadium grounds crew work will work round the clock to make sure they get in the game."
On Wednesday, the field appeared to be under perhaps 10 inches or more of muddy water.
"That's part of football and part of what we've all grown up and played in that weather and had fun in that weather," Hoke said
Navy closed the regular season with a 31-17 win over Army on Dec. 11, its fourth straight overall. Dobbs passed for 186 yards and ran for 54, but also fumbled three times and threw his first interception in six games.
"Those turnovers drive you crazy," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said, "but that's Ricky."
Niumatalolo appears more than willing to put up with Dobbs' occasional flubs as the senior accounted for 2,240 yards and 25 touchdowns this year, rushing for 860 yards and 13 scores.
Dobbs, though, is far from a one-year wonder when it comes to running the ball. In just three seasons, he's second among active FBS quarterbacks with 663 carries, 48 rushing touchdowns and 13 100-yard games, and third with 2,558 yards.
"He's a great player. He runs that offense really well," Hoke said of Dobbs. "He looks like a great leader and he keeps the ball more than anyone on that offense, by far. He's a great runner and can throw it around a little bit as well. He'll be a big challenge for us."
However, Dobbs isn't the only backfield threat for Navy. The Aztecs also must try and stop Alexander Teich (825 yards, five TDs) and Gee Gee Greene (459 yards, five TDs) as they helped the Midshipmen finish the regular season fifth in the nation with 288.9 rushing yards per game.
San Diego State, meanwhile, allowed the third-fewest rushing yards in the Mountain West (1,704), holding four teams to fewer than 90 on the ground this season. Linebacker Miles Burris led the team with 74 tackles and 9 1/2 sacks.
Weather aside, Hoke has a strategy to thwart Navy's ground game.
"You have to stop the fullback. Either after the fake or when he has it, he's the one getting down the field cutting linebackers and alley players. You have to stop him," he said.
In just his second year after leaving a 12-win Ball State team, Hoke guided the Aztecs (8-4) to a winning season for the first time since 1998, also the year of their last bowl appearance.
Perhaps more impressive is that San Diego State's four losses came by a combined 15 points, and included narrow defeats to ranked foes TCU and Utah.
SDSU had gone 10-26 over the previous three seasons. Hoke, who was 4-8 in 2009 after taking over for the fired Chuck Long, is happy for the Aztec seniors.
"They should be proud of what they've done and what their legacy will be," said Hoke, the Mountain West coach of the year who was recently courted briefly by Minnesota. "Going to a bowl game is great because of the development, but it's no fun if you lose."
SDSU went 5-1 this season at Qualcomm Stadium, but has dropped three straight postseason games since beating Boston University in the 1969 Pasadena Bowl.
Besides a solid run defense, the Aztecs have a high-powered offense as well.
Ryan Lindley was the Mountain West's top quarterback with 3,554 passing yards. His 26 touchdown passes tied TCU's Andy Dalton for most in the conference.
Lindley will be throwing to the top two receivers in the MWC. DeMarco Sampson caught 65 passes for 1,175 yards and eight scores, while Vincent Brown had 61 catches for 1,187 yards and nine touchdowns and was named the team's MVP.
SDSU also has a star running back. Ronnie Hillman, the conference freshman of year, set the league's single-season freshman rushing record with 1,304 yards and ran for at least 150 five times.
San Diego State hasn't faced Navy since a 45-31 win in 1997.
You have the local team in San Diego State against a team that has a huge Naval base in the city. Lots of demand already for tickets. San Diego State is making its first bowl appearance since 1998, while Navy is in a bowl game for the seventh straight season. The Midshipmen are 1-1 in bowl games under coach Ken Niumatalolo. -- Andrea Adelson