ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - When Wyoming defensive end Gabe Knapton is around teammates, nothing is off limits.

The fifth-year senior likes to make fun of and play pranks on his fellow Cowboys. Most of Knapton's actions produce laughter, followed by a pause - did he just do that?

The way Knapton plays, however, is no joke.

The 6-foot-3, 263-pounder will have Temple's full attention in Saturday's New Mexico Bowl, which kicks off 2 p.m. here at University Stadium. Temple is a 7-point favorite playing in its second bowl game in three years.

"He's got a motor," Wyoming senior linebacker Brian Hendricks said of his roommate. "The thing about him, he works so hard. He has a work ethic.

"To this team, without him, we wouldn't be where we are at."

A four-year starter, Knapton has a knack for finding ball carries no matter where he lines up. The 128 tackles he recorded playing inside linebacker as a redshirt freshman ranked as the fifth-best, single-season total in Mountain West Conference history.

The following season, Knapton was moved to defensive end as Wyoming switched from a 3-4 base defense to a 4-3 scheme.

He responded by leading all MWC defensive linemen with 67 tackles to go with four sacks.

"Really, you know, the only difference for me was getting the hand down," he said. "Once I got used to that, I liked the position. I had fun doing it."

Now two seasons later, the Colorado native ranks 10th in career tackles (361) among active Football Bowl Subdivision players.

His stops also rank fifth all-time in school history and sixth all-time in the conference.

Knapton says he picked up his tackling ability from his family. His father, Bob, was an inside linebacker at Northern Colorado before a stint in the USFL. His uncle, Jeff, played defensive tackle at Wyoming and was the Los Angeles Rams' sixth-round draft pick in 1988.

But around the Cowboys, Knapton is known more for his jokes than his blood lines.

"He's definitely a funny guy," Wyoming wideout Mazi Ogbonna said. "He keeps everybody in the locker room laughing at his jokes.

"I know he always keeps me laughing."

And if Knapton has his wish, Wyoming (8-4) will celebrate a second New Mexico Bowl triumph in three seasons. The Cowboys defeated Fresno State, 35-28, in double-overtime in 2009.

But he realizes beating Temple (8-4) won't be an easy task.

Led by tailback Bernard Pierce, the Owls boast the FBS's seventh-best rushing offense, averaging 256.67 yards per game. Wyoming, on the other hand, is ranked 115th out of 120 FBS squads in rushing defense (allowing 230.1 rushing yards per game).

"I think it is going to be like a few years ago when we were here," Knapton said. "No one is getting blown out. That's for sure.

"We just got to keep fighting and stop the run. That's our main thing, and play hard."

Contact staff writer Keith Pompey at 215-854-2939, kpompey@phillynews.com, or @pompeysgridlock on Twitter. Read his blog, "Owls Inq," at www.philly.com/owlsinq