San Diego State is about to do something it hasn't done in 21 years -- play a game as a ranked program.
The No. 19 Aztecs went 341 polls without being ranked before cracking the rankings Sept. 18 and aim not to stumble when they visit South Alabama in Mobile, Ala., on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ESPNews).
San Diego State didn't remain ranked very long back in 1995. The Aztecs fell out as quickly as they climbed in by losing 34-31 to Wyoming.
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But San Diego State, which didn't play last week, is back among the elite and intends to hang around a lot longer this time around.
"It feels great to just be able to get the recognition we felt we deserved," standout senior running back Donnel Pumphrey said. "Our team, we expected it. We're all happy and we're ready for the next test -- which is South Alabama."
Oh yeah, South Alabama.
This San Diego State squad should have plenty of motivation when it comes to avoiding the upset. You see, the Jaguars (2-2) defeated the Aztecs 34-27 in overtime last season in San Diego.
San Diego State players and coaches sure don't need much reminding of that defeat.
"Anytime somebody beats you, you relish the chance to return the favor," Aztecs coach Rocky Long said. "My idea that last year's game was two teams of similar playing ability was exactly wrong. They outplayed us bad. You have to give them credit."
South Alabama senior outside linebacker Roman Buchanan is interested in making it consecutive wins over the Aztecs. He also expects to confront an angry group of San Diego State players.
"They're definitely gunning for us," Buchanan said. "I would expect nothing less than that. They're a really good team, and they don't take lightly somebody coming into their house and beating them. So they definitely want to return the favor."
The Aztecs (3-0) are streaking as they enter the rematch. They have won their past 13 games -- second best in the nation behind top-ranked Alabama (16) -- and have won 11 of those by 14 or more points.
Another victory would give the program its first 4-0 start since 1981.
Not only is San Diego State gaining rare national attention, Pumphrey leads the nation in rushing yards per game (199.7) and is receiving mention as a possible top-five Heisman Trophy finisher.
Pumphrey recently surpassed Marshall Faulk's school career rushing mark of 4,589 yards and that has elevated his status and increased his national profile. He has 4,871 rushing yards and 52 touchdowns -- including 599 yards and seven touchdowns in three games this season.
The 5-foot-9, 180-pound Pumphrey is only 129 yards away from becoming the 21st player in college football history to rush for 5,000 career yards.
"He kind of reminds me of Reggie Bush, he is that type of back," South Alabama coach Joey Jones said in reference to the former USC star and current NFL player. "He is what I call a one-step cutter, he can be running full speed and it only takes him one step to change direction at a great angle.
"He has the speed to take it home, if you miss him and he gets out in the open field he can score from 60, 80 yards out. He's a guy who can make big plays."
South Alabama did a capable job on Pumphrey last season. Pumphrey finished with 102 rushing yards but needed 28 carries to reach that total.
Buchanan and senior safety Kalen Jackson are tied for the team tackle lead with 33. Buchanan has a team-best five tackles for losses and Jackson has 4 1/2. Senior defensive end Randy Allen has a team-leading 3 1/2 sacks.
Offensively, sophomore quarterback Dallas Davis passed for 1,130 yards, five touchdowns and five interceptions this season, while senior tight end Gerald Everett has 21 receptions for 290 yards and two touchdowns.
Davis' most memorable performance was rallying the Jaguars from a 17-point deficit to record a 21-20 victory over Mississippi State in the season opener. He tossed a game-winning 4-yard touchdown pass to Everett on fourth down with 57 seconds remaining for the decisive points.
San Diego State's defense is led by linebacker Calvin Munson (team-best 34 tackles) and cornerback Damontae Kazee (12 career interceptions). Senior defensive end Alex Barrett has contributed four sacks.
Sophomore quarterback Christian Chapman threw for six touchdowns against two interceptions this season.