Auburn kept plugging away, winning games fairly easily and racking up yards.
The Tigers didn't gripe publicly about not being ranked after opening the season with four straight wins, shrugging it off when the question came up. Now that they've cracked the polls at No. 17, linebacker Craig Stevens can talk about respect _ or the perceived lack thereof.
"It's always good just to have a sense of people noticing that we're playing well," Stevens said. "When we were 4-0 and still not in the top 25, we just felt like it just showed a lack of respect that they had for us. For us to just be in there now and to make a jump like we did just shows that we were not earning the respect that we were looking for."
The Tigers (5-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) grabbed that respect with a 26-22 win at Tennessee, when the offense proved it could thrive even against stiff competition and the defense fared well except for a 41-yard run on the Volunteers' first play and a 32-yard touchdown pass on their final one.
A team with more than two dozen players traveling for the first time also proved it could win on the road.
Apparently that was enough for poll voters. The Tigers had been following coach Gene Chizik's lead. He insisted being unranked wasn't a concern, and being ranked isn't a big deal either.
"I guess it's a good thing but it really doesn't matter to be ranked," cornerback Walt McFadden said. "It'll put a smile to our face but we can't let that get to our heads."
The Tigers face another SEC road game on Saturday, visiting Arkansas and seeking their first 6-0 start since 2004 when they went undefeated with Chizik as defensive coordinator.
Auburn has trailed in every game but Tennessee, but wound up with double-digit victories in the first four. Taking and keeping the lead in front of 102,000 mostly hostile fans at Neyland Stadium was a good sign for Chizik.
"It was real good to see them push through the game," he said. "It wasn't always pretty, but we took 27 new guys on the road with us that had never traveled to a college football game. They played well as a team, and they fought through all the times that they didn't look good and we found a way to win on the road in the SEC. It was pleasing to see we could fight through those issues when we weren't at home."
"This is no different from those great fights back in the days when you had all those great heavyweights," he said. "It's a 12-round fight and you take every round one at a time."
The Tigers' fast start after being picked to finish next-to-last in the Western Division is largely due to an offensive resurgence under coordinator Gus Malzahn.
Auburn ranks fifth nationally in scoring offense, total offense and rushing offense. The 207 points through five games is only one shy of last year's 12-game total, and the Tigers have scored in all 20 quarters.
The relentless, fast-paced offense and running game forced Tennessee defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin to twice call timeouts to rest a worn-out defense that had been one of the league's stingiest.
"That just lets everyone know that we're for real," said tailback Ben Tate, the league's No. 2 rusher. "It kind of gives us confidence in ourselves too. They are one of the best defenses in the country with one of the best defensive coordinators in the country. That just shows us that our hard work is paying off."
The defense ranks in the bottom half of the league in most of the major statistical categories, but it has been opportunistic. The Tigers are fourth in the nation in turnover margin and have eight interceptions.
Auburn can show if it's for real this month, following games at Tennessee and Arkansas with one at No. 4 LSU and home games against Kentucky and No. 20 Mississippi.
"We call this month October to get respect," cornerback Walt McFadden said. "You win in October, you get more respect. That's just something we're doing right now, that's our whole thing."
Things have worked out well so far for Chizik and the Tigers, but he's not proclaiming their arrival yet.
"Obviously you can't be sitting any better than being 5-0," Chizik said. "That being said, what is very clear to myself and our team and all our coaches is that we've got a long road ahead of us. We're just starting in this thing."