Nov 12, 2016; Reno, NV, USA; San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny (20) is greated in the end zone by tight end Parker Houston (82) after Penny's touchdown run in the third quarter of their NCAA football game with the Nevada Wolf Pack at MacKay Stadium.
Lance Iversen/Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports
The first time San Diego State was nationally ranked this season, the Aztecs responded by playing their worst game of the season.
San Diego State is now back in the rankings at No. 24 and will seek a better result when it travels to play Wyoming in Mountain West play on Saturday (3:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network).
The earlier ranking marked the first time the Aztecs had been nationally ranked since 1995. Living up to the billing proved difficult as South Alabama rolled to a 42-24 win over San Diego State.
The Aztecs quickly fell out of the rankings and have since responded with six consecutive victories. This time, the players feel more comfortable having "nationally ranked" tagged to their program.
"That was just a tough game. We had some bad luck in that one," senior defensive end Kyle Kelley said of the South Alabama loss at Tuesday’s press conference. "We don’t take into account the rankings that much. We’re just worried about the (Wyoming) game itself. I don’t really care if we are ranked right now. It all depends if we are ranked at the end of the year. That’s my main goal."
San Diego State (9-1, 6-0) has already clinched the Pacific Division of the Mountain West and will play in the conference title game. Continue to win and the Aztecs will have a chance at landing a spot in the Cotton Bowl.
Aztecs coach Rocky Long said those goals mean more to him than being ranked.
"Our team wants to win the conference championship," Long said. "I’m sure they are happy that we are back in the Top 25, even though I told them that it doesn’t matter until the end of the season.
"Our motivation is that we want to win the rest of the games because there are a lot of good things that can happen after the season if we can win them all. We might get to play in a New Year’s Day bowl game, we’d be the conference champions. There are incentives out there."
Wyoming has its own dose of incentive this week as it continues pursuit of winning the conference’s Mountain Division.
The Cowboys (7-3, 5-1) are tied for first place with Boise State and New Mexico but hurt their chances with last Saturday’s 69-66 triple-overtime loss to UNLV.
"It was a game that came down to a play here or there," Wyoming coach Craig Bohl said. "There certainly were a lot of plays in the ballgame — some really good and some not so good.
"I think it’s important that we move forward and hang together as a football team. And as coaches, there are a lot of things that we’ve got to clean up within a short week."
One area in which the Cowboys will need to be strong is defending the run as San Diego State rushed for a school-record 474 yards in last Saturday’s 46-16 victory over Nevada.
Aztecs senior running back Donnel Pumphrey leads the nation with 1,779 rushing yards and moved into fourth place in FBS history with 6,051 yards.
Pumphrey needs 32 yards to move past third-place Tony Dorsett (Pittsburgh) and is also moving within range of second-place Ricky Williams (6,279) of Texas and record-holder Ron Dayne (6,397) of Wisconsin.
He also is tied for ninth on the all-time rushing touchdowns’ list with 59.
Pumphrey rushed for 198 yards in the victory over Nevada and wasn’t even the leading rusher on his team. Junior Rashaad Penny topped him by rushing for a career-best 208 yards.
Wyoming also features a standout back in junior Brian Hill, who ranks third in the nation with 1,417 yards. Hill stands third in Mountain West history with 3,844 career rushing yards but could find running room to be a challenge against the Aztecs, who rank second nationally in rushing defense (86.4 yards per game).
Cowboys sophomore quarterback Josh Allen passed for a career-best 334 yards and four touchdowns in the loss to UNLV — which was the third-highest scoring game in FBS history. Allen has passed for 2,218 yards and 21 touchdowns against 10 interceptions.
Senior wideout Tanner Gentry is also having solid season with 53 receptions for 962 yards and a conference-leading 11 touchdowns.
Sophomore free safety Andrew Wingard leads the Wyoming defense with 99 tackles. Sophomore strong safety Marcus Epps, sophomore cornerback Antonio Hull and redshirt freshman weakside linebacker Logan Wilson share the team leadership with three interceptions apiece.
Standout San Diego State senior cornerback Damontae Kazee has five interceptions this season and holds the school career mark of 15.
The Aztecs rushed for 293 yards while rolling to a 38-3 victory over Wyoming last season.