San Diego State is tucked away in the very southwestern corner of the country, operating in the shadows of the Pac-12. It hasn't been easy for the Aztecs to bust out from their under-the-radar spot.
But if performances like San Diego State's 34-10 spanking of Houston in the Las Vegas Bowl presented by Geico continue rolling in, it'll no longer be possible to disregard the Aztecs' position in the national picture.
San Diego State flexed its muscles in emphatic fashion, ripping off 34 straight points to knock off a Houston team that was ranked as high as No. 6 in the country this year. The Aztecs now have posted consecutive 11-win seasons, setting the table for a 2017 slate that's ripe with opportunity: Both Arizona State and Stanford are on San Diego State's schedule next season.
Saturday's dismantling of Houston was surgical. The Cougars jumped out to a 10-0 lead, using their rushing defense -- ranked second in the nation behind only Alabama's -- to hold San Diego State star Donnel Pumphrey to negative yardage in the first quarter.
But once the Aztecs made adjustments, they executed absolutely every facet of the tried-and-true formula that coach Rocky Long has implemented in San Diego.
Running game? Check. Pumphrey rushed for 115 yards, breaking the FBS career record of Wisconsin's Ron Dayne. Pumphrey finished his college career with 6,411 rushing yards, and he also surpassed Texas' D'Onta Foreman for the 2016 national lead in rushing with a 2,133-yard season.
There's more: Rashaad Penny, Pumphrey's backfield mate who is expected to replace him as the Aztecs' featured back next year, surpassed the 1,000-yard mark. San Diego State is the first team in FBS history to feature a 2,000-yard and a 1,000-yard rusher in the same season.
Efficient passing? Check. Aztec quarterback Christian Chapman threw only 14 times, but he averaged 9.1 yards per attempt. The Houston defense was hopelessly sucked in to the threat of the run -- an obvious reaction to the prowess of Pumphrey and Penny -- on Chapman's 28-yard play-action scoring toss to Curtis Anderson which sealed the game.
Defense? Check. The Aztecs entered the game leading the nation with 22 interceptions, and they picked off Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. four times -- including on three straight third-quarter possessions -- to grab control of the game. San Diego State also registered seven sacks, holding the Cougars a full four touchdowns below their season average.
For Houston, this was obviously a disappointing start to life after former head coach Tom Herman, who left for Texas after the regular season. But as this bowl game rolled on, it became increasingly clear that the Cougars were facing a buzz saw in San Diego State -- one which should have ample opportunity to make serious noise given its schedule moving forward.