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SMU returns to AP Top 25 for first time since getting NCAA death penalty

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SMU WR makes incredible 1-handed catch (0:38)

SMU's James Proche extends for the ball and makes a terrific grab with one hand to set up a Mustangs touchdown. (0:38)

SMU is ranked in The Associated Press Top 25 for the first time since the football program received the so-called death penalty for NCAA rules violations in 1987 and did not compete for two seasons.

The 5-0 Mustangs entered the poll at No. 24 after winning 48-21 at USF on Saturday. They're off to the school's best overall start since 1983, with three road wins under their belt after also winning at Arkansas State and TCU, which was ranked No. 25 at the time.

SMU's appearance in the rankings is historic, considering where the program has been. After returning from the death penalty in 1989, the Mustangs managed one winning season (6-5 in 1997) over the next 20 years.

The program saw an uptick under June Jones in 2009-12, going to four consecutive bowl games and topping out at eight victories. There has been only one winning season since.

But under second-year coach Sonny Dykes, the Mustangs are playing their best ball since the Pony Express days of Eric Dickerson and Craig James in the early 1980s.

"Given our history, SMU's history, being a very successful program for a long time like it was in the '70s and '80s, and then obviously having the death penalty, it's just been a long climb back," Dykes said Sunday. "I think it probably means more to our fan base and the SMU people than it does to others because it has been a long climb back. I think it gives our program some credibility."

SMU is not a national championship contender like it was back in its heyday, but the Mustangs head into the second month of the season looking like a team that should push for an American Athletic Conference crown. An influx of transfers, including quarterback Shane Buechele from Texas and linebacker and leading tackler Richard McBryde from Auburn has helped the rise.

Dykes said SMU has 65 new players, including scholarship freshman, walk-ons and transfers.

"When you have an influx of that many new people, it can mess your culture up a little bit," Dykes said. "That's what I worried about a little bit."