“The one thing that’s important to note as they’ve hired coaches through the years, I think that every single coach that has been here, and there has been a number of them through the years since the Death Penalty, have the left the program in better shape than they’ve found it,” Dykes said. “We’re the benefactors of that. It’s been a much easier job for me than it has for some of the guys in the past.” For Buechele, the time to make an impact is now. Cracking the top-25 poll is an accomplishment, but the quarterback believes there is much more out there for the Mustangs.”The end goal is to be ranked No. 1 in the nation, and you have to be ranked to do that,” Buechele said. “It’s a good start for us. We’ve been off to a good start, but I think it’s important for us to take what we’re doing right now, build on it and go 1-0 every week. The rankings will take care of themselves.” “I remember hearing about it, and obviously I know they were really talented,” Buechele told Sporting News. “I grew up knowing about it a little, and there was stuff on TV and ESPN with the ’30-for-30.'” WEEK 6 PICKS: Straight up | Against the spreadSMU is known for the “Pony Express,” which featured Eric Dickerson and Craig James during its Southwest Conference heyday. SMU is also known for “Pony Excess,” the ESPN “30-for-30” that detailed the Death Penalty circumstances that contributed to the 33-year drought. The Mustangs have enjoyed just four winning seasons since 1986 as a result. This team created a new headline. SMU is 5-0, ranked No. 24 in the AP Poll and hosts Tulsa on Saturday at Gerald J. Ford Stadium. Buechele, who transferred from Texas this offseason, is the quarterback leading the way. “I think it’s a big deal,” SMU coach Sonny Dykes said on the American Athletic Conference teleconference Monday. “It’s been 33 years. That’s a long time between rankings, but as I’ve said, as soon as the ball is snapped, that goes out the window from our standpoint.” The pairing of Dykes, who had a 19-30 record at Cal before taking the job at SMU in 2017, and Buechele, who won the starting job with the Longhorns as a freshman but eventually lost it to Sam Ehlinger, has translated into one of the best stories of the 2019 football season. The Mustangs were picked to finish fourth in the West Division in the American Athletic Conference preseason poll. Dykes, however, had a different feeling about this team from the start. “The very first meeting we had when we got our team together, we felt like we had enough talent to have a chance to win every game we played,” Dykes said. “That was assuming we could make the pieces fit together.” The pieces have fit so far. Buechele has 1,385 passing yards and 10 TDs, and fifth-year senior Xavier Jones has 10 rushing TDs on 6.0 yards per carry. The offense ranks 10th in the FBS with 44.4 points per game. Linebacker Richard McBryde, an Auburn transfer, is part of an improved defense, too. “A big thing for us is, when we’re going with tempo, it’s hard for people to get lined up and it plays to our advantage,” Buechele said. “I think it’s good for us when we’re going fast, but when we have to, we’ll go slow and get in the right play. We are at our best when we are playing with tempo and speed, though.” SMU built that momentum with victories against three in-state schools in North Texas, Texas State and TCU, which was the first win in that rivalry game since 2011. The Mustangs averaged 45.7 points per game in those victories. “We kind of have a unique situation here where we schedule a lot of Texas teams and it makes sense to do that,” Dykes said. “Having success against those teams helps us. Our players know a lot of players. There is a bond those players have in some places that goes back to little league football.” A 48-21 victory against South Florida landed SMU in the top 25, and a win against Tulsa would keep them there heading into a bye week before the second half of the season. For a team that has yet to finish with a record better than .500 in AAC play, it’s a major step forward. It would be somewhat fitting if the Mustangs could stay there until the Oct. 24 game at Houston, which would be one day short of that 1986 game at Texas. The 33-year journey for SMU has been like no other program. The thrills the “Pony Express” provided — which included an 11-0-1 season, a Cotton Bowl victory and a No. 2 finish in the AP Poll in 1982 — are still juxtaposed with the damage from the Death Penalty and the futility that followed. For his part, Dykes takes a on a different viewpoint. He is the seventh SMU coach since the Death Penalty, and he was quick to recognize June Jones and Chad Morris for setting this table. When SMU players walked off the field after a 27-24 loss at Texas on Oct. 25, 1986, they likely had no idea it would take almost 33 years to get back in the AP Top 25.Shane Buechele wasn’t even born yet, but he heard stories form his father Steve. Yet, like most of his generation, Shane’s impressions of those 1980s SMU teams were reinforced by ESPN.