SAN DIEGO(AP) Ben Mauk and the Cincinnati Bearcats more than lived up to their first national ranking in 31 years.
Now it's time to bring on the Big East.
Mauk threw a career-high four touchdown passes in the second quarter and the No. 24 Bearcats scored on six of their first seven possessions to rout San Diego State 52-23 on Saturday night.
Mauk tossed TD passes of 4 and 80 yards to Marcus Barnett, and two 11-yarders to Dominick Goodman. He completed 17 of 23 passes for 257 yards, and the Bearcats gained 547 yards, with 30 first downs. Goodman had seven catches for 101 yards.
The Bearcats are 5-0 for the first time since 1954, when they won their first eight. They've won eight straight overall, and six straight under coach Brian Kelly, who took over in December and led the Bearcats to a win in the International Bowl.
The Bearcats moved into the Top 25 after their 40-14 victory over Marshall a week earlier, their first ranking since 1976. This was Cincinnati's first true road trip of the season, considering that their only other away game had been just up the road at Miami of Ohio.
``I was really proud of our football team,'' Kelly said. ``It's hard to come across the country. This is the first time that I told our football team, they showed maturity that's going to allow them to compete for a championship.''
Cincinnati opens Big East play next Saturday night at Rutgers. The Bearcats put themselves on the map last season with their 30-11 victory over previously undefeated Rutgers under coach Mark Dantonio, who left for Michigan State after the last regular-season game.
``I don't think there's anybody right now looking at Cincinnati going, 'They're easy to play,' `` Kelly said. ``I think everybody understands we've got a pretty good team and we're going to get everybody's best shot.''
As nice as their national ranking is, the more relevant number for the Bearcats might be this - they've outscored their first five opponents a whopping 232-53.
The offense wasn't alone in coming up with big plays. Defensive back Aaron Webster had a 58-yard interception return for a touchdown late in the game. It was Cincinnati's third interception return for a TD this year.
The Bearcats came in leading the nation in turnover margin, with three turnovers and 19 takeaways. They matched their season total with three turnovers - two interceptions and a fumble - while getting two takeaways.
SDSU (1-3) lost to a ranked team for the 19th straight time dating to 1997.
The Bearcats' six scoring drives covered 69, 71, 80, 80, 70 and 61 yards. They were so dominating that they didn't have to punt until midway through the third quarter after their eighth possession stalled.
Since Mauk has been bothered by injuries to his passing arm sustained last season, the Bearcats came out running. They capped their first possession with a 1-yard run by Bradley Glatthaar. Mauk was intercepted by cornerback Aaron Mooreon a tipped pass on the first play of the Bearcats' next drive, which set up a 33-yard field goal by Garrett Palmer. That was as close as the Aztecs got.
``I thought Ben Mauk had his best game of the year,'' Kelly said. ``Very, very efficient, made some tough throws in tight coverage. He was on top of his game.''
Mauk finished each of the next four drives with TD passes. The prettiest of those plays was Barnett's 80-yard catch-and-run play with 4:59 left before halftime. On second-and-10, Barnett caught a pass at the 35 and outraced the Aztec defenders for a 28-3 lead.
``Each game we're getting a little better,'' Mauk said. ``This is a new offense for the team. Obviously coach Kelly's new, so we're still figuring out who our go-to guys are. It worked out pretty well.''
The Bearcats led 35-10 at halftime, then added on with Greg Moore's 21-yard run to finish the first drive of the second half. Mauk then made way for Tony Pike.
San Diego State's Kevin O'Connell threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Lynell Hamilton late in the second quarter, and Vonnie Holmes intercepted Grutza and returned it 35 yards for a score early in the fourth quarter.
O'Connell was 20-of-27 for 253 yards.
``Obviously a tough night for us tonight,'' SDSU coach Chuck Long said. ``I don't have much to say other than Cincinnati's a good football team. We wanted, obviously, a better showing.''