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AP Top 25 Reality Check: Preseason perception v small sample

North Carolina State's Savion Jackson (90) tackles Clemson's D.J. Uiagalelei (5) as the left leg of Clemson running back Will Shipley (1) gets caught with North Carolina State's Tanner Ingle (10) also defending during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

A month into the season, 12 teams that were ranked in the preseason are unranked, including two preseason top 10s, and a total of 38 teams have spent at least one week in The Associated Press college football poll.

The number of ranked teams to lose through four weeks increased to 25 when six more went down this past weekend.

The most surprising development? Clemson barely holding on in the AP Top 25.

A day after losing for the second time this season, the Tigers checked in at No. 25 in the AP Top 25 presented by Regions Bank, ending a streak of top-10 appearances at 97 weeks.

“We’re not entitled to win the league, we’re not entitled to be in the playoffs,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney told reporters Sunday. “We have a talented team, and we’re not where we expected to be.”

The voters cut Clemson some slack and maybe that’s fair. The Tigers did stay within a score of No. 2 Georgia, which has otherwise stampeded its competition.

Reputation and preseason expectations help a lot, too.

The remnants of the preseason rankings can still be spotted. Oklahoma started at No. 2 and has slipped to No. 6 after beating three unranked FBS teams by a combined total of 15 points.

Of course, throwing out all preconceived notions after most teams have played three or four games — some of which were glorified scrimmages — doesn’t make sound logic, either.

There’s still not enough information available to make definitive judgments based solely on results. Iowa, for example, has gone from No. 18 in the preseason to No. 5 based on beating two ranked teams (Indiana and Iowa State) that are no longer ranked and have combined for four losses and no Power Five victories in September.

Reality Check leans more toward rewarding accomplishments and making the struggling teams, even ones with a recent history of success as impressive as Clemson’s, win their way back in.

No. 1 Alabama (4-0)

Next: vs. No. 12 Mississippi, Saturday.

Reality check: Ohio State transfer Jameson Williams has given the Tide the deep threat it needed, averaging 25 yards per catch.

Ranked: Just right.

No. 2 Georgia (4-0)

Next: vs. No. 8 Arkansas, Saturday.

Reality check: Bulldogs’ defense by national rankings: first in scoring; first in passer efficiency; first in yards per play; fifth in yards per rush; sixth in interceptions; 11th in sacks.

Ranked: Just right.

No. 3 Oregon (4-0)

Next: at Stanford, Saturday.

Reality check: Ducks’ offense: 423 yards per game and 6.27 per play. Ducks’ defense: 423 yards allowed per game and 5.50 per play. Ducks turnover margin: plus-12.

Ranked: Too high but somebody needs to be No. 3.

No. 4 Penn State (4-0)

Next: vs. Indiana, Saturday.

Reality check: Sean Clifford, 72% passer. If he can keep up anything close to this, Penn State can keep this lofty ranking.

Ranked: About right.

No. 5 Iowa (4-0)

Next: at Maryland, Friday.

Reality check: Hawkeyes had plodded their way to perfection but are about to face two straight opponents with firepower in Maryland and Penn State.

Ranked: A little too high.

No. 6 Oklahoma (4-0)

Next: at Kansas State, Saturday.

Reality check: Who are you and what have you done with Oklahoma’s offense? The Sooners have been held under 24 points in consecutive home games for the first time since 1998.

Ranked: Too high.

No. 7 Cincinnati (3-0)

Next: at No. 9 Notre Dame, Saturday.

Reality check: With a couple of NFL prospects at cornerback in Sauce Gardner and Coby Bryant, the Bearcats are allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete just 44.3%, lowest in the nation.

Ranked: About right.

No. 8 Arkansas (4-0)

Next: at No. 2 Georgia, Saturday.

Reality check: WR Treylon Burks has 19 catches for 373 yards. That’s 39% of the Razorbacks’ receptions and 43% of their yards receiving. Go-to guy.

Ranked: Too low.

No. 9 Notre Dame (4-0)

Next: vs. No. 7 Cincinnati, Saturday.

Reality check: Teams with a worse yards per carry than Notre Dame’s 2.29: Louisiana Monroe (1.92) and Bowling Green (1.65). That’s the list.

Ranked: Credit the Irish for coming up with ways to win, but too high.

No. 10 Florida (3-1)

Next: at Kentucky, Saturday.

Reality check: Gators will get a lot of mileage out of playing Alabama close.

Ranked: Little low.

No. 11 Ohio State (3-1)

Next: at Rutgers, Saturday.

Reality check: Drama tends to follow the Buckeyes, even when things are going well. It also tends to cloud perceptions. This is still the favorite to win the Big Ten — just not as big a favorite as they have been in recent seasons.

Ranked: About right.

No. 12 Mississippi (3-0)

Next: at No. 1 Alabama, Saturday.

Reality check: Rebels’ defense has shaved almost 2 yards off its yards per play allowed from last year. Let’s see how improved it is against ‘Bama.

Ranked: About right.

No. 13 BYU (4-0)

Next: at Utah State, Friday.

Reality check: Cougars stayed unbeaten without injured QB Jaren Hall (ribs). Baylor Romney was fine at home against USF, but a trip to Logan could be tougher.

Ranked: About right. The back half of the rankings are pretty tightly packed.

No. 14 Michigan (4-0)

Next: at Wisconsin, Saturday.

Reality check: What happens when the Wolverines can’t just run all over an opponent? Michigan managed two first downs in the second half against Rutgers.

Ranked: About right.

No. 15 Texas A&M (3-1)

Next: vs. Mississippi State, Saturday.

Reality check: Aggies seemingly have enough talent around their backup quarterback to piece together a functional offense. It hasn’t happened yet.

Ranked: About right.

No. 16 Coastal Carolina (4-0)

Next: vs. Louisiana-Monroe, Saturday.

Reality check: Chanticleers averaging 51 points in three home games.

Ranked: A touch high.

No. 17 Michigan State (4-0)

Next: vs. Western Kentucky, Saturday.

Reality check: RB Kenneth Walker III was bottled up by Nebraska and the Spartans’ offense dried up. Interesting to see how they adjust going forward.

Ranked: A touch low.

No. 18 Fresno State (4-1)

Next: at Hawaii, Saturday.

Reality check: Not surprising the Bulldogs would be less-than-sharp on a short week after a big upset of UCLA. QB Jake Haener and Co. avoided the upset to UNLV.

Ranked: About right.

No. 19 Oklahoma State (4-0)

Next: vs. No. 21 Baylor, Saturday.

Reality check: Cowboys are last in the Big 12 in yards per play at 5.21. College football in the Sooner state hasn’t been this defensive in years.

Ranked: Too high.

No. 20 UCLA (3-1)

Next: vs. Arizona State, Saturday.

Reality check: QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson is not very accurate (57.3%), but he hits big plays and has thrown only one interception.

Ranked: Too low.

No. 21 Baylor (4-0)

Next: at No. 19 Oklahoma State, Saturday.

Reality check: Pop quiz: What team leads the country in runs of 10 yards or more? That’s right, it is the Bears with 43. Last season in nine games, they had 32.

Ranked: Little high.

No. 22 Auburn (3-1)

Next: at LSU, Saturday.

Reality check: Is the Bo Nix era over at Auburn? LSU transfer T.J. Finley is going to get his shot. Some better play from the receivers would help whichever quarterback is out there.

Ranked: About right.

No. 23 North Carolina State (3-1)

Next: vs. Louisiana Tech, Saturday.

Reality check: Wolfpack’s defense has remained stingy without star linebacker Payton Wilson (left arm), who was lost for the season after Game 2.

Ranked: Too high.

No. 24 Wake Forest (4-0)

Next: vs. Louisville, Saturday.

Reality check: The Demon Deacons’ formula for success: minimize penalties (4.8 per game) and turnovers (1.0 per game), run a lot of plays (79 per game). Dave Clawson is an undervalued coach.

Ranked: About right.

No. 25 Clemson (2-2)

Next: vs. Boston College, Saturday.

Reality check: Tigers also lost two key players against N.C. State. Star DT Bryan Bresee (knee) is out for the season and freshman RB Will Shipley (knee) will miss about a month.

Ranked: Too high.

Instead of Clemson and North Carolina State, how about Maryland or San Diego State or UTSA?