The biggest news in the latest Associated Press college football poll was what didn’t change.
Clemson remained No. 1 in the Top 25 on Sunday, overwhelmingly ahead of No. 2 Alabama. The Tigers received 54 first-place votes to the Crimson Tide’s eight.
Considering the Tigers spent Saturday beating Georgia Tech by an ACC-record 66 points, maybe it shouldn’t be all that surprising. But Alabama’s emphatic victory against Georgia, at the time No. 3 but now No. 4, is the type of big-game performance that can sway voters.
In seven of the last eight instances in which the No. 1 team won but dropped in the rankings, the No. 1 team was coming off a victory against an unranked team while the new No. 1 had beaten another ranked team.
The one exception was last season. Clemson won a one-point thriller at unranked North Carolina and voters responded by flip-flopping the Tigers with Alabama, which was No. 2 when it beat unranked Mississippi by 28.
That was just the beginning of a rare slide for Clemson. The Tigers tumbled all the way to No. 4 without losing. That type of fall from the top spot while still unbeaten had not happened in the AP poll since Notre Dame went from preseason No. 1 to No. 5 in 1971.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney used it as a slight to motivate his team, of course. He won’t get the bulletin board material this time around.
In fact, just comparing Clemson’s schedule to Alabama’s going forward, the Tigers appear to be in good shape to keep the No. 1 ranking as long as they keep winning. Clemson currently has two ranked teams (No. 3 Notre Dame and No. 19 Virginia Tech) on its remaining schedule. None of Alabama’s remaining opponents are currently ranked.
Reality check has no issues with Clemson getting this kind of respect. Trevor Lawrence and the Tigers have earned it.
No. 1 Clemson (5-0)
Next: vs. Syracuse, Saturday.
Reality check: Clemson’s epic blowouts and ability to move the ball in so many ways are the biggest obstacles to Lawrence winning the Heisman Trophy.
No. 2 Alabama (4-0)
Next: at Tennessee, Saturday.
Reality check: Tua who … ? Tagovailoa had three 400-yard passing games last season. QB Mac Jones has three through four games this season.
No. 3 Notre Dame (4-0)
Next: at Pittsburgh, Saturday.
Reality check: The Irish are good, but without an explosive passing game it’s impossible to be considered a legitimate national championship contender. The Irish have eight completions of at least 20 yards, 61st out of 77 FBS teams playing.
No. 4 Georgia (3-1)
Next: at Kentucky, Oct. 31.
Reality check: The good news for the Bulldogs is other than maybe Florida, nobody else on their schedule can do to their defense what Alabama did.
No. 5 Ohio State
Next: vs. Nebraska, Saturday.
Reality check: The Buckeyes were No. 2 in the preseason, only 16 points behind Clemson and with 21 first-place votes. Will some of those voters start flocking back to Ohio State if the Buckeyes play as well as expected?
No. 6 Oklahoma State (3-0)
Next: vs. No. 17 Iowa State, Saturday.
Reality check: The Cowboys are probably over-ranked, but over the next four weeks (Iowa State, Texas, at Kansas State and at Oklahoma) they can prove Reality Check wrong.
No. 7 Texas A&M (3-1)
Next: vs. Arkansas, Oct. 31.
Reality check: Edge rushers DeMarvin Leal and Michael Clemons have been as good as any duo in the SEC.
No. 8 Penn State
Next: at Indiana, Saturday.
Reality check: After a potentially tricky road trip, the Buckeyes loom for the Nittany Lions in the Big Ten’s week two.
No. 9 Cincinnati (3-0)
Next: at No. 16 SMU, Saturday.
Reality check: The Bearcats got an unscheduled week off because of COVID-19 issues. Hopefully, it doesn’t turn into two ahead of showdown against the Mustangs.
No. 10 Florida (2-1)
Next: vs. Missouri, Oct. 31.
Reality check: A COVID-19 outbreak will shelve the Gators for two weeks. Definitely not packing the Swamp.
No. 11 Miami (4-1)
Next: vs. Virginia, Saturday.
Reality check: After three huge rushing games to start the season, the Hurricanes have been slowed on the ground the last two weeks (3.0 yards per carry). Good chance to get that cranked up again vs. a Cavaliers defense that has been scrappy against the run.
No. 12 BYU (5-0)
Next: vs. Texas State, Saturday.
Reality check: Hard to look past the shine of QB Zach Wilson, but on the other side of the ball the Cougars’ pass rush has been a difference-maker with 16 sacks. One fewer than it had all last season.
No. 13 Oregon
Next: vs. Stanford, Nov. 7.
Reality check: As the Big Ten gets ready to kick off, the Pac-12 being three weeks away from starting seems really far off.
No. 14 (tie) North Carolina (3-1)
Next: vs. No. 23 North Carolina State, Saturday.
Reality check: The Tar Heels have allowed 501 yards rushing and 6.0 yard per carry in their last two games.
No. 14 (tie) Wisconsin
Next: vs. Illinois, Friday.
Reality check: The Badgers lost at Illinois last year and would probably like a little payback.
No. 16 SMU (5-0)
Next: vs. No. 9 Cincinnati, Saturday.
Reality check: With WR Reggie Roberson (knee) out with an injury, the Mustangs got a breakout game from WR Danny Gray with five catches for 133 yards against Tulane.
No. 17 Iowa State (3-1)
Next: at Oklahoma State, Saturday.
Reality check: The last time the Cyclones beat both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in the same season was 1961.
No. 18 Michigan
Next: at No. 21 Minnesota, Saturday.
Reality check: The Wolverines get a national audience for their opener to unveil new QB Joe Milton.
No. 19 Virginia Tech (3-1)
Next: at Wake Forest, Saturday.
Reality check: The Hokies had two 100-yard rushers, RB Khalil Herbert and QB Hendon Hooker, against Boston College. Virginia Tech had not done that since 2010.
No. 20 Kansas State (3-1)
Next: vs. Kansas, Saturday.
Reality check: Freshman Will Howard is the man at quarterback for the Wildcats after Skylar Thompson (upper body) was lost for the year with an injury.
No. 21 Minnesota
Next: vs. No. 18 Michigan, Saturday.
Reality check: The Gophers attracted ESPN’s “College GameDay” for the first time last year. Now, they’ll make it two straight seasons in the spotlight.
No. 22 Marshall (4-0)
Next: vs. FAU, Saturday.
Reality check: The Thundering Herd are dominating with almost perfect balance, averaging 213 yards rushing and 224 yards passing per game.
No. 23 North Carolina State (4-1)
Next: at No. 14 North Carolina, Saturday.
Reality check: Enthusiasm for the Wolfpack’s excellent start was dampened by the serious leg injury to QB Devin Leary, who is expected to be out at least a month.
No. 24 Southern California
Next: vs. Arizona State, Nov. 7.
Reality check: So, given the circumstances of this season, is coach Clay Helton still on the hot seat?
No. 25 Coastal Carolina (4-0)
Next: vs. Georgia Southern, Saturday.
Reality check: The Chanticleers were picked to finish last in the Sun Belt East. Instead, they are the third team from the conference to be ranked this year, a Sun Belt first.