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story.lead_photo.caption Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) hands the ball off to running back Lyn-J Dixon (23) during the first half of Saturday's game against Louisville in Louisville, Ky. Photo by Timothy D. Easley of The Associated Press

AP Top 25 voters are being tougher on Clemson than any preseason No. 1 team in 48 years.

The undefeated defending national champion Tigers are now No. 4 in The Associated Press college football poll presented by Regions Bank. Alabama was No. 1 in the Top 25 on Sunday, followed by LSU and Ohio State at No. 3. The point gap between Alabama and Clemson is 78 this week, the smallest margin between Nos. 1 and 4 this season.

Teams commonly give up the No. 1 ranking in the AP poll without losing. Most recently, in 2015, defending national champion and preseason No. 1 Ohio State dropped to No. 2 in November while getting to 10-0.

The year before, Florida State relinquished the No. 1 ranking a couple of times, dropping to No. 2 while remaining unbeaten until the College Football Playoff semifinal.

What makes Clemson's fall unusual is just how far the Tigers have dropped. The last time a preseason No. 1 took a similar tumble while winning all its games was 1971, when Notre Dame dropped all the way to No. 7 while starting 5-0.

Clemson slipped to No. 2 at the end of September after pulling out a one-point win at North Carolina. Alabama took the top spot after starting the season No. 2.

Clemson spent two weeks at No. 2 before getting jumped by LSU. The voters rewarded those Tigers for beating a highly ranked opponent (Florida) for the second time this season.

The latest dip by Clemson was the most surprising. Ohio State makes a good case for being the most dominant team in the country. The Buckeyes lead the nation -- by a lot -- in scoring margin at 41.7. Their latest rout was 52-3 on Friday night at Northwestern. Clemson, though, was also coming off an easy victory, 45-10 at Louisville on Saturday.

"We can't even get a seat on the Roy (rest of y'all) bus anymore. They kicked us off," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney told reporters Sunday. "Hopefully, we don't only win by five touchdowns again next week. Might drop out of the polls."

Reality Check has been touting Ohio State as under-ranked for weeks and was also fine with giving LSU a bump up because of its victories against Texas and Florida. No argument here in dropping Clemson. No. 4 seems about right. The timing was odd.

It certainly sounds like Swinney is happy to use the slight to motivate a team that probably won't be challenged much by its competition.

One thing is for sure: When the College Football Playoff started in 2014 there was some concern the AP Top 25 would influence the committee's rankings, which don't start until around Halloween. Instead, it seems the opposite is happening and the AP voters have become more aggressive in moving top teams from week-to-week like the committee. Whether that is good, bad or neutral depends upon your favorite team's ranking.

No. 1 Alabama (7-0)

Next: vs. Arkansas

Reality check: Tua Watch is on: How healthy will QB Tua Tagovailoa (right ankle) be when the Crimson Tide plays LSU in three weeks?

Ranked: Little high, and that has nothing to do Tagovailoa's injury.

No. 2 LSU (7-0)

Next: vs. No. 9 Auburn.

Reality check: The Tigers' defense ranks 24th in the country at 4.72 yards per play allowed. Pretty good. However, counting just games against Power Five competition, LSU is allowing 5.54 yards per play, 68th in FBS.

Ranked: Too low. Best resume, though maybe not best team.

No. 3 Ohio State (7-0)

Next: vs. No. 13 Wisconsin.

Reality check: So many weapons for QB Justin Fields: Two running backs averaging 7 yard per carry. Five receivers with double-digit receptions and multiple touchdowns.

Ranked: Too low.

No. 4 Clemson (7-0)

Next: vs. Boston College.

Reality check: Is being No. 4 really such a slap in the face?

Ranked: Just right.

No. 5 Oklahoma (7-0)

Next: at Kansas State.

Reality check: QB Jalen Hurts is averaging 13.5 yards per pass attempt. Last year, Heisman winner Kyler Murray set an FBS record averaging 11.6 yards per pass.

Ranked: Just right.

No. 6 Penn State (7-0)

Next: at Michigan State.

Reality check: WR K.J. Hamler is one of the most enjoyable players in the country to watch with his game-breaking speed and elusiveness.

Ranked: The record suggest this ranking is just right, but it feels a little high.

No. 7 Florida (7-1)

Next: vs. No. 10 Georgia at Jacksonville, Florida, Nov. 2.

Reality check: Gators don't run the ball well (4.30 yards per carry, 12th in the SEC), but they have broken off three runs of more than 70 yards, tied for the most in the country.

Ranked: Just right.

No. 8 Notre Dame (5-1)

Next: at No. 19 Michigan.

Reality check: By the end of the season, Cole Kmet might be considered the best tight end in the country.

Ranked: Too high.

No. 9 Auburn (6-1)

Next: at No. 2 LSU.

Reality check: The Tigers need more explosive plays from their offense -- starting this week.

Ranked: Little low.

No. 10 Georgia (6-1)

Next: vs. No. 7 Florida at Jacksonville, Florida, Nov. 2.

Reality check: The rain was really bad in Athens, but generating 35 yards passing against Kentucky was probably not the way to ease concerns about the offense.

Ranked: Just right.

No. 11 Oregon (6-1)

Next: vs. Washington State.

Reality check: Can QB Justin Herbert push his way into the Heisman conversation? He is up to 21 touchdown passes and one interception.

Ranked: Too low.

No. 12 Utah (6-1)

Next: vs. California.

Reality check: Don't forget about the Utes. Since losing to USC, they have won three straight by a combined 111-23.

Ranked: Just right.

No. 13 Wisconsin (6-1)

Next: at No. 3 Ohio State.

Reality check: Just like Georgia the week before, the Badgers did everything a favorite needs to do (turnovers, inefficient in the red zone, no explosive plays) to get upset.

Ranked: Just right.

No. 14 Baylor (7-0)

Next: vs. West Virginia, Oct. 31.

Reality check: The Bears are averaging more yards per plays (7.32) than Clemson, Georgia, Notre Dame and Penn State. This is no fluke.

Ranked: Just right.

No. 15 Texas (5-2)

Next: at TCU.

Reality check: No way the Longhorns can get through the rest of their schedule unbeaten with this defense (113th in the nation at 6.42 yards per play).

Ranked: Too high.

No. 16 SMU (7-0)

Next: at Houston, Thursday, Oct. 24.

Reality check: QB Shane Buechele threw six touchdown passes against a Temple defense that had allowed a total of five in its first six games.

Ranked: Too low.

No. 17 Minnesota (7-0)

Next: vs. Maryland.

Reality check: No team benefited more from Wisconsin's loss than the Gophers, who might be the favorites to win the Big Ten West now.

Ranked: Too low.

No. 18 Cincinnati (6-1)

Next: at East Carolina, Nov. 2.

Reality check: Will be interesting to see what kind of interest Bearcats coach Luke Fickell draws after this season.

Ranked: About right.

No. 19 Michigan (5-2)

Next: vs. No. 8 Notre Dame.

Reality check: Michigan should be beyond moral victories, but that offensive performance against Penn State looked promising.

Ranked: About right.

No. 20 Iowa (5-2)

Next: at Northwestern.

Reality check: The Hawkeyes are the least inspiring ranked team.

Ranked: Too high.

No. 21 Appalachian State (6-0)

Next: at South Alabama.

Reality check: The Mountaineers' 18.4 scoring margin is tops among Group of Five teams.

Ranked: Just right.

No. 22 Boise State (6-1)

Next: at San Jose State, Nov. 2.

Reality check: Tough to win with a backup quarterback, but the Broncos lost to a BYU team using a third-string QB.

Ranked: Too high.

No. 23 Iowa State (5-2)

Next: vs. Oklahoma State.

Reality check: The Cyclones have their new RB1: Freshman Breece Hall has 315 yards rushing in the last two games.

Ranked: Too low.

No. 24 Arizona State (5-2)

Next: at UCLA.

Reality check: Among Pac-12 teams only Stanford has fewer gains of at least 20 yards than the Sun Devils. And Stanford's offense is a wreck.

Ranked: Too high.

No. 25 Wake Forest (6-1)

Next: vs. North Carolina State, Nov. 2

Reality check: Who had Sage Surratt and Scotty Washington as the most productive wide receiver duo in the ACC this year?

Ranked: Just right.

Instead of Arizona State how about Memphis?

Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at https://podcastone.com/AP-Top-25-College-Football-Podcast

Sports on 10/21/2019

Print Headline: AP Top 25 Reality Check: Clemson slides to 4, but why now?

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