It’s all a matter of perception. And as we’re told, perception is reality.

That’s the only possible explanation for Clemson’s drop from No. 4 to No. 5 in this week’s college football polls despite still being undefeated and winning on the road – something the other 7 ranked teams that also played away games Saturday weren’t able to do.

The narrative is repeated often and with conviction, mostly by those partial to the SEC and Big Ten. Or those too lazy to bother researching what they say.

Former Texas A&M and Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight summed it up best during an appearance on the Field of 12 podcast earlier this week.

“I really do think Clemson is out on an island and it’s no fault to their own,” Knight said. “But I think they play in an inferior conference. I think that you’ve got some of the better teams in the SEC and Big Ten right now that are going up and playing in big-time games and going up against incredible talent.”

Knight isn’t the only one to hold such an opinion. It runs rampant throughout the fraternity of national talking heads.

But while parroting a statement over and over might be a good way to convince people to believe it, as we’ve seen with political messaging, it doesn’t necessarily make the statement true.

Let’s start with the “big-time games” fallacy of Knight’s assertion about the ACC.

With wins against No. 13 Wake Forest and No. 23 NC State, Clemson is the only team in the nation to have beaten multiple opponents included in AP Top 25.

It should also be noted that both the Deacons and Wolfpack are division rivals of the Tigers. So is this week’s opponent, No. 14 Syracuse, which makes the ACC Atlantic the only division in college football with 4 ranked teams.

None of that seems to matter, though.

A win against the Orange will almost certainly be dismissed because Syracuse hasn’t played anybody yet. It’s a similar excuse to the ones they’ll hear should they beat Notre Dame (the Irish are down this year) and South Carolina (not a top-tier SEC team) later in the season.

In the meantime, Alabama will eventually gravitate back up in the polls because getting beat at Tennessee will be considered “a good loss.”

It’s all a matter of perception.

As long as we’re on the subject, let’s take a closer look at Clemson’s win at Florida State on Saturday.

The manner or margin of victory might not concern coach Dabo Swinney, who said afterward that “I don’t care how we win.” But it does to the folks that vote on the weekly polls, many of whose opinions are based solely on the final score.

The 34-28 victory would have been looked at much more favorably by those who didn’t actually see it had the Tigers maintained the commanding 34-14 lead they held with just under 10 minutes remaining.

Why does any of this matter, you ask?

There still are a lot more games to play, after all. And the only poll that matters, the one compiled by the College Football Playoff committee begins its weekly ranking on Nov. 1, leading to the final selection on Dec. 4.

But you don’t want to be in a position of having to jump too many teams to get into the top 4 at the end.

While no undefeated Power 5 conference champion has ever been left out of the playoff, there’s a first time for everything. With the possibility of 3 SEC teams finishing with 1 loss and ranked above Clemson, there’s a legitimate chance that this could be the year it happens.

This is not to say that the Tigers are in the same category as the current top 3 – Georgia, Ohio State and Tennessee. Or No. 6 Alabama, for that matter.

They’re not.

This is not a vintage Clemson team on par with those in 2015-16 and 2018. At least not yet.

Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei is vastly improved. His receiving corps, however, is just average and a defense that was hyped as elite coming into the season has shown some flaws. Even when fully healthy.

As the Florida State game graphically illustrated, the Tigers have also yet to develop the killer instinct to put teams away once they get them down.

But beyond the Bulldogs, Buckeyes and Volunteers, every other top-10 team has its share of warts as well. And Clemson holds up well in head-to-head comparisons with all of them.

No matter what the college football illuminati wants you to think.

That’s why those around the ACC – especially coaches with as much juice as Swinney and North Carolina’s Mack Brown – need to become more vocal in debunking the “ACC is inferior” narrative in much the same way Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski did in basketball.

Perception, after all, is reality.

The only way to change it, beyond winning, is to create a new perception. Then repeat it over and over enough times until people start believing it.