The big winners in the second College Football Playoff ranking release Tuesday were Stanford and Iowa, which each improved four positions as they angled into four-team playoff contention.
Iowa used a win at Indiana to jump to No. 5, which is knocking on the door of the playoff. Stanford moved to No. 7 with a road win at Colorado.
Colorado and Indiana are improved this season but have generally been considered two of the weakest teams among the power five leagues. The Buffaloes are 6-16 since the start of the 2014 season; the Hoosiers are 8-13.
But, like sausage making, it is best not to ask how any of this works.
Committee Chairman Jeff Long praised Iowa’s consistency “on both sides of the ball,” and acknowledged Stanford has not lost since its opening defeat at Northwestern.
“I think it’s worth noting that they played at 9 a.m. Pacific time,” Long said on a post-ranking teleconference.
The top four of Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State and Notre Dame are solid for now, and the committee sent a clear message to the Big 12 Conference by jumping Iowa to No. 5 ahead of No. 6 Baylor, which did not budge from last week’s spot.
Stanford is No. 7, followed by Oklahoma State, Louisiana State and Utah.
Long said the Big 12’s back-loaded schedule has made it difficult to evaluate the conference.
Baylor has yet to play a team that currently has a winning record. Oklahoma State also played a weak nonconference schedule and scored its first significant win last week against Texas Christian.
Baylor, Oklahoma State and No. 12 Oklahoma will provide the committee with more information when they battle each other this month.
“We understand that our schedule is really back-loaded,” Baylor Coach Art Briles told ESPN on its post-ranking wrap-up show. “So we’re going to have a chance to make some noise, but we’re going to have to work for that noise too.”
UCLA moved up four spots to No. 19, but it’s unlikely the two-loss Bruins can make a playoff charge.
The emergence of Navy at No. 20 raises concern because the Midshipmen play Army on Dec. 12, six days after the final ranking is scheduled for release.
Navy recently moved from being an independent and is now in the American Athletic Conference. That makes the team eligible for a New Year’s Day bowl.
The committee will select the top-ranked champion from the “Group of 5" leagues to play in a major bowl — the Fiesta or Peach. That team will almost certainly come from the AAC among Navy, Houston or Memphis.
Bill Hancock, the CFP’s executive director, said the complete bowl pairings could be delayed until after Dec. 12.
It is highly unlikely Navy would get into the four-team playoff mix, but how it fares against Army could impact the strength of schedule of candidate Notre Dame, which dealt Navy its only defeat.