The college basketball Final Four starts tonight, and how awesome would it be if two SEC teams made the final championship game? Florida and Kentucky are my picks today. Florida is the best team; Kentucky is the most talented team.
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Let’s look into the crystal ball and define some real contenders for the inaugural College Football Playoff final four, but let’s not pick obvious teams like Florida State, Alabama, Auburn or even Oklahoma, which should all enter as favorites; rather, let’s look at some under-the-radar teams who could find their way in the four playoff sports, by seed:
1. Georgia Bulldogs
Aaron Murray’s gone; that’s why nobody is picking Georgia. However, with the addition of Jeremy Pruitt, Hutson Mason doesn’t have to be Aaron Murray; he just has to manage the offense and not lose games for the Bulldogs. Georgia has talent everywhere on offense, including college football’s best player Todd Gurley, and the defense should take its game to another level under Pruitt. Outside of the first two games against a rebuilding Clemson and South Carolina, it’s smooth sailing for the Bulldogs. Georgia is my favorite under-the-radar pick entering the season.
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2. Wisconsin Badgers
One obstacle stands in the way for Wisconsin: LSU. IF the Badgers get by LSU the first week of the season, which other team will beat them on the schedule? I can’t see any. Wisconsin doesn’t play Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan or Penn State (pending a Big 10 championship game). That has to be the most favorable slate of any Big Ten team – maybe any team in a power conference. The Badgers don’t have to be great; they just have to go undefeated. That could happen. How much will strength of schedule weigh? Wisconsin could be the guinea pig in 2014.
3. Missouri Tigers
Missouri probably won’t even start the season in the top 25…talk about under-the-radar. Could two SEC East teams find their way into the final four? Alabama and LSU played for it all in 2011, albeit in the BCS. Let’s say Missouri loses a close one to Georgia, but they finish the regular season 11-1. Meanwhile, Georgia runs the table – or even has one loss – and wins the SEC Championship. It could happen. Maty Mauk will be a darkhorse Heisman contender entering the season, and I actually expect the offense to improve under Mauk. The Tigers’ defense will feature a good defensive line again. Don’t sleep on Missouri in 2014, as they are an under-the-radar team waiting to happen.
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4. Baylor Bears
The predominant Big 12 favorite should be Oklahoma after they thumped Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. But with another year in Art Briles’ system, Baylor and Bryce Petty could be deadly. Road trips at Texas and Oklahoma will be very tough, but don’t you dare think the Bears couldn’t win both games. They may not have to, as a one-loss Big 12 champion could find its way into the playoff. Key pieces have to be replaced on defense and the offensive line, and that’s a major reason why Baylor may not be a favorite in the Big 12 this season.