Final Four: Our 'non-chalk' picks for 2014 CFB playoff field
Next January, the term "Final Four" will no longer be reserved for college hoops. College football will also seed its four best teams and let them decide the championship for the first time. Who will those four teams be? We take an early guess, but with one caveat: no chalk picks. That is, we stay away from everyone else's obvious choices (sorry Alabama, Oklahoma, etc). Sure, at least one of those favorites will probably make it. But why not go wild with these picks and dream big? Here is our non-chalk 2014 playoff field.
Seed No. 4: Clemson Tigers
While Florida State will be the favorite to win the ACC — remember, we aren’t allowed to pick favorites here! — Clemson is primed to be a sneaky playoff team if it can beat FSU on the road on Sept. 20. The Tigers open the season at Georgia, but even if they lose that, they can still recover and put together a great season (losing to South Carolina at home in the final week would hurt more). Big contributors from a defense ranked 23rd in yards per play last season are back, which should help carry Clemson while the offense finds its rhythm with a new QB and no Sammy Watkins. Beat the Noles, and the Tigers become very interesting.
Getty ImagesTyler Smith
Seed No. 3: USC Trojans
This pick has as much to do with USC’s conference schedule as anything, because surviving the Pac-12 requires some luck. Oregon is the favorite, and Stanford’s schedule is brutal. UCLA is intriguing — with Oregon, Stanford and USC at home — but USC misses the Ducks and gets Arizona State at home (UCLA is at ASU). The Trojans’ toughest games are at Stanford on Sept. 6 and at UCLA on Nov. 22 before wrapping up with Notre Dame at home. USC can probably lose the Stanford game and recover. The Trojans, most likely, couldn’t afford to lose to UCLA and regain playoff momentum.
Seed No. 2: Wisconsin Badgers
It would not be a surprise if Wisconsin went undefeated in 2014. Seriously. It can beat LSU in Week 1 in Houston, with Melvin Gordon and a more experienced QB. Then look at this Big Ten slate: at Northwestern, Illinois, Maryland, at Rutgers, at Purdue, Nebraska, at Iowa, Minnesota. No Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan or Penn State on the schedule. If Joel Stave progresses at QB, the Badgers will be playing for the Big Ten title and a playoff berth. Man, just imagine Camp Randall in November if Bucky is undefeated.
Getty ImagesMike McGinnis
Seed No. 1: Georgia Bulldogs
There’s some built-in SEC bias here, but now look at the Bulldogs’ schedule: Clemson in Week 1, at South Carolina in Week 3 (after week off), Florida at home on Nov. 1, Auburn at home on Nov. 15. It has to go to Missouri and also has Tennessee at home, but it misses Alabama and LSU from the SEC West. Is it a difficult schedule? Sure, but in SEC terms it’s not terrible. Hutson Mason should fit comfortably in the starting QB slot and Jeremy Pruitt is doing his thing with the defense. Plus, Georgia has Todd Gurley and you don’t. The Bulldogs could certainly win the SEC East and then the SEC title game, and a, say, one-loss SEC champion is in any discussion for the No. 1 overall seed.
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY SportsDaniel Shirey
Disagree with this non-chalk Final Four? Give us yours
OK, so those are our "non-chalk" picks. Remember: These aren’t what we actually think will happen, but rather some fun guesses once you take the obvious favorites off the table. Have better sleeper picks for the 2014 playoff? Awesome — make your case in the comments.