Some companies are obviously great investments -- in hindsight. Yet for every stock out there screaming "buy me," others simply give us a nudge and a nod. How can we tell tomorrow's obviously great investments from the thousands of pretenders?

The stars' walk of fame
On Motley Fool CAPS, these opportunities can be found among our four-star stocks. In CAPS' proprietary ratings system, they rank higher than most of the nearly 5,400 starred companies, but they're just shy of superstardom. While all the attention might be focused on their five-star peers, we can sift through CAPS to find four-star companies approaching greatness. Here are a handful.

  • Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO)
  • First Marblehead (NYSE:FMD)
  • Force Protection (NASDAQ:FRPT)
  • North American Palladium (NYSE:PAL)
  • Oncothyreon (NASDAQ:ONTY)

Some of these names might surprise you. Cisco, for example, produces equipment that has been called the backbone of the Internet. Yet even familiar names can still offer some of the best opportunities. Perhaps we've just forgotten the potential they still hold. However, the 145,000-plus CAPS members chose these companies as less obvious sources for tomorrow's great buys, so let's see why they might merit your attention.

In the sight of greatness?
The news preceding President Obama's State of the Union address tomorrow suggests he will not call for any cuts -- or freezes -- in military spending. For armored vehicle maker Force Protection, that offers at least a glimmer of hope that it can recover its footing.

Lately, it has been surviving as a Mr. Goodwrench for the vehicles it previously sold, but analysts have been predicting a decline in such revenues going forward. What hasn't been factored into their estimates, though, is the potential for new vehicle contracts, which remains a distinct possibility. So long as Force Protection doesn't become too sure of itself, as it did when it pre-built 50 Cheetah M-ATVs then lost the contract to OshKosh (NYSE:OSK) (it has been writing down that inventory ever since), it has lots of cash available to it and no long-term debt.

So Force Protection remains an investor favorite, with 93% of the almost 900 CAPS members rating it saying it will  outperform the market. Tell us on the Force Protection CAPS page if the president's renewed focus on Afghanistan, coupled with a pledge to not freeze military spending, is good news for  the vehicle maker.

On borrowed time
First Marblehead is one company investors inexplicably seem to still favor. It was once a top student-loan provider, alongside Sallie Mae (NYSE:SLM), but the credit crisis hit and its business dried up. Late last year, a bank subsidiary of First Marblehead ended up having to sell off its remaining portfolio of private education loans. First Marblehead is now seeking "strategic alternatives" for the unit. The lender seems to have little hope for any sort of recovery, but 94% of the nearly 3,000 CAPS members rating it indicate they believe it will outperform the markets.

Head over to the First Marblehead CAPS page to discuss whether there is any potential growth left for this company.

That's not gold that's glittering
You'd be better off going with a dicey biotech like Oncothyreon, which at least has the prospects of a cancer therapy in its portfolio to entice Germany's Merck KGaA into a development agreement. Bigger and better players have failed in their attempts, but when your partner says your results are "brilliant," you have to expect there's something more to it.

Oncothyreon continues to remain under the radar of most investors, but 93% of the CAPS members rating it believe it's going to outperform the market. Head over to the Oncothyreon CAPS page and offer your opinion.

A great opportunity for you
Some investors suggest these four-star investments are on their way to five-star greatness, but it pays to start your own research on these stocks on Motley Fool CAPS. Read a company's financial reports, scrutinize key data and charts, and examine the comments your fellow investors have made -- all from a stock's CAPS page.

Sign up today for the completely free service and let us hear what you have to say about the great and almost-great companies that interest you.

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Fool contributor Rich Duprey does not have a financial position in any of the stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings. The Motley Fool has a gold-plated disclosure policy.