We’re in championship form now. We’re getting into that long-awaited season of “who’s who”. No, I’m not talking about the world champions, I’m talking about predicting world champions. Yes, rodeo is all about how the Guddat Family sees it playing out.

We’re a few weeks away from our NFR picks, but we can’t toss our steer roping and PBR championship picks to the side. Before we get to our opinions on the matter, let’s look at who’s coming to Mulvane, Kansas, for the National Finals Steer Roping this weekend.

We see a new name among the leaders as we head into the NFSR. Well, let me define what “new name” means. The name Tuf Cooper isn’t new to rodeo fans, but he’s gone from someone who was learning the ropes (literally and figuratively) in perfecting his steer roping skills a few years ago to NFSR qualifier last year (12th with $60,107) to world champion contender when it comes to the steer roping Gold Buckle.

Steer roping has been pretty dang consistent for decades really. Guy Allen — who has 18 steer roping buckles beginning in 1977 — won 11 in a row from 1991-2001 and then two more in 2003 and 2004. Since then it’s been traded between just three guys — Trevor Brazile (six buckles), Rocky Patterson (four) and Scott Snedecor (three, including last year). But let’s go further than that, shall we? Look at how many times those three guys have placed second or third (many times to each other) since 1998. Snedecor and Patterson each have placed second or third four times each. Brazile? 10 times. So, even when those three aren’t winning buckles, they’re a factor until the last steer of the year.

And look what we have this year: Cooper is first with $89,426, $18,600 ahead of Snedecor in second. Chris Glover and Patterson are third and fourth with $62,300 each and in fifth is Brazile with $59,641. Brazile’s going to need a lot of help to get his seventh title, but that’s not to say he won’t win a bunch.

Ellensburg average champion J. Tom Fisher is back for his sixth NFSR qualification. Fisher is part of a legacy of family ropers. In addition to his sixth qualification, his older brother Vin has 15 — he’s sixth in the world standings, just $4,600 ahead of J. Tom — and their father, Dan, has 16.

Will Gasperson, who also won cash in Ellensburg and won the senior division here — a separate buckle awarded by Ellensburg — is back for his fourth trip, and first since 2011.

So, who’s got who? Delaney went with the wildcard in 12th place in the standings. “Jarrett Blessing, because I’ve heard that name before.” In full disclosure, Delaney was distracted while getting ready for school, so she didn’t give it very much thought, but she did give me an eye roll.

Adelyn went with a trendy pick. “Tuf Cooper, because he’s cute — don’t put that in the story, dad — and I know he’s done well before and I know he’s a very good steer roper.”

Brittany was quick to agree with Adelyn. “Tuf Cooper, because he’s awesome.”

Here’s what I think: Cooper and Snedecor have only won two averages each the entire year. That means they’re picking up checks everywhere else, which shows consistency in generating that much money over the season without that many wins. I’ll probably overthink this one more than any other event. I know Cooper is a machine, incredibly talented, incredible work ethic in an out of the area, but I’m giving the nod to Snedecor’s experience of 16 NSFR qualifications and three Gold Buckles. He’ll add a fourth this weekend.

There you have it. In addition to the NFSR, the Canadian Finals Rodeo begins tonight, running through the weekend. Then we’ll see the PBR crown their 2018 champ next week. You’ll get the Guddat Family’s opinion on the PBR World Finals then as well.

Jon Guddat covers rodeo — from the kids to the kids at heart — with a weekly rodeo column in the Daily Record. Contact Jon with story ideas at jonguddat@yahoo.com.

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