Leader Tanner Cook (92-29) put some distance between he and the quick-closing Jeff Birchfield last week when he managed a stellar 13-2 finish, including correct picks in all four games on which they differed. He also gained a game on Douglas Fritz (89-32) who went 12-3 last week to hold on to second place in the Times News standings.
Joe Avento (86-35), who had been the cellar dweller, tied Cook with a 13-2 finish last week to move out of the basement and into a third-place tie with Birchfield (86-35) who stumbled to a 9-5 finish a week ago. He and Avento now sit six games behind the leader. That leaves Southwest Virginia specialist Kevin Mays (85-36) in sole possession of last place. He'll try to sneak in an extra win this week by hedging his bets with the state champion Greeneville Greene Devils over Elizabethton, instead of rolling the dice on the Volunteer/Morristown East game the others picked. (Oops, it was actually an accident ~ but, hey, not a bad strategy).
With 18 games on the slate this week, only five will make a difference in our panel rankings.
The team is unanimous on Dobyns-Bennett over Hardin Valley; David Crockett over Tennessee High; Daniel Boone over Cocke County, Sullivan South over Sullivan East; Grainger over Sullivan Central; Ridgeview over John Battle; Eastside over Twin Springs; Union over Wise Central; ETSU over The Citadel; Auburn over Tennessee; Virginia Tech over North Carolina; Miami over Virginia; and UVa-Wise over West Virginia Wesleyan.
Here’s where they differ:
* They’re split 3-1-1 in the Morristown East/Volunteer game. Cook, who's seen the Falcons more than anyone else, is taking a chance on Justin Pressley's young team to pull out a victory over the Hurricanes. Avento, Birchfield and Fritz picked the Canes; Mays (as explained above) took Greeneville over Elizabethton.
* They’re split 4-1 in the Sullivan North/Happy Valley game. Only Birchfield picked the Warriors.
* They're split 4-1 in the Lee/Gate City game. Again, Birchfield is the odd man out. He's betting on the Blue Devils to finish the job this week and pick up that elusive first win of the season.
* They're split 4-1 in the J.I. Burton/Grundy game. This time, it's Fritz who's flying solo with Grundy.
* They're split 3-2 in the Titans/Ravens NFL game. Avento, Birchfield and Cook are picking Tennessee; while Fritz and Mays are betting on the Ravens.
Check out this week’s football picks in the Times News every Thursday and share your thoughts about them in social media where you can find us @tnsportslive. Additional picks relevant to their readership area also publish in Thursday’s edition of the Johnson City Press.