Leader Tanner Cook (79-27) missed a few pivotal matchups last week to finish with a 12-6 mark, but still clings to a two-game lead over Douglas Fritz (77-29), who also went 12-6 on the week. But now, they both have company. Racing guru Jeff Birchfield, who knows it’s a series and not a sprint, used a 14-4 week to close the gap and joins Fritz in a tie for second place - just two games behind the leader. Kevin Mays (75-31) posted a 13-5 mark to close within four games of the leader, while Joe Avento (74-32) - perhaps with a little help from a friend - posted a stellar 14-4 mark to maintain sole possession of the basement level of this five-man race.
Only four games threaten to upset the panel rankings this week ~ with Cook and Birchfield on opposite sides of all four picks.
The panel is in sync with unanimous nods to Boone over Volunteer, Tennessee High over Cocke County, Crockett over Cherokee, Greeneville over South, J.I. Burton over Honaker, Marion over Gate City, Union over Lee, and Eastside over Rye Cove in the high school games; ETSU over Gardner-Webb and Urbana over UVa-Wise in college; and the Titans over the Bills in the NFL.
Here’s where they differ:
* They’re split 4-1 in the Farragut/Dobyns-Bennett game. Birchfield will gain a game on everyone if the Tribe can pull off the victory over Farragut.
* They’re split 3-2 in the Sullivan East/Sullivan Central game. Cook and Avento will be dancing along with all of Cougar nation if Sullivan Central can break its long drought with a win over Sullivan East.
* They’re split 3-2 in the Wise Central/John Battle game. Fritz and Cook are going into battle with the Trojans; while Birchfield, Avento and Mays are rolling with the Warriors.
College football Saturday sees the panel split on just one game: Notre Dame vs. Virginia Tech. Cook, Fritz and Avento are relying on the luck of the Irish; while Mays and Birchfield are flying with the Hokies.
Check out this week’s football picks every week in the Thursday paper and share your thoughts about them in social media where you can find us @tnsportslive.