BALTIMORE – There is no such thing as a crystal ball that can foretell which PBR rider will be able to climb his way up the Built Ford Tough Series ladder and claim the ultimate prize of the 2015 world title, or which bull will rise to the challenge of becoming the 2015 World Champion Bull.
Regardless, the 2015 Built Ford Tough Series and the next 10 months of the PBR season will present a variety of exciting and entertaining storylines to follow.
Prior to the start of the season opener in Baltimore, nine-time World Champion Ty Murray, two-time World Champion Justin McBride and PBR Director of Livestock Cody Lambert shared some of their thoughts about what to watch for during the 2015 season.
Here are five early-season storylines:
What will J.B. Mauney and J.W. Harris accomplish in 2015?
The general consensus among Murray, McBride and Lambert is excitement about the potential success 2013 World Champion J.B. Mauney and four-time PRCA champion J.W. Harris may find in 2015.
Both riders are considered potential favorites to win the 2015 world title and they left a positive impression on all three men during the 2014 Built Ford Tough World Finals.
“(J.W. Harris) and J.B. Mauney looked like the two best bull riders in the world by a long ways in the Finals,” McBride said. “The two initial guys. Man, I thought they looked so good.”
Harris highlighted his first World Finals by going 4-for-6 and setting a new career-high with 93.25 points on Honey Hush. Not only did he finally find some success on the BFTS, he also surmounted a 3,428.12-point deficit in the world standings to surpass Gage Gay, Tanner Byrne and Brady Sims for the Rookie of the Year title.
“Once he got in a groove we were finally able to see how he could do,” McBride said. “Then we had seen what he could do and that he could ride, really, really good.”
Murray added, “I think it is going to be interesting to see what J.W. Harris can get done this year.”
Lambert said one of the most important keys for Mauney and Harris in 2015 – as it is for all bull riders – is to keep their bodies healthy, even if that means missing an event to remain in prime shape.
“I am excited to see how J.B. Mauney shows up,” Lambert said. “I think he has realized a lot at the end of last year that he is at a point in his career where he needs to maybe get on less bulls and not spend as much time in the practice pen and those sort of things; and if he does have an injury go home and heal up before he comes back to the next event and try and ride hurt all the time. I would like to see him ride when he is feeling good and I think he could go to two-thirds of the events and still be a World Champion if he would take that kind of care of his body.
“I expect to see that out of J.B. and J.W. Harris because J.W. has realized that too. He realized that right before the end of the year he probably got on too many bulls during the year rodeoing and working the Built Ford Tough Series. I would like to see him focus for a full year too.”
Both riders dealt with injuries throughout the second half of the 2014 Built Ford Tough Series and tried to gut their way through them.
Mauney got stuck in his 0-for-12 slump after Asteroid stepped on his back in August before then re-injuring his hip in Nashville when he attempted to ride Spotted Juice, while Harris dealt with a variety of injuries to his lower back, chest and shoulders by competing at PRCA rodeos and on the BFTS.
“Nobody rides well when they are hurt,” Lambert said. “They might do it one time, but they can’t do it on a consistent basis.”
PBR unveils new points system for 2015
Murray is excited to see how the new points system plays out over the first few events and throughout the entire season. The big emphasis on the new system is to reward riders for winning rounds, which Murray believes will create a higher level of competition.
“I am excited to see with the new points system what the competition looks like this year,” he said. “The points system should promote more of a trying to win first type of approach to the game, which should make it better for all of us fans. Anytime you are watching the best at anything, it is always better when they are going for it.
“Strategy is part of any sport and we will know a lot more after we see the season go. We looked at the numbers crunched a lot of different ways, but it will be interesting to watch it play out.”
McBride said, “I think it is the right step and the sport has to evolve over time. It is a step in the right direction.”
Silvano Alves’ title defense
Murray, McBride and Lambert all agreed that it will be interesting to see how Silvano Alves goes about his title defense in 2015 with the new points system in place.
In particular, Murray believes another showdown between Alves and Mauney like we saw during the 2013 season would be great to see again.
“The two best bull riders we have at this moment right now are our last two World Champions,” Murray said. “It would be really fun, especially with the new points structure, to watch them two hook up and go head-to-head again. Time will tell.”
Alves begins this season averaging 57.75 qualified rides on the BFTS per season in the past four years.
“He is going to be right in there again and is the odds on favorite to win it,” McBride said. “If you go by the numbers, I don’t know how you cannot pick anybody over him. I am picking J.B. Mauney this year, but Silvano is right in there.”
Lambert added that the new points system may just give Alves another way to continue to get even better as a bull rider.
“With the new points system, Silvano may try to win more and he might be even better than we thought he was – which is really good,” he said.
Long John and Bruiser are early bull favorites
There is still plenty of time before the 2015 World Champion Bull contenders will be announced for the Built Ford Tough World Finals, but Lambert believes, at least for now, that Long John and Bruiser are two of the top bulls heading into the New Year.
“As far as I am concerned, the number one and number two bulls going into the year are going to be Long John and Bruiser – which are both Page bulls,” Lambert said. “Now that is today, but after Baltimore, Chicago and Denver there may be something else that I am thinking about that has a chance to be the top bull. It is so far from time to think about that.”
Both bulls had impressive performances in Round 4 of the World Finals last year.
Long John was marked 47.25 points when he bucked off Harris in 3.7 seconds, while Bruiser was awarded 46 points when Mauney rode him for 93.25 points.
Overall, Long John posted an average bull score of 44.23 points in 14 2014 BFTS outs and Bruiser averaged 44.83 points per out.
Other bull riders to keep an eye on
When it comes to sleeper picks for the 2015 season, McBride said he is intrigued about what Markus Mariluch can do once he returns to the BFTS following his bicep injury.
McBride noted that the 29-year-old had seemingly taken the next step in his career last season just before getting hurt.
“I think he is just starting to mature now as a professional bull rider,” McBride said. “I may be crazy, but I expect big things out of him. I think he was turning the corner last year and got hurt. If he can keep his weight down, not that he is overweight, but he is a stocky ,strong guy. If he can keep an extra five pounds off I think that guy could really do something.”
Other up-and-coming riders McBride said that he will be watching in 2015 include Tanner Byrne and Gage Gay.
Lambert admitted he will be keeping an eye on Fabiano Vieira, but for reasons he wish he weren’t. Vieira, who led the BFTS last year with a 54.55 percent riding average, decided to not undergo shoulder surgery and is entering another season on the BFTS with a risky right shoulder that he tried to contend with in 2014.
“He actually out-rode everyone last year, but he just couldn’t outlast everyone because he was hurt heading into the end of the year,” Lambert said. “Now he is heading into his second season in a row with a shoulder that needs to be fixed. I want to know how long is he going to last. It is not something I am excited about, it is something I am dreading seeing because he is so good and so tough. He is going to be hurting and when he gets off he is going to be hurt. I am not ready to watch another year of that. If he was healthy, he would have been the World Champion last year.”
When it comes to other somewhat unknown riders, Murray said he hopes to see Neil Holmes make a return to the BFTS following his four events last year. Murray came away impressed with what he saw from the Texas native at the Desert Showdown in Laughlin, Nevada.
“I would like to see what happens with that Neil Holmes,” he said. “I only saw him a couple of times, but he had some spark at Laughlin and you want to see if there is anything there.”
Murray then concluded that he is also excited to see who the next top rookie bull rider will be.
“That is what is fun every year,” Murray said. “The quest to find the best bull rider in the world, so you never know when that next legend is 18 years old and you are going to see him for the first time.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.
© 2015 PBR Inc. All rights reserved.