Morning Line, Baltimore: Day 1

The new points system this year will bring changes to the way we look at round matchups. Last season, just riding any bull in a round would pay dividends toward the World Championship. This season, within the context of a single round, the only way to move in the World Title race is to place in the top 5. Having a bull that you can get 87 or more points out of is a bigger advantage than it was under the old point system. The gap between what an 84-85 point score will earn versus what a score of 87 or more will earn has widened somewhat.

For the riders, not much changes. Their job is still to make the whistle and get a score on whatever bull they have, and every score does help, because the top five aggregate scores at an event still earn a lot of points. You should see more guys taking reride options rather than declining them, because the long round reride bulls are often very reliable bulls that can produce winning or placing scores, and if a guy is strictly looking at the average, he still needs to place in the Top 5 in the average to get points. The new points system should slightly favor guys who are like Chris Shivers. Shivers wasn’t the most consistent rider, but he got the most out of every bull, and got a lot of big scores because he made bulls look good and made his rides look good. The guys who are most like that today will benefit from the point system change more than others. That means Renato Nunes, Chase Outlaw, J.B. Mauney to some extent, and several others who tend to win or place with a lot of their rides will do a little better in the points race this year, but they will still need consistently make the whistle, because zeroes don’t earn anything.

Round 1 Matchups

JB Mauney on 018 Ranga:

This is a bull that can deliver the 87-point and better score needed here. Mauney has been on him twice, and rode him once — for 87.5 points and a round win in Colorado Springs, Colorado, last season. Mauney had some nagging injuries last year, and still rode like a champion at the World Finals. He’s had some time off to heal up, and he should be in top form here.

Luis Blanco on 41 Stay Thirsty:

Blanco is here as an alternate, and he could turn that opportunity into BFTS points with this bull. Stay Thirsty is a good draw, particularly for lefties, and he can produce winning or placing scores. He’s also pretty good to ride for a bull at this level. He has good timing, and unsurprisingly he’s 0-4 in BFTS competition. Most of the riders here are here because they can consistently dominate bulls that have great timing. If Blanco wants to earn a spot on tour, he’ll need to be nearly perfect on bulls like this one.

Joao Ricardo Vieira on 84U Buck Dynasty:

Joao Ricardo Vieira was a serious contender for the world title last year, and in the end the reason he wasn’t the World Champion is because of bulls like this one. Buck Dynasty is a hard knocker. He’s not the kind of bull riders get along with, he doesn’t have perfect timing, and he really bucks. Last season, Vieira was seen as a kind of fair weather rider. He did very well on the bulls that fit him, and not so much on the others. At times he worried over what the announcers were saying about him, and that’s not a formula for success. Alves seemed like a machine. He never got rattled, he stayed on every bull he drew no matter what kind of bull they were. In short, he was not delicate. Vieira has the talent to contend for a title, but he’s got to harden up, forget about what other people say, and learn to deal with bulls like this one. It is a long season and a rider won’t draw the pick of the pen every time.

Gage Gay on 965 King Buck:

Like Vieira, Gage Gay may have been paying too much attention to his press clippings last year. He didn’t have a great World Finals, and he finished the season with a less-than-stellar riding percentage at the bigger events against the better bulls. Gay has talent, no question — the question is where he is mentally. Does he want to work to improve, or does he believe he’s already there? One of the best things any rider can do is put in ear plugs and not listen to what the broadcast team or the in house announcers say about them, because those guys tend to overstate the positives and the negatives.

Cody Lambert sees this as the top matchup of the round, and he’s right. King Buck is a quality bull. He’s on the rise, and we’ve seen him continually improve. He’s got the talent to deliver a round win here, and he’s been pretty vulnerable against right handed riders.

Nathan Schaper on 28W Nefarious:

If you want to get some BFTS points in a round, it helps to draw a bull that has a little extra juice, and this bull has it. Nefarious has been ridden eight times in his career, and four of those rides went for round wins. Schaper is one of the best riders in the business at staying out over the front of bulls, and this bull wants to flip riders right over the front end. That will be the thing to watch for in this match — if Schaper can stay off this bull’s head he can earn some points in this round.

JW Harris on 675 Alternator:

This is one of the better draws in this round. He was ridden six times in six outs on tour last year, and four of those rides were top 5 in the round, including two round wins. Harris should win the match easily, but he needs the bull to have a good day. Typical scores on Alternator range from 85 to 87 points, and Harris needs to be closer to the 87.

Sean Willingham on DPX18 More Big Bucks:

We saw JB Mauney ride this bull to a 3rd place finish in the opening round of the World Finals. He went to the left with Mauney, and he hasn’t given up a ride to a right handed rider yet, but Willingham could be the first guy to do it. This bull ought to fit Willingham pretty well I think. If you’ve been watching the PBR for a while, you’ve probably seen Willingham catch some flak from the broadcast analysts about sitting up straight too much or getting leaned back, and not working hard enough to get back over the front end every jump. There’s a hidden benefit to Willingham’s style, and that is his hips stay right with his rope. That is the reason for his tendency to get too far back – he’s chasing the bull with his hips. If you watch the film of Mauney on More Big Bucks, you’ll notice that Mauney was fighting to stay off this bull’s head the whole ride. If you wanted a recipe for a bull a guy could make a big ride on spinning away from his hand, it would call for a bull that has good timing and backs up under himself, forcing the rider out over the front. This bull is it.

Ben Jones on 910 Wreck it Ralph:

We saw this bull a few times last season, and he should fit Ben Jones perfectly. Ralph can get in the air and be showy, and he doesn’t have a lot of power or drop. We saw Silvano Alves ride him for 86.75 points in Biloxi, Mississippi, in October. Jones is that Chris Shivers kind of rider who makes bulls look good, and he will almost always get more points out of a bull than Alves.

Eduardo Aparecido on 704 Slip Clutch:

This is a nice draw, and like Harris, Aparecido will probably ride easily and will be hoping for this bull to have a good day. Slip Clutch is smooth and rider friendly, and he has a difficult time getting right handed riders on the ground. But with an average score of around 86 points, Aparecido needs this bull’s best effort.

Silvano Alves on T57 Little Red:

We know almost nothing about this bull, but we do know one thing: Alves will probably ride him. The new points system will probably affect Alves as much as anyone. Alves doesn’t get great scores out of bulls. He doesn’t swing for the fences, and he places more than he wins. The knock on Alves is that he’s won three World Championships due to his strategy of declining reride options, but that’s not entirely true. The fact that he rides more bulls than anyone else plays into his success quite a bit, as does his knack for avoiding injury. Alves is hands down the best rider in the world right now. In 2013 and 2014, he spent a good bit of the year on cruise control, and won the title on cruise control last season. Bulls tend to underperform with him because he spends too much time in the chute, and he may need to reconsider his approach this year so that he gets more out of his bulls. He may need to reconsider keeping very low scores that hurt him in the average. But, when it’s all said and done, Alves has the talent to simply outride everyone else. If he takes a few more rerides, he probably makes the whistle on those bulls, and if he spends less time in the chute, he probably ends up with a better score rather than being bucked off. A guy who can ride 26 of 30 bulls in five straight World Finals appearances isn’t winning only because of a strategy. He’s got talent.

Follow Slade Long on Twitter @Probullstats


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