There's still time to place your bets. The Toyota 12 don't step into the gates for a few days yet. Now's the time to do your due diligence and study the competitors before you wager your hard-earned dough or put bragging rights on the line.
So who do you like to be first across the finish line at the 2010 Toyota Trucks Championship Week? Are you playing it safe with Skeet Reese, or are you going to be picking one of the long shots in hopes of a big payday?
Here's the line as we get ready to head for Alabama:
Skeet Reese put together a tremendous year. Two firsts and a pair of seconds is as good as we've seen on the Bassmaster Tournament Trail for quite a while and the best we've ever seen in the Elites. Reese has some experience on the postseason waters — Lake Jordan and the Alabama River — and watched it all slip away here last season. Expect him to hold on this year.
If he can go out and win the first tournament on Lake Jordan, Reese will be almost uncatchable in the finale. And, even if he bombs on Jordan, he won't be so far out that he can't rebound on the Alabama River.
The race for AOY is actually closer than it first appears. If Reese has an average finish in both events, he'll finish with 272 points. That puts everyone in the field within striking distance ... if they win both tournaments. The top half of the field (Evers, Pace, Remitz, VanDam and Butcher) wouldn't have to win both to catch Reese; they'd just need two finishes in the top four (Evers), top three (Pace) or top two (Remitz, VanDam and Butcher). That's if Reese is average. If he has an average finish and a bad finish, someone else will almost certainly be AOY.
So will Skeet play it safe and just try to avoid disaster? I don't think so. It's not his style, and it could be dangerous in these two-day tournaments. He'll have little choice but to go for broke each day and hope it pays off. It probably will, too. He's one of the best.
Skeet goes out at 2-to-3.
Edwin Evers is clearly one of the five or six best anglers in the Elite Series. He's versatile, he's consistent and he knows how to win. Fifteen points back of the leader means he can afford to play it a little safe in the first tournament (Lake Jordan) before seeing what he really has to do at the Alabama River to win. But that would be a hazardous strategy. Instead, expect fireworks from Evers, if he can generate them, and an early push to take the lead. He should be solid at both venues.
Evers is 2-to-1 to win AOY.
The 800-pound gorilla
No Elite tournament, postseason event or Bassmaster Classic is over until Kevin VanDam weighs in. He's the best of all time and the two-time defending AOY. The problem is that his slow start this year put him at a disadvantage coming into the postseason. He's 31 points behind Reese and has three other anglers between him and the lead.
Assuming Reese stumbles in the postseason — and it could happen — VanDam will need to finish in the top three of both tournaments to have a realistic chance of overtaking him. Even then, he has to hope that none of the anglers ahead of him does as well.
KVD is 4-to-1 to go back-to-back-to-back.
The young guns
Cliff Pace, Derek Remitz, Terry Butcher and John Crews are in this group. They're between 29 and 32 points back of Reese, so they're actually closer than VanDam. The problem is they're young, inexperienced at this level of the sport (though Pace qualified for the postseason last year) and largely unfamiliar with the tournament waters (again, Pace is the exception).
One of them could certainly break through, and Pace would have to be the favorite to do that. All of them will benefit from a lack of boat traffic that will likely haunt VanDam and Reese.
Pace is 8-to-1 to win AOY.
Remitz, Butcher and Crews are each 10-to-1.
The cagy veteran
Tommy Biffle is a few points further back than the "young guns," but he's also Tommy Biffle, and that's worth more than those few points. Year after year, Biffle comes from behind to finish in the top 12. Apparently, he'd rather do the hunting than be hunted.
No one in the field has more momentum than Biffle. He won the last event of the regular season and loves the venues for the final two tournaments. Last year he was second on the Alabama River and third on Jordan. If he can repeat that success, Reese will need at least middle-of-the-pack finishes to hang on.
Biffle is at 6-to-1.
The long shots
Gary Klein, Greg Hackney, Russ Lane and Aaron Martens aren't dead ... yet, but they have two things going against them.
First, they're 39 points back of Reese and the most they can make up in single postseason tournament is 40 points (unless an angler doesn't weigh in a keeper for an entire event, which is unlikely). That means that each of these guys would need to win at least one of the two events while Reese bombs and finishes last, or they need to win both while Reese finishes ninth or worse both times. It could happen, but I'm not betting on it.
The other thing each of these anglers has going against him is the "leapfrog factor." Not only do they need to rack up the points as mentioned in the paragraph above, but they can't afford for anyone between them and Reese in the standings to get hot.
Since Lake Jordan and the Alabama River are in Russ Lane's backyard, he's at 20-to-1.
Klein, Hackney and Martens are each 25-to-1.