2008 Arnold Ms. International, Fitness & Figure International Preview!

The women will take the stage on Friday at the Arnold Expo and follow it up with the night show later that day. Here are my top picks for the women's bodybuilding, fitness, and figure competitions that will be taking place February 29, 2008.

The men's show is all the buzz with the champ being out and the emergence of Phil Heath, but there are three other competitions going on that tend to not get the same buzz. I'm here to breakdown the women's side of things and handicap how I see the shows shaking out.

The women will take the stage on Friday at the Arnold Expo and follow it up with the night show later that night. There are a few familiar names missing from the shows which will make things interesting on the women's side of things.

Fans will be treated to a new champ in Figure without a doubt, but will there be new champs in the women's bodybuilding and fitness? We'll find out this Friday in Columbus, Ohio.

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Women's Bodybuilding
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Missing from last year's top three is Heather Armbrust. Heather took the pro stage by storm winning her debut in Sacramento and followed it up in third behind two seasoned pros. She's taking the entire year off to compete only in the Olympia this year, so fans will have to wait until September to see her on stage. Let's get to who is competing and how I see it breaking down.

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1. Iris Kyle:
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    Iris has the genetics that dominate every time she steps on stage. She won this show last year and repeated on the Olympia stage. I don't see her falling from the winner's circle this time unless she blows her conditioning. She's improved her presentation and pulls off the look of a female bodybuilder. Look for her to bring the conditioning we've grown to expect from her and repeat.


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Iris Kyle At The 2007 Olympia.
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2. Dayana Cadeau:
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    Dayana was off last year and placed sixth in this show. She redeemed herself at the Olympia and I look for her to give Iris a run for her money again this year. She's now dating IFBB Pro, Kai Greene so maybe we'll see some new posing moves out of her at the night show.

    Dayana will bring a better package than last year and challenge Iris for the title. If Iris isn't at her best look for Dayana to slip into the winner's circle.


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Dayana Cadeau At The 2007 Olympia.
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3. Lisa Aukland:
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    She was fourth last year and I see her moving up a spot this year. She has a great physique and amazing set of legs.

    Lisa has found a formula that works for her and I look for her to be at her all-time best at this show. She challenged Yaxeni at the Olympia and came up just a couple points short. I look for her to surpass Yaxeni this time out.


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Lisa Aukland At The 2007 Olympia.
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4. Yaxeni Oriquen-Garcia:
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    No stranger to the winner's circle, Yaxeni was able to put it together in 2007 after leaving many wondering if she could at the end of '06. She bested Heather Armbrust at the Arnold and Olympia last year and showed why she is a seasoned vet. If she comes in conditioned she could challenge Iris for the title and will most certainly be in the top callouts.


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Yaxeni Oriquen-Garcia At The 2008 Arnold Classic.
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5. Cathy LeFrancois:
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    She placed 10th at this show last year but look for her to be improved and move ahead of some of the heavier competitors in this show. Cathy displays a tremendous balance throughout and if there were weight classes in this show you'd see her winning the light-weight class.


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Cathy LeFrancois At The 2007 Sacramento Pro.
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6. Betty Pariso:
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    Betty is the oldest competitor in this show but don't count her out on being in the first callouts. She finally found a tanning color that works well on her. A couple years ago she showed up on the Arnold stage and was a murky green color. She placed fifth at this show last year and was in sixth at the Olympia in '07.


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Betty Pariso At The 2007 Olympia.
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arrow The Rest Of The Field:
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    We'll see Kristy Hawkins make her pro debut here and we'll likely see her 5-7 lbs bigger than what she displayed at the NPC Nationals where she came away with the title. The physique she displayed at Nationals was great, she had insane conditioning and was able to bring a feminine look to bodybuilding. I caught a glimpse of her backstage at the Iron Man and she didn't look two weeks out from a show but stranger things have happened.

    Tracy Beckham will also be making her pro debut but I don't see her in the top 10 at this show. Her physique will be out-muscled in this line-up. Brenda Ragnot has shown she can challenge the top competitors when she comes in conditioned, will she bring that package to this stage is the question. Betty Viana-Adkins was once in the top placings of shows a couple years ago but we haven't seen the same from her lately.

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Figure
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The top two competitors, Mary Elizabeth Lado and Amanda Savell are absent from the line-up this year. We also won't be seeing seasoned pro and fitness icon Monica Brant as she withdrew her name a few weeks ago.

Another notable absent from the show is new American Gladiator, Valerie Waugaman. Val placed fifth in this show last year and recently announced she has retired from the competition stage to focus on other happenings in her life. That leaves the door wide open for a new crop of figure competitors to step up their game and mark my words. You will see some surprises in this show as well as some expected showings.

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1. Gina Aliotti:
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    Gina has really come into her own the last couple of shows. She placed second to Jenny Lynn in the 2007 Olympia and then when on to victory in the West Palm Beach show. Gina is one of the younger competitors in the show but she takes the stage as a seasoned pro.


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Gina Aliotti At The 2007 Palm Beach Pro.
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    She's streamlined her physique a bit since last year which is pretty amazing to do in a few short months. She is blossoming into one of the best figure competitors of today, right in front of our eyes. I caught a glimpse of her at the Iron Man two weeks out and she's never looked better. Look for her to be the new Figure International champ and be a heavy favorite as the next Ms. Figure Olympia later in the year.

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2. Sonia Adcock:
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    Sonia will surprise some people with her improvements she's made. I saw her at the Iron Man Pro as well and she's never looked better. Her downfall has been her legs but they've improved since we last saw her. She's one of the shorter competitors in the show but don't let her 5'1" height fool ya. She'll be displaying her best physique to date and be in the top callouts on Friday.


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Sonia Adcock At The 2007 Olympia.
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3. Amy Fry:
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    I like her physique a lot. I hadn't seen her compete until the Olympia but I was impressed. She's a taller competitor and carries the muscle well. She should find herself in the first callout and do well here.

    She placed 8th at the Olympia narrowly loosing to Monica Brant for a seventh place position. Amy has a physique that you can't help but notice and she's always smiling which shows she's having a good time. She has a bright future on the figure stage and really came into her own in 2007. Look for her to continue this trend in '08.


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Amy Fry At The 2007 Olympia.
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4. Jennifer Gates:
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    Jennifer is a beautiful competitor who had the year of her life in 2007. She went from battling it out at the NPC Jr. USA in April to winning her pro debut and gracing the Olympia stage all in the same year.

    I like her look and she's got tremendous potential to be one of the top figure pros. She could prove me wrong and be challenging Gina for the title but I think she's going to have her hands full this show and won't be at her best.


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Jennifer Gates At The 2007 NPC USA's.
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5. Kristal Richardson:
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    Yes folks you read it right. Kristal is going to upset the apple cart in this show. This is one person no one is counting on being in the top 6 but she's going to catch some people sleeping. She's improved tremendously since we saw her last year. The time off has served her well and she will bring a package that is her best ever.

    She's added size to her legs, specifically her quads and managed to bring her waist in smaller than ever. Her front and rear delts have improved drastically. I'm going out on a limb with picking her this high, but I believe she has the look that is what figure is about. She's a beautiful woman with a new physique.


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Kristal Richardson At The 2007 Europa Super Show.
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6. Juliana Malacarne:
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    Juliana is my other sleeper pick to shock people at this show. Juliana has been criticized for having too much muscle for figure. She's yet to place well in the states after being a huge hit overseas as an amateur. Juliana has brought down the muscle and will present a completely different package at this show.

    People will be shocked how different she looks this Friday. If she can present this new package with poise and grace look for her to be in the top 2 callouts. Yes, you heard it here first Juliana is one of the surprises of the show.


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Juliana Malacarne At The 2007 Colorado Pro.
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7. Natalie Benson:
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    Natalie has been working hard in the off-season and will bring a new package for her to the stage as well. The Halle Berry of fitness she is always stunning when she takes the stage.

    She's been criticized for having overpowering shoulders and back. I look for her to come in her best ever and challenge for the top five.


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Natalie Benson At The 2007 Palm Beach Pro.
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8. Latisha Wilder:
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    Latisha is another beautiful woman who holds her own on this stage. She was fourth here last year and should find herself in the top set of callouts again.

    She's a fan favorite and always has a hometown crowd cheering her on at this show. She's one of the shorter competitors but carries herself with tremendous poise and beauty on stage. I know I'll get some grief from her when I see her at the athlete check-in for having her this low. She can and most likely will be much higher.


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Latisha Wilder At The 2007 Palm Beach Pro.
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9. Paola Almerico:
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    She's already qualified for the Olympia and continually improved as the 2007 year went on. I like her look and the physique she brings to the stage. If she keep with the trend of many others, she'll be at her best for this show. Paola has become more relaxed on stage and able to present her physique that is suiting for the pro ranks. She won the overall title at the NPC Jr. USA so she's no stranger to what it's like to win.


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Paola Almerico At The 2007 Palm Beach Pro.
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10. Chastity Slone:
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    She was seventh at this show last year and fell to 15th at the Olympia. She's got the hometown crowd behind her and sure to have a number of fans in the audience this year. We never know which Chastity will show up on stage. At times she comes in super hard and others times the complete opposite.


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Chastity Slone At The 2007 Atlantic City Pro.
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Others To Watch
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arrow Nicole Wilkins:
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    Nicole rocked the Team Universe stage by winning the overall fitness and figure titles. We'll see her compete in fitness at the NY PRO but she'll make her debut in figure at this show.

    Nicole is another very beautiful competitor with tremendous potential to her physique. How she matches up to the pros has yet to be seen but she could find her way into the top ten her first time out.


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Nicole Wilkins At The 2007 Team Universe.
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arrow Catherine Andersen:
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    Catherine Andersen is one of my favorite new pros taking the stage.

    She has a great physique and amazing personality to match it. She's another one who could find her way into the top 10 at her pro debut.

    We'll have to see how she matches up to the pros. She faired well in Vegas by winning the overall title and has some time off to rest and come on strong for her debut.


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Catherine Andersen At The 2007 NPC USA's.
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arrow Brenda Marie Smith:
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    Brenda Marie Smith tuned pro at Jr. Nationals and is already qualified for the Olympia with her showing at the Kentucky Pro at the end of the year. She has a look the judges seem to like and could be in the second and third round of callouts and turning it out for a top ten spot.


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Brenda Marie Smith At The 2007 Junior Nationals.
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Fitness
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Two of the top five competitors will be absent in fitness which leaves the door open in fitness as well. Adela Garcia is sitting this one out and will be competing later in the year. Tanji Johnson found herself tossing people around as American Gladiator earlier in the year and will not be competing at this show. Julie Childs who was in the top ten year last year will also not be competing in this show.

Let's keep it real folks this is a two person show until one of them decides to retire or they eat nothing but bon-bons for their contest prep. The two I am talking about are Kim Klein and Jen Hendershott.

They've competed against each other on this stage time and time again with each of them prevailing over each other at one time or another.

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My Picks For Fitness
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1. Jen Hendershott:
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    She's a performer and a damn good one at that.

    She's a seasoned veteran who entertains the crowd and you can't help but smile every time she performs her evening routine. Jen wouldn't let me in on what she's doing this year but told me our jaws will be dropping. I don't question her and I think this is the year she takes the Fitness International crown.

    She claimed to retire last year but is back for more. She won't comment on if she's retiring again or not but I know if she does she'd want to go out on top. This is the year Hendershott brings it all together and takes first place.


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Jen Hendershott At The 2007 Olympia.
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2. Kim Klein:
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    Kim has been going through a change in her personal life that could either benefit her or distract her. She may be using it to fuel her workouts and come in better than ever.

    Kim has tremendous gymnastic skills and always impresses the crowd and judges with her strength moves. She still lacks the showmanship that others bring to the stage where we feel entertained. She's shown she is a top competitor every time she steps on stage. Look for Kim to battle it out with Hendershott for the title.


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Kim Klein At The 2007 Olympia.
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3. Oksana Grishina:
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    She will perform one of the best routines of the show. She'll most likely win or be in the top 2 of the 45 second and two minute routine at this show. I fell in love with her presentation at the Europa Supershow and she brings something different to the stage we haven't seen before.

    She has her own style and for others to attempt to do it wouldn't work, just like anyone trying to do a Jen Hendershott routine wouldn't work. Oksana is a beautiful woman who breathes new life into the world of fitness.

    She has to work on her back/lats a bit but I look for her to wow the crowd in Columbus. Her dream is to meet Arnold and if the big two are off their game she could pose a threat to them and having Arnold hand her the title. Look for her physique to be improved and have a new routine with skills unmatched.


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Oksana Grishina At The 2007 Olympia.
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4. Julie Palmer:
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    The battle of the Julies. They last had it out in West Palm Beach where Palmer prevailed in the physique rounds and Lohre won out in the routines. The two could flip flop here and you'll see them neck and neck again. Julie brought her best look ever to the West Palm Beach. If she can continue to improve her routines you'll see her victorious in the battle of the J's.


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Julie Palmer At The 2007 Palm Beach Pro.
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5. Julie Lohre:
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    Julie turned it on in 2007 and improved with every show. She brings a great physique to the stage and awesome routines.

    She's ditching the football routine but won't say what the new routine will be at the Arnold. Look for her to land in the top 5 at this show and potentially a place or two higher if she brings her A game.


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Julie Lohre At The Palm Beach Pro.
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6. Tracey Greenwood:
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    Tracey is no stranger to this stage and placed 6th here last year. I look for her to be in a similar spot again this year. She nudged out the two Julies at the Olympia and could potentially do it here. She always displays tremendous strength skills in her routine and in the middle of the pack with her physique, She a consistent competitor but will it be enough to move up this year?


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Tracey Greenwood At The Atlantic City Pro.
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7. Stacy Simons:
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    Stacy qualified for the Olympia by placing 3rd at the West Palm Beach show and the pressure is off this year on qualifying in the early shows. Look for her to be smiling ear to ear and rock'n the fitness stage with her ridiculous flexibility. Yes fans, she will be doing the freaky behind the arms move we've come to expect from her. I like Stacy, she's good people and it translates onto stage.


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Stacy Simons At The 2007 Palm Beach Pro.
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8. Mindi O' Brien:
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    She took the fitness stage by storm a couple years ago when she won the Europa Supershow but hasn't found her way back to the winner's circle since. She was tenth at the Olympia and 12th at this show last year. Mindi is another consistent competitor but it tends to be consistently in the middle. We'll see what she brings to the stage this year.


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Mindi O' Brien At The 2007 Olympia.
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9. Tanya Merryman:
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    Tanya battled a couple of injuries going into the NPC Nationals but was able to walk out an IFBB Pro. She has amazing potential with her physique and promises to deliver a routine that she's been known for. We haven't seen the best of her since she took to the stage but look for her to bring it at this show. She should have a great pro debut if she's been able to recover from her injuries.


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Tanya Merryman At The 2007 NPC National Championships.
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10. Tina Durkin:
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    She'll get her chance to battle it out with Tanya again, only this time on the pro stage. Tina was the overall winner at the NPC Nationals in Dallas last November. This will be her pro debut and she will get a taste of what it's like to compete with the big dawgs.


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Tina Durkin At The 2007 NPC National Championships.
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Conclusion
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That wraps it up folks. I went out on a limb with some of my picks, particularly in the figure. Keep in mind anything could happen but rest assured it wouldn't be a competition without some type of controversy afterwards.

I base my picks on how competitors have faired in the past and improvements they've made in the off-season. I don't have any "ins" with the judging and the predictions are to get people talking about the contest and thinking about the show. It's all in good fun and it's not my goal to piss anyone off, which I always do. The only people are the ones with a "1." next to them. Let me know what you think of the picks and let's hear yours!