LAS VEGAS – With just three rounds remaining, we’re zeroed in on two contestants at the National Finals Rodeo.

Helena‘s Ty Erickson is chasing his first world championship and controls his own fate. He leads both the average and the world, but by razor-thin margins, so Erickson knows he can’t afford a lapse in concentration.

“It’s tough, because you’re 10 nights in a row and we have a lot of obligations when we get down here,” said Erickson. “We’re putting a lot of hours in, so you get worn down as the later rounds come. But it’s a lot of fun – it’s the greatest place to be in December – so I wouldn’t change anything.”

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The other cowboy under our microscope is Wyoming’s Brody Cress. If you haven’t heard of him, don’t feel badly – he’s a 21-year-old rookie from outside Cheyenne who leads the average and is projected to win the world saddle bronc title by a little more than $1,100.

But listen to how he’s spending the rest of his time in Vegas. Cress is still in college at Tarleton State in Texas, and is actually taking his last set of finals this week over the internet.

“It’s been hard and I was kind of mad about putting them off until the end, actually,” Cress said Wednesday. “I finished three, the last three. They were due tonight, so I had to finish them before I came to the rodeo and I was almost late getting them done. So I shouldn’t have done that. But it’s hard to be out here in this sort of atmosphere trying to do school, you know what I mean?

“It’s hard enough to begin with. School is an amazing opportunity and I’ve had a great place to go at Tarleton State University, plus I’ve had great teachers and coaches and I have dang sure always wanted to get my education. It’s a big part of it. I can only rodeo for so long, but I’m dang sure glad to have my four-year degree.”

Cress says he will earn his degree in agricultural management after just 3.5 years, in fact.

The only question really is, will Cress celebrate it with a new world championship? Round 8 at the NFR begins Thursday night at 8 p.m. (MDT).