The 2015 season will be my 11th making public predictions in advance of a Wyoming high school football season.

Some predictions have worked out. Even more have not.

 

I started making predictions in 2005, my first year with the Casper Star-Tribune. Since leaving the CST in 2009, I have continued making preseason picks on this blog.

The methods have varied from year to year, and it wasn’t until 2011 that I started picking every place for every conference. In those four years of preseason picks, I’ve nailed down a team’s end-of-season spot in its respective conference standings 110 times. I’ve missed it 141 times.

Big misses motivate me to do better. My worst single pick came in 2011, when I picked Rocky Mountain to finish second in the Class 1A 11-man East; the Grizzlies finished seventh. I also missed big on Natrona in 2011 (picked fifth, finished first), Shoshoni in 2011 (picked eighth, finished fourth), Big Horn in 2012 (picked fifth, finished first) and Saratoga in 2012 (picked second, finished sixth).

As I looked deeper at my picks, I tried to decipher where I go wrong and how I can improve my preseason predictions. I looked at classifications (am I better at some classes than others?) as well as individual teams (do I perennially overrate or underrate certain programs?).

Here’s what I found:

Patrick’s most overrated teams, since 2011: Evanston (-6), Rock Springs (-5), Burns (-5), Buffalo (-4), Powell (-4), Southeast (-4).

Patrick’s most underrated teams, since 2011: Shoshoni (+7), Kelly Walsh (+4), Jackson (+4).

(The number represents the total number of places in the conference standings that these teams have finished compared to my predictions. It’s an aggregate number since 2011.)

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I also tried to look at the teams with the most variance — not necessarily whether the team finished better or worse than my prediction but if they finished differently than what I had picked. The numbers in parentheses here represent those the absolute values of the placings of the programs as compared to my picks.

Patrick’s easiest teams to pick, since 2011: Cokeville (0), Cheyenne East, Cheyenne South, Douglas, Riverton, Pine Bluffs, Wyoming Indian, Kaycee, Midwest, Hulett, NSI, Dubois, Snake River (1).

Patrick’s toughest teams to pick, since 2011: Natrona (8), Rocky Mountain (8), Rock Springs (7), Burns (7), Shoshoni (7), Saratoga (7).

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When I broke my predictions down by class, I found that when I looked at the total potential points available and my variance from that, I found that I was best at picking Class 1A six-man (15.1 percent variance) and worst at picking Class 2A (25.3 percent). In between were Class 4A (18.2 percent), Class 1A 11-man (24 percent) and Class 3A (25 percent).

In my defense, I’d argue that six-man is simply more predictable than 2A….

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My state title predictions, meanwhile, date back the full 11 years to 2005 (with the exception of 2011, when I only did conference predictions but no full state predictions and no published preseason top five). In those 10 years, I’ve successfully picked the state champion in the preseason less than half the time (23 out of 50).

However, only a handful of preseason No. 1 choices didn’t reach the title game, and even fewer preseason No. 1s (Powell in 2014, Natrona in 2007, Tongue River in 2007 and Big Horn in 2006) didn’t reach the semifinals. Every preseason No. 1 made the playoffs, though…

And almost every eventual state champion was ranked in my preseason top two. Only five times did the eventual state champ come from outside my preseason top five (Snake River and Thermopolis in 2010, Cheyenne East and Jackson in 2007 and Kemmerer in 2005).

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The tl;dr version? I’ve picked the state champion right in the preseason less than half the time. Natrona and Rocky Mountain are hard to pick; Cokeville’s easy. I overrate Evanston and underrate Shoshoni. I’m good at picking six-man and not so good at 2A.

Most of all, preseason predictions are for fun. On the scoreboard, they mean absolutely nothing. These preseason rankings have no effect on the result of any single game. You’ll notice my site doesn’t track preseason polls; it tracks game results.

Part of the beauty of a season is the season itself. Teams rise past expectations — or fall short — all the time. Injuries, slumps, streaks, upsets and distractions affect seasons way more than what we talk about in the preseason.

No matter what the preseason ranking, every team starts 0-0. There’s a certain amount of beauty in that.

–patrick

When Cheyenne Central opens the 2015 season on Friday in Casper against Natrona, the Indians and Mustangs will extend a tradition that dates back 96 years.

The two schools have played each other every season since 1920, the longest such streak in state history — and a streak that shows no signs of stopping any time soon.

Although the two schools first played each other in 1908, they’ve played each other in every season since 1920. Of course, in 1920, Wyoming schools didn’t have many options: Only six schools in the state had football teams.

Central and Natrona have been on each other’s regular-season schedules for 95 of those 96 years. In 2004, the two teams did not have a regular-season game scheduled, but they met in the Class 5A playoff semifinals to continue their consecutive years played streak.

Natrona and Central played each other twice in a season four times: in 1935 (the second game was part of the first triangular playoff in state history), 1936 (to decide a playoff qualification after tying in their regular-season game), 1990 (in the playoff semifinals) and 2005 (again in the playoff semifinals).

Their meeting this season will be the 102nd in the series. NC leads the all-time series 52-46-3, with Central having a 28-22-1 series lead in Cheyenne while NC leads in Casper 29-18-2 (NC won the only neutral-site matchup).

Even so, this series is not the most-played series in state history. That honor goes to the Central-Laramie series, which has been played 130 times. However, the Indians and Plainsmen didn’t play each other in 1999, breaking a series that dated back to 1919.

The 20 longest active series in Wyoming high school football that are scheduled to continue this year, and the year the streak began, are:

1. Cheyenne Central-Natrona, 1920

2. Lander-Riverton, 1922

3. Cody-Powell, 1941 (they’ve been on each other’s schedules since 1921 but the 1940 game was not played; Powell won it in a forfeit)

4. Powell-Worland, 1945

5. Big Piney-Pinedale, 1952

6. Lyman-Mountain View, 1955

7t. Big Piney-Lyman, 1956

7t. Big Piney-Mountain View, 1956

9. Jackson-Star Valley, 1959

10t. Cheyenne Central-Cheyenne East, 1960

10t. Cheyenne East-Laramie, 1960

12t. Gillette-Kelly Walsh, 1965

12t. Kelly Walsh-Natrona, 1965

14. Douglas-Torrington, 1967

15. Shoshoni-Wind River, 1969

16. Gillette-Sheridan, 1970

17t. Gillette-Natrona, 1971

17t. Natrona-Sheridan, 1971

19. Glenrock-Newcastle, 1974

20. Pine Bluffs-Southeast, 1978

Several other series have been active for at least 20 years and are scheduled to continue this year. Those series, with starting year, include:

Lusk-Southeast, 1979; Kemmerer-Lyman, 1980; Evanston-Rock Springs, 1983; Jackson-Lander, 1983; Kemmerer-Mountain View, 1983; Lusk-Pine Bluffs, 1983; Powell-Star Valley, 1983; Star Valley-Worland, 1983; Douglas-Rawlins, 1985; Natrona-Rock Springs, 1985; Greybull-Riverside, 1987 (the Basin-Greybull series goes back to 1983); Big Piney-Kemmerer, 1989; Cheyenne East-Rock Springs, 1990; Laramie-Rock Springs, 1990; Buffalo-Powell, 1991; Cheyenne East-Evanston, 1991; Lingle-Lusk, 1991; Lingle-Pine Bluffs, 1991; Burlington-Riverside, 1993.

Streaks that have been going at least 10 years and are scheduled to continue this year include: Burns-Wright, 1995; Burlington-Shoshoni, 1999; Cheyenne Central-Laramie, 2000; Cheyenne Central-Rock Springs, 2000; Buffalo-Rawlins, 2001; Buffalo-Worland, 2001; Cokeville-Shoshoni, 2001; Jackson-Teton, Idaho, 2001; Kemmerer-Pinedale, 2001; Lyman-Pinedale, 2001; Mountain View-Pinedale, 2001; Jackson-Powell, 2002; Kelly Walsh-Sheridan, 2002; Cheyenne Central-Evanston, 2003; Evanston-Laramie, 2003; Greybull-Lovell, 2003; Lyman-Greybull, 2003; Newcastle-Custer, S.D., 2003; Rawlins-Torrington, 2003; Buffalo-Douglas, 2004; Buffalo-Lander, 2004; Buffalo-Torrington, 2004; Cheyenne East-Gillette, 2004; Cheyenne East-Kelly Walsh, 2004; Riverside-Rocky Mountain, 2004; Rocky Mountain-Wind River, 2004.

In addition to the Central-Laramie streak, which was broken in 1999, one other long streak was recently broken: Torrington-Wheatland. The series ended in 2012, as the two schools staged a Zero Week scrimmage instead of a game in 2013, breaking a streak that began in 1923. They had a Zero Week scrimmage again in 2014 and are scheduled for another scrimmage this week.

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On to this week’s picks. As usual, the programs in bold are the ones I’ve picked to win this week.

Friday
Class 4A
Cheyenne South at Evanston
Gillette at Kelly Walsh
Natrona at Cheyenne Central
Rock Springs at Cheyenne East
Sheridan at Laramie
Interstate
Lyman at Altamont, Utah
Custer, S.D., at Newcastle
Miles City, Mont., at Powell
Teton, Idaho, at Jackson
Saturday
Interstate
Southeast at Bridgeport, Neb.

The rest of the Zero Week schedule as I have it:

Scrimmages and jamborees
Friday
Buffalo at Lovell
Cokeville at Bear Lake, Idaho
Farson, NSI at Casper (at Kelly Walsh)
Lander, Mountain View at Green River
Pine Bluffs at Saratoga
Pinedale at Big Piney
Riverside at Tongue River
Shoshoni, Thermopolis at Greybull
Torrington at Wheatland
Worland at Riverton
Wyoming Indian at Kemmerer
Saturday
Big Horn, Moorcroft, Wright at Upton-Sundance (at Upton)
Burns, Lingle, Wind River at Lusk
Dubois, Meeteetse, Midwest, Snake River at Riverton
Guernsey-Sunrise, Ten Sleep at Kaycee
Rawlins at Glenrock
Off: Burlington, Cody, Douglas, Hanna, Hulett, Rock River, Rocky Mountain, St. Stephens, Star Valley.

For a full schedule including kickoff times, click here.

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As usual, Zero Week picks for all classifications except 4A come with a disclaimer about what’s a “game” and counted in the standings and what’s not. Remember, I count different than the WHSAA does. For the record, here are the criteria I use to judge whether or not to call an event a “game,” and therefore list it in the standings (and, eventually, as part of the team record on this site):

1. Was the game played with four 12-minute quarters with normal timing rules?

2. Were officials used? And were normal rules of play instituted for the game?

3. Was score kept?

In short, if you don’t want it to count, don’t keep score….

This season, Class 4A has the only contests that will be Wyoming-vs.-Wyoming “games.” Every other contest involving Wyoming teams alone is set up as a controlled scrimmage or jamboree of some kind.

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This also marks the first week that guest pickers Tad and Homer will make their picks. Here’s what the brothers have to say:

The picks

Tad: Natrona over Cheyenne Central; Powell over Miles City, Mont.

Homer: Cheyenne Central over Natrona; Miles City, Mont., over Powell.

Both: Evanston over Cheyenne South; Cheyenne East over Rock Springs; Laramie over Sheridan; Lyman over Altamont, Utah; Custer, S.D., over Newcastle; Jackson over Teton, Idaho; Bridgeport, Neb., over Southeast.

The records

Cheyenne South at Evanston (Evanston 4-0 overall, Evanston 2-0 at this location)

Gillette at Kelly Walsh (Gillette 33-20 overall, Gillette 15-12 at this location)

Natrona at Cheyenne Central (Natrona 52-46-3 overall, Central 28-22-1 at this location)

Rock Springs at Cheyenne East (East 23-18 overall, East 16-7 at this location)

Sheridan at Laramie (Laramie 43-34 overall, Laramie 25-14 at this location)

Altamont, Utah, at Lyman (Lyman 4-2 overall, Lyman 2-1 at this location)

Custer, S.D., at Newcastle (Custer 28-17-3 overall, Custer 12-9-2 at this location)

Miles City, Mont., at Powell (tied 4-4, Miles City 3-1 at this location)

Teton, Idaho, at Jackson (Jackson 17-16-1, Jackson 10-7-1 at this location)

Southeast at Bridgeport, Neb. (Bridgeport 9-5, Bridgeport 3-2 at this location)

Weekly reminder: Tad picks the series leader; Homer picks the location leader; when a series is tied, both Tad and Homer pick the home team.

Of course, I welcome your thoughts, too. So what do you think about the opening week of the season? Go ahead and leave a comment and we can chat about what’s going on in Wyoming during Zero Week.

Post updated 10:48 p.m. Aug. 27 to fix location of Lyman game.

–patrick

Homer, left, and Tad discuss Wyoming high school football over lunch.

Homer, left, and Tad discuss Wyoming high school football over lunch. I think.

Meet Tad and Homer.

They are brothers. They love football, and they love history. They were brought up together, and they see football similarly.

While they agree on most everything, they occasionally disagree. This shows every week during the football season, when Tad and Homer go through Wyoming’s high school football schedule and try to predict the winners.

Tad thinks linearly. Figuring that the best predictor of the future is the past, Tad likes to look at series records and see which team has the better record against the other. And then he picks the program that leads the series.

Homer goes a step beyond his brother. Homer figures that home-field advantage plays into a game, too, so when he looks at series records, he also takes location into play. He bases his pick for that game on the series record in that location instead of the overall series record.

Tad and Homer’s problem? They don’t get out much.

They can’t tell you who is quarterbacking Cheyenne Central or coaching Lander. They like looking at the past and predicting the future, but they don’t have much use for the present.

In preparation for the 2015 season, I sought out Tad and Homer, who volunteered to make some weekly picks for the blog. Seeing as their picks are based solely on series records and nothing that actually happens during the season (remember how I said they don’t get out much?), they made their picks for every game way back in, like, February. In cases where series are tied, or where there has not been a game played in the series or a game in the series played at a certain location, Tad and Homer both opted to give the advantage, and their picks, to the home teams.

As I post my weekly picks throughout the season, I will also post Tad’s picks and Homer’s picks. In doing so, I hope to put the brothers’ differences to rest.

A big philosophical reason why I started wyoming-football.com in 2004 was to use the past to help explain the present and predict the future. I hoped that by finding patterns in past games, we could understand why the game is organized and played the way it is and why games come out the way they do. In short, this site and its 23,000-plus results are a search for understanding.

In the meantime, the 2015 season will act as a test of three competing theories. We shall see what works best: Tad’s approach of picking the team with the best history in the series, Homer’s approach of picking the team with the best history in the series at that location, or my approach actually trying to find value in the present and picking the team with the better chance of winning.

–patrick

For five seasons, Class 4A has been controlled by the big four. Cheyenne East, Natrona, Sheridan and Gillette have advanced to 4A’s semifinal round five years in a row, with nary a challenge from the classification’s other six schools.

The buildup to 2015 has shown the usual suspects will likely meet each other for a sixth consecutive year in the semifinals, and almost certainly one of those four schools will win the title.

Just don’t tell that to the other six. Severe graduation losses in the big four, coupled with continued growth among 4A’s lower tier, shows 2015 might be the year the gap finally closes between 4A’s elite programs and its also-rans.

Four questions to answer

Is it still the big four in charge? For now, yes. Cheyenne East, Natrona, Sheridan and Gillette have had the final four playoff spots in Class 4A on lockdown since 2010, an unprecedented streak of success for a foursome of teams. However, enough uncertainty surrounds the top of the classification to make a surprise semifinalist — like maybe Cheyenne South, Cheyenne Central or Kelly Walsh — a possibility.

So of those big four, who’s the favorite? Right now on paper, it’s Sheridan. Of the top four 4A teams, the Broncs lost the fewest players. Experience is always key in Class 4A, and Sheridan has more of it than any other team.

Which of the other six schools have the best chance to break up the top four’s superiority? For the first time, Cheyenne South. The Bison return an experienced quarterback in Austin Barker, a solid running back in Marquez Jefferson and a defense that returns four of its top five tacklers. With that much talent back, South will likely earn its first playoff berth in school history.

Isn’t Natrona still in the mix? Of course. But the defending state champs lost more to graduation than any other team in the state. The Mustangs return just two of their top 22 tacklers from last year and just one of their 12 all-state selections. Those losses leave NC in a precarious situation — trying to reload with players who have basically no varsity experience.

Four players to watch

Quinn Happold, Cheyenne East. The only 4A player who’s a returning all-state selection at two positions (offensive and defensive line), Happold will be an important piece of the T-Birds’ restructuring process this season. It all starts up front.

Austin Barker, Cheyenne South. How Barker — who threw for a 4A-best 197 yards per game — missed out on all-state honors last year is beyond me. But he’s back for his senior season, and he could be the one who leads South to its first playoff berth in program history.

Zach Taylor, Gillette. A two-time all-state selection and Casper Star-Tribune Super 25 first team selection at linebacker last year, Taylor is also Gillette’s leading returning rusher. Already a legit defensive star, Taylor may be called on to do more on the offensive side this year, too.

Dontae Crow, Sheridan. Although Crow didn’t show up on the all-state list last year, every coach in the state knows who he is. After all, he posted more than 20 yards per catch as Sheridan’s top receiver last year and led Sheridan with six pass breakups. He’s an important, explosive player in what may be Sheridan’s breakthrough year.

Four key games

Cheyenne East at Natrona, Sept. 4. Of 4A’s top four, the Thunderbirds and the Mustangs have the most questions surrounding them entering the fall. The 4A hierarchy could be established quickly with this Week 1 contest.

Cheyenne Central at Cheyenne South, Sept. 4. Both the Indians and the Bison could be poised for breakout seasons in 2015. This contest will help establish which team is a legit threat to 4A’s top four and which one is simply along for the ride.

Sheridan at Gillette, Oct. 2. The Energy Bowl always ranks high as a key 4A game, but in a year where the Broncs and Camels return more players than most of their competitors, this game could be for the top seed in the playoffs.

Natrona at Sheridan, Oct. 16. Natrona has won six straight against Sheridan. For the Broncs to rise to the level of 4A favorite, they’ll have to be able to overcome the Mustangs in Week 7. At least they get this one at home….

Predicted order of finish

Sheridan, Gillette, Natrona, Cheyenne East, Cheyenne South, Cheyenne Central, Kelly Walsh, Evanston, Laramie, Rock Springs.

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Sheridan 30, Gillette 20. On paper, the Broncs have more returning firepower than any other team in Class 4A. If they can put it together like they’re capable, they’ll be the team to beat.

Do you agree? Is Sheridan actually the team to beat? Who has the best chance of winning it all? Which team has the best chance of knocking off one of the “big four” in the playoffs? Post your thoughts and let’s talk 4A.

–patrick

When at least half the teams in a classification start the season with a realistic chance to win a state championship, you know you’re in for a fun year.

This is what we have in Class 3A this year.

With big losses suffered by last year’s title-game participants, the 2015 season is a big question mark. The classification has no clear favorite and no clear dividing lines between the challengers and the pretenders. That should make for a fun, unpredictable, and stressful year in 3A.

Four questions to answer

Are we seeing a changing of the guard in 3A? Possibly. Up until last year, 3A had been ruled for the past half-dozen years by Powell and Douglas, who each won three titles in a row. Then Cody won the title last year and demolished the hierarchy we all knew. And with the Broncs losing a ton of talented seniors, that means 3A is as wide open as it’s been in probably 20 years.

So who’s going to seize the open spot atop the class? Maybe Cody. Maybe Douglas. Maybe Jackson. Maybe Torrington. Maybe…. No one has a definitive answer. The bulk of last year’s best teams lost their best players; the bulk of last year’s challengers return their best players. That makes things messy, and competitive, and fun, in the top half of the class.

What position will be key to a deep playoff run? 2015 will be the year of the running back in 3A. Jackson’s Theo Dawson and Torrington’s Skyler Miller were both Casper Star-Tribune Super 25 first-team selections and were their respective conference’s offensive players of the year last year, and they’re both back for their senior campaigns in ’15. For a couple programs starved for success (Jackson has just one title in the past 28 years; Torrington hasn’t won it all since 1990), running back will be the most important position on the field.

What’s up in Worland? Good question. A program and community known for stability, the Warriors will have their sixth head coach in five years when former Douglas assistant Todd Weber takes over this fall. Stability at the top will be key for re-establishing a program that has struggled to find its identity since longtime coach Wade Sanford left after the 2011 season.

Four players to watch

Theo Dawson, Jackson. He was the offensive player of the year in the West Conference last year. He was on the Casper Star-Tribune Super 25 first team. He ran for 1,439 yards last season. He’s also the state’s most high-profile recruiting target. Everyone’s keeping their eyes on Mr. Dawson, and for good reason.

Skyler Miller, Torrington. He was the offensive player of the year in the East Conference last year. He was on the Casper Star-Tribune Super 25 first team. He ran for 1,305 yards last season. And don’t forget, Miller’s Trailblazers beat Dawson’s Broncs in the playoffs last year.

Jace Allard, Rawlins. Allard finished second in the state, regardless of classification, with his 2,238 passing yards last season. He’s the leading returning passer in the state and he fronts a rejuvenated Outlaw offense that can cause teams fits. As long as Rawlins’ running game remains strong, Allard could rack up even gaudier stats this fall, potentially leading Rawlins to its first playoff victory since 2000.

Cam Myers, Cody. Cody had nine all-state players last year and Myers is the only one who’s back this fall. He’s Cody’s leading returning rusher, receiver and tackler. With last year’s seniors gone, Myers’ responsibilities will be magnified that much more this fall.

Four key games

Riverton at Torrington, Sept. 25. The Wolverines have been quiet so far this offseason, but they’ll definitely challenge the Trailblazers in both teams’ East Conference opener. If Riverton can pull off the road victory, watch out.

Torrington at Douglas, Oct. 2. While Torrington returns a boatload of players, Douglas returns a boatload of tradition. And if the Trailblazers want to be East Conference champs, they’ll have to knock off the Bearcats in Douglas — always a tough task.

Jackson at Cody, Oct. 9. These two teams played a hard-fought game last year, one of Cody’s toughest tests on the way to a title. Both teams will need this victory; that urgency could make this one a classic.

Powell at Cody, Oct. 23. The regular-season finale between these longtime rivals could be the biggest game of the year by the time Week 8 rolls around. Or it could just be another game. Either way, Panthers-Broncs is always a can’t-miss affair.

Predicted order of finish

East: Torrington, Douglas, Rawlins, Riverton, Buffalo, Lander. West: Jackson, Cody, Star Valley, Powell, Green River, Worland.

Preseason top five: Jackson, Torrington, Cody, Douglas, Rawlins.

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Jackson 24, Torrington 20. However, picking a champion for this classification this early is an exercise in futility. With no clear favorites, 3A will be a blast to follow all season long.

I can realistically see seven or eight different programs having a real shot at a state title. Goodness. Who do YOU think is the favorite for the 3A title? Which team has some surprises ready to show the rest of the state? Post a comment and we can try to figure this classification out together — because I know, this year, I don’t think anyone has any real idea of what might happen.

Next week: Class 4A.

–patrick

Class 2A has shown more parity over the past decade than any other classification.

With five different state champions in the past five years — and eight different champions in the past nine years — 2A has been full of unpredictability. In fact, accounting for reclassification, nine of the 14 schools in 2A have won state titles in the past nine years.

A 10th may join the ranks this fall.

In short, expect another “typical” year in 2A.

Four questions to answer

Will we see Big Horn and Mountain View in the title game for the third consecutive year? Maybe, but neither one is the favorite for the 2015 title. That honor goes to Wheatland, which retains all four of its all-state selections. The Bulldogs nearly knocked off Big Horn in the semifinals last year and appear poised for a run at the school’s second football title and its first since 1984.

Who else has a good shot at the title? Well, Mountain View and Big Horn. The Buffalos return three all-staters and the Rams a pair; Thermopolis is the only other team in the classification to bring back more than one all-state selection from last year.

Anyone else in the state title mix? Not really. Class 2A has a bunch of teams with potential — Lovell, Greybull, Big Piney, Lyman, Glenrock, Newcastle and Thermopolis should all be competitive. But none stands out as a potential championship threat. Yet.

Can Kemmerer break its losing streak? If so, look for it to happen sooner, not later. The Rangers, who enter the season on a state-worst 20-game losing streak, are the only 2A team with a new coach. Kemmerer native Jason Ferrarini has the unenviable task of trying to end the streak in a season with an unforgiving schedule that gets tougher as the season progresses.

Four players to watch

Justis Borton, Wheatland. Borton was the 2A East lineman of the year last year as a junior and led the Bulldogs with 11.5 tackles for loss. He fronts a cadre of Bulldog seniors ready to make a run at a state championship.

Josh Calvert, Wheatland. If Borton is the best lineman in 2A this year, his teammate Calvert is right on his heels. Calvert led the Bulldogs’ defense in defensive points last season, notching team highs in solo tackles, assisted tackles and blocked kicks. Strength up front makes Wheatland a tough team to stop.

Tyler Cornwell, Thermopolis. Cornwell’s numbers dipped a bit in his junior campaign, going from 1,012 rushing yards in 2013 to 924 in 2014, but he’s 2A’s leading returning rusher and the only player in the classification who’s already got two all-state selections to his name. (Updated 2:20 p.m. Aug. 6 to fix Tyler’s first name.)

Beau Green, Lovell. Green enters his third season under center for the Bulldogs as one of the classification’s most established quarterbacks. He threw for 1,056 yards and 13 touchdowns last year and piled up 1,271 and 16 TDs as a sophomore; if his young receivers come along quickly, this year could be even bigger.

Four key games

Mountain View at Greybull, Sept. 11. Mountain View’s biggest conference game may be its first against Greybull — a challenge made even tougher by the 329-mile one-way trip. The defending champs will have to prove their mettle early to establish themselves as the team to beat out west.

Big Horn at Thermopolis, Oct. 2. While Wheatland is the clear favorite in the East, both the Rams and Bobcats will line up with competitive squads this fall, too. This midseason showdown may make the difference between who hosts a playoff game and who goes on the road.

Lyman at Mountain View, Oct. 23. The Bridger Valley Bowl has had huge implications the past few years, and this year figures to be no different. This Week 8 showdown will likely have playoff seeding and qualification question marks all over it.

Big Horn at Wheatland, Oct. 23. The defending conference champion Rams have to make the trip south to play the Bulldogs in the regular-season finale. If both teams live up to preseason expectations, this could be for the East title.

Predicted order of finish

East: Wheatland, Big Horn, Thermopolis, Glenrock, Newcastle, Burns, Wright. West: Mountain View, Greybull, Lovell, Big Piney, Lyman, Pinedale, Kemmerer.

Preseason top five: Wheatland, Big Horn, Mountain View, Thermopolis, Greybull.

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Wheatland 28, Big Horn 14. The Bulldogs have enough talent to earn the title of preseason favorite. In a classification that, historically, is as parity-filled and competitive as 2A, though, Wheatland can’t take anything for granted.

So what do you think? Is the 2A title Wheatland’s to lose? What team do you see as the one poised to break through this season? Leave a comment and we can chat about what looks like a predictable season — which, as we know, in 2A, means little….

Next week: Class 3A.

–patrick

The average Wyoming high school football field sits at 5,261 feet above sea level — just a shade less than a mile high.

But which schools consistently play at higher — or lower — elevation based on their conference affiliation?

Well, it’s no secret that Wyoming, in general, is higher on its western side and lower on its eastern side. In Class 3A, 2A, 1A 11-man and 1A six-man, the elevation of fields in West Conference schools is higher than that of East Conference schools.

The conference with the highest average elevation is the 2A West at 5,997 feet. But the 2A West also had the highest standard deviation measure, meaning the conference also had the most variability. Greybull, which has the lowest elevation of any 11-man field in the state, is in the 2A West.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the conference with the lowest average elevation — the 1A 11-man East at 4,462 feet — also had the lowest standard deviation.

Wyoming football field elevations by conference

ConferenceAverageStandard deviation
4A5,7531,028
3A East5,139913
3A West5,323954
2A East4,704480
2A West5,9971,503
1A 11-man East4,462424
1A 11-man West5,1261,023
1A six-man East5,0171,311
1A six-man West5,820975

The classification, though, with the highest average elevation is the big-school Class 4A at 5,753 feet. The classification with the lowest average elevation is 1A 11-man at 4,794 feet.

Wyoming football field elevations by classification

ClassificationAverageStandard Deviation
4A5,7531,028
3A5,231860
2A5,3511,265
1A 11-man4,794830
1A six-man5,3871,195

Pinedale’s field, at 7,198 feet, is the highest high school field in the state; Hulett, at 3,753 feet, is the lowest. And every high school field in Wyoming is lower than the University of Wyoming’s famous 7,220-feet War Memorial Stadium, where the state title games are played every November.

For elevations of every Wyoming high school football field, as well coordinates and maps (both for all classes and for each classification), click here.

–patrick

The past few years in Class 1A 11-man have been pretty predictable: Cokeville, Lusk, occasionally Southeast, and everyone else.

Not this year.

Graduation, coaching turnover, program resurgence and more make the classification more turbulent and parity-filled than ever. Several squads have a better-than-average chance at hoisting the state championship trophy in November.

When the top programs graduate a lot of players and the mid-range programs don’t, it means the race is wide open.

Four questions to answer

Cokeville again, right? Don’t be so sure. The Panthers have won four of the past five Class 1A 11-man championships but probably face their toughest challenge of the 2010s this year. Although the Panthers are still the prohibitive favorites, they’ll face tough challenges from improved West Conference foes like Rocky Mountain and Shoshoni and may see even tougher challengers come from the East.

Like who? Well, Lingle, Upton-Sundance, Southeast and Tongue River could all be better than last year, and Lingle in particular seems poised for a big breakthrough. Don’t be surprised if the classification’s two smallest schools (Lingle and Cokeville), who both had to opt up to 11-man after their enrollments had them in six-man, end up facing off for the state title.

Which team is most likely to play spoiler for that scenario? Shoshoni. The Wranglers return all four of their all-conference selections and both their all-state picks, seniors Patrick Forster and Connor Wilkinson. Although Shoshoni hasn’t won a playoff game since 2001, this might be the year the Wranglers cause some serious damage in the postseason.

Hey, you forgot to mention Lusk. Right? Nope… With a new coach and just one of its seven all-state players back, the Tigers are in full rebuilding mode. However, for Lusk, that means something different than it does for most schools. The Tigers are still a favorite for a playoff berth, but making it back to a title game will be difficult for a team with something Lusk teams aren’t used to having: a lack of experience.

Four players to watch

Colten Wunder, Lingle. The Doggers’ leading tackler from a year ago leads a stacked Lingle defense that returns six of its top nine tacklers. If Wunder can provide consistency in the front seven, he could be the key to a run at a conference — or state — title.

Ellis Toomer, Cokeville. The all-state selection is Cokeville’s leading returning rusher, receiver and tackler. For better or for worse, maintaining Cokeville’s dynasty will fall heavily on Toomer and his senior classmates.

Connor Wilkinson, Shoshoni. Wilkinson pulled off a rare double dip last year by leading the Wranglers in both rushing (666 yards, 7 TDs) and receiving (231 yards, 1 TD). He’s also a cornerstone of the Wranglers’ defense.

Jeff Burroughs, Southeast. An all-stater as a sophomore, Burroughs missed most of last year with a broken leg. Despite that, he still led the Cyclones in rushing and passing yards — showing both his talent and his importance to his team. His presence will be key in Southeast’s attempt to bounce back to its winning ways.

Four key games

Shoshoni at Rocky Mountain, Sept. 11. Both the Wranglers and Grizzlies have high hopes in 2015. And if either one wants to challenge Cokeville for supremacy in the West Conference, they have to win this key league opener.

Cokeville at Shoshoni, Sept. 18. Cokeville’s toughest conference road game comes early in the season, and that plays to Shoshoni’s advantage. An experienced Wrangler squad might just be game enough to give the defending champs a tussle.

Southeast at Lingle, Sept. 25. The Cyclones have been a sleeper team this offseason, but they could be a surprise contender out of the East if everyone returns healthy. This game against the Doggers could be a huge statement game for Southeast.

Lusk at Lingle, Oct. 9. Lingle has beaten Lusk just once in the past decade. And if the Doggers want to be legit contenders for the conference and state crowns, they’ll have to find a way to overcome their perennial nemesis.

Predicted order of finish

East: Lingle, Upton-Sundance, Southeast, Lusk, Tongue River, Moorcroft, Pine Bluffs. West: Cokeville, Shoshoni, Rocky Mountain, Riverside, Burlington, Wind River, Saratoga, Wyoming Indian.

Preseason top five: Cokeville, Lingle, Shoshoni, Upton-Sundance, Southeast.

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Cokeville 20, Lingle 14. Even when Cokeville is down, it’s good. The Panthers have enough talent in tow to win it all — but so do about five other teams in the classification. Look for a lot of parity at the top, and maybe even a surprise champion. Until then, though, count on the team that’s won four of the past five 1A 11-man titles.

In short: 1A 11-man is going to be fun this year. Even teams that finish second or third in their respective conferences will be legit threats to win a state championship. That sort of unpredictability should give us plenty to talk about… so leave a comment and let’s chat!

Next week: Class 2A.

–patrick

Lyle Valdez, a former assistant coach and trainer at Wyoming Indian, will be the new head coach at St. Stephens.

Valdez confirmed his hiring via telephone Sunday to wyoming-football.com.

Valdez takes over for Melvin Blackburn, who led the Eagles during their first two years of varsity football since 1965. The Eagles went a combined 0-16 the past two years.

Valdez spent about five years, off and on, helping with the football and basketball programs at Wyoming Indian as both a coach and trainer. He said his primary coaching focus areas at St. Stephens will be tied to technique and to building the players’ confidence.

“I just hope we can get these kids to win, and (learn) how it feels to win,” Valdez said Sunday. “Once that happens, maybe we’ll get more kids to come out to enjoy the game of football.”

Valdez, who works as a substitute teacher and teacher’s aide in Fremont County, will be joined by assistant coach Keenan Groesbeck.

Valdez is one of two new head coaches in Wyoming’s six-man ranks, joining Lee Kremers in Kaycee. Other new head coaches in Wyoming this fall are Todd Weber in Worland, Jason Ferrarini in Kemmerer, Ryan Nelson in Lusk, Mykah Trujillo in Wind River and Aaron Papich in Burlington.

–patrick

Since six-man’s restart in 2009, every season has started with a clear favorite. Even though that preseason favorite didn’t always win the state title, at least there was consistency when coaches tried to answer the question of who was the team most likely to win it all.

This year, though, the predictions vary widely. That lack of certainty means a variety of teams have real chances to win it all this year. Talent, experience and past successes are evenly distributed across several teams.

In short: Six-man will be really tight at the top this fall.

Four questions to answer

Can Guernsey repeat as state champion? Maybe, but six-man’s trends suggest otherwise. Repetition has proven challenging in the classification, as six-man hasn’t had a repeat champion since Snake River in 2011. Dubois won it all in 2012, Meeteetse in 2013 and Guernsey in 2014.

Will the classification have another undefeated champ? Probably. Since six-man was reinstated in 2009, every single state champion has been undefeated against in-state competition. Those regular-season losses have all proven fatal to a team’s title hopes.

You’re dancing around the obvious question: Who’s the favorite? Right now, Meeteetse, Kaycee and Guernsey have the coach’s votes. Six-man only has six returning all-state players coming back this year, and five of the six are on these three teams.

What program is the darkhorse in all of this? Farson. The Pronghorns could be one of the surprise teams in six-man this year if everything goes right. They lost some key players to graduation and to transfers, but if they can overcome or recoup those losses, they might host a playoff game for the first time in program history.

Four (OK, five) players to watch

Taylor Rouse, Kaycee. Rouse is the only two-time all-state selection playing in six-man this year, and by the time this season is done, he’ll likely have three. He ran for 1,584 yards and 24 touchdowns last year and scored a whopping 205 points (22.8 points per game). He’s the keystone in Kaycee’s state title hopes this year.

Braden Duncan, Snake River. Duncan’s rushing totals last year — 2,129 yards, 25 touchdowns, 13.9 yards per attempt — were gaudy, even for six-man. And despite leading six-man in rushing, he still couldn’t crack the all-state team. But opposing coaches know about him, and his presence makes the Rattlers an automatic contender.

Zac Rose, Dubois. If the Rams want to make it to their fourth championship game in five years, it’ll be on Rose’s back. The all-state selection is Dubois’ leading returner in rushing, tackling, scoring and kick returning. His role is critical on a team that lost four all-state selections to graduation.

Dalton Abarr and Carter Johnson, Meeteetse. Abarr, a junior quarterback, and Johnson, a senior receiver/running back, make up six-man’s most dynamic aerial threat. They combined for 640 yards and 12 TDs a year ago, nearly half of Abarr’s 1,328 passing yards. Oh, and they’re the Longhorns’ top two returning tacklers, too.

Four key games

Kaycee at Guernsey, Sept. 11. The Buckaroos’ first East Conference game of the season is on the grass of the defending state champions. The trajectory of the East race will be set right here; the loser will play catch-up all season long.

Snake River at Meeteetse, Sept. 11. Similarly, the West Conference’s pace will be set in the conference opener between the Rattlers and Longhorns, two teams that each want to prove they’re the favorite.

Farson at Meeteetse, Sept. 25. The Pronghorns nearly pulled off a miraculous comeback last year against the Longhorns, eventually coming up one point short. Both teams will have that game in mind this time around in a game that will have huge playoff implications.

Hanna at Kaycee, Oct. 23. This Week 8 game could be huge. The Miners are eager to prove they’ve got what it takes to hang with the state’s best teams, and a victory here could go a long way toward a deep playoff push.

Predicted order of finish

East: Kaycee, Guernsey, Hanna, Midwest, Hulett, NSI, Rock River. West: Meeteetse, Snake River, Farson, Dubois, Ten Sleep, St. Stephens.

Preseason top five: Kaycee, Meeteetse, Snake River, Guernsey, Farson.

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Kaycee 54, Meeteetse 52. The state’s six-man coaches are split — about a third say Kaycee is the team to beat, about a third say Meeteetse and about a third think someone else could come in and surprise everyone. Expect a tight one in Laramie. But expect the road to Laramie to be full of parity and problems, and don’t be surprised if one of those dark-horse teams pulls off something six-man doesn’t see too much: a playoff upset.

Six-man’s wide-open nature this fall should provide some excitement and may lead to another thing that Wyoming has yet to see: a six-man title game that’s actually close late in the fourth quarter. Do you think it’ll actually finish that way? Post a comment and let’s talk about the 80×40 version of the game.

Next week: Class 1A 11-man.

(Updated 4:58 p.m. Aug. 7 to fix the dates of the Sept. 11 games.)

–patrick

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