Four questions to answer
Does having fewer teams in 1A make it easier to qualify for the playoffs this year? Mathematically, yes, but realistically, no. With three teams gone to six-man football (Wyoming Indian, Saratoga and Normative Services) and Upton and Sundance still involved in their co-op agreement, only 11 schools will comprise the 1A 11-man division this fall, a total that’s down from 16 as recently as 2011. But the top tier of teams remains in the classification, and perennial powers Southeast, Lusk and Cokeville haven’t gone anywhere….
Can anyone win this year’s 1A title other than Southeast, Lusk or Cokeville? In short, no. The three powerhouse programs have a combined 11 all-state selections back this fall; the other eight programs in the classification have just seven returning all-staters combined. And of all the 1A 11-man schools, only these three have reached Laramie the past three years.
So of those three schools, who’s the favorite to win it all? That’s the million-dollar question this year. Cokeville and Lusk have four returning all-state selections apiece, while defending champ Southeast has three. All three teams are loaded for title runs, but none of the three is the clear-cut favorite entering the season.
Of the remaining eight teams, which one has the best chance to spring a playoff upset on one of the favorites? Probably Upton-Sundance. The Patriots, in the second year of their co-op, return one of the most explosive players in the classification in junior running back Jett Materi. The Patriots played exceptionally better the second half of 2012 than in the first half, and now that the kinks have been worked out of the co-op situation, the U-S squad has the potential to be one of the spoilers in 1A this fall.
Four players to watch
Wyatt Somsen and Colton Stees, Southeast. Yes, I’m cheating a bit by taking two players with one choice. But Somsen was the East Conference’s offensive player of the year last year (he ran for 1,034 yards and nine touchdowns) and Stees, in addition to opening a lot of holes for Somsen on the offensive line, was the conference’s defensive player of the year two years ago. And they were both all-state choices last year. Together, they give the Cyclones an offense-defense tandem few, if any, teams in 1A can match.
Cody Nate and Brock Teichert, Cokeville. Again, two players go together with one choice, but to bring up one and not the other is a disservice to the way Cokeville plays football. Nate and Teichert were equally valuable pieces of the Panther lines in 2012. On offense, they paced a strong rushing game, and on defense, they finished third and fourth on the team in total defensive points. Nate is already a two-time all-state selection, while Teichert earned his first all-state nod last year.
Tucker McKim, Riverside. As a sophomore last year, McKim led 1A 11-man in catches (46) and receiving yards (670). One of four returning players who were named all-state as sophomores, McKim will need a similar season in 2013 for Riverside to stay competitive in the West.
Matthew VandeBossche, Lusk. VandeBossche led the Tigers in all-purpose offense, scoring and punting last year and also played a key role on the Tigers’ defense. One of just four juniors named to the Casper Star-Tribune’s Super 25 first team a year ago, VandeBossche’s play will be critical in the Tigers’ attempt to return to Laramie.
Four key games
Southeast at Cokeville, Sept. 13. Two of them most consistent, most successful 1A 11-man programs over the last two decades are meeting for the first time in the regular season. This might be the biggest nonconference game in the state this year, regardless of classification. Just don’t expect either coach to play every card in the deck in the regular season — not with a potential rematch awaiting in the postseason.
Shoshoni at Burlington and Rocky Mountain at Riverside, Sept. 20. Will any teams step up to Cokeville’s challenge in the West Conference this year? We’ll find out in Week 3. The Wranglers, Huskies, Grizzlies and Rebels all want to be that team to challenge the Panthers, but to do so, they have to win competitive conference openers against a team that wants to do exactly what they’re trying to do.
Upton-Sundance at Lusk, Oct. 11. The Patriots almost pulled off the upset against the Tigers before falling in last year’s regular-season finale. In the co-op’s second year, the Patriots could be even more dangerous, even (and maybe especially) to a top-tier 1A team like Lusk.
Lusk at Southeast, Oct. 18. This is the most important East Conference game year in and year out. With a combined seven all-state choices back this fall (four for Lusk, three for Southeast), this year looks no different. Oh, and the Tigers have to be eager for a bit of revenge for what the Cyclones did to them in Laramie last November….
Predicted order of finish
East: Southeast, Lusk, Upton-Sundance, Lingle, Pine Bluffs. West: Cokeville, Rocky Mountain, Riverside, Shoshoni, Burlington, Wind River.
Way-too-early title-game score prediction
Some 1A math for you: Big 3, minus 1, plus “The War,” equals a guess. Southeast 21, Cokeville 20.
Who has more victories as a Wyoming high school head football coach — Cokeville’s Todd Dayton or the other 10 coaches in Class 1A 11-man combined?
Classification’s 2013 theme song
How many 1s and 11s can you handle? After all, there are 11 1A 11-man teams this year… which one will end up No. 1? Comment below with some thoughts and we’ll figure out November in August together.
Next Thursday: Class 2A.