The state championship games are 10 months away. Seems like the perfect time to predict who might win those games, right?

Here’s a peek at the 2017 top fives for each classification of Wyoming high school football, way sooner than is advisable to do so:

4A
1. Sheridan: The two-time defending 4A champions return three all-state players (seniors Blayne Baker, Kyle Custis and Sam Smart) and tons of program momentum. The Broncs will need to find a new quarterback and rebuild big chunks of their line, but the precedent is there for Sheridan to do just that.
2. Natrona: No doubt, the most improved team in 4A last year was Natrona. The Mustangs relied a lot on juniors last year, and it showed early but paid off late — and will pay off big this year, as the Mustangs’ four returning all-state players (Mason Gallegos, Dan Slack, Brett Brenton and Riley Shepperson) is best among all 4A schools.
3. Gillette: With four first-team all-conference returning players, the Camels should be in good shape to challenge again. The big question hanging over the team in the offseason is how much talent will defect to Thunder Basin, putting into question something as simple as who’s back and who’s not.
4. Laramie: The Plainsmen are easy to overlook after losing a strong senior class, but they bring back three first-team all-conference players (seniors Nate Burman and Garrett Worden and junior Jason Upton) and are in great shape to notch their first winning season in almost two decades.
5. Rock Springs: This year is the test for the Tigers: Do they have a system that works, or did the players in that system the last couple years take it beyond expectations? With just a pair of first-team all-conference players back (senior linemen Bryan Mattinson and Will Petrovich), it’s time to see if the program can sustain itself.
Dark horse: Kelly Walsh. The Trojans had a nice breakthrough season in 2016; it’s easy to forget that KW hosted a playoff game last year. That should help build some momentum for a team that brings back only a pair of first-team all-conference picks.

3A
1. Star Valley: The Braves have some holes to fill but bring back three all-state performers (seniors Josh Dawson, Cosmo Morgan and Noah Hutchinson), tied for the most in 3A. And then there’s the momentum of back-to-back championships.
2. Torrington: Six of the Trailblazers’ seven all-conference picks from a year ago are back. Yes, really. No team is in a better position to make an immediate run at a state title than Torrington; the key will be if it can continue to grow as the season (and this summer) goes along.
3. Powell: The Panthers were young but talented last year; they’ll have back three all-state picks from a team that finished as state runners-up. Seniors Brooks Asher and Max Gallagher will help make the Panthers a tough team to stop.
4. Green River: The Wolves will return four all-conference players, led by senior Cole White, Green River’s lone returning all-state selection. Quarterback Chance Hofer and running back Candon Croft could form one of 3A’s best 1-2 backfield punches in 2017; watch out.
5. Douglas: Riverton and Buffalo are lurking, but the Bearcats develop young talent as well as any team in the state, regardless of class. With just one of the 11 all-conference picks from last year returning this year, they’ll need to do so quickly.
Dark horse: Riverton. How many 3-6 teams actually outscore their opponents during the season? Riverton did just that in 2016. And the Wolverines get back a pair of offensive threats and defensive cornerstones in seniors Brodie Roden and Jaren Draper.

2A
1. Glenrock: Believe it or not, no team in 2A brings back more than one all-state player this year. But the Herders also have back five all-conference players — highest in 2A — from a team that was undefeated until the semis.
2. Greybull: The Buffs lost a ton of seniors from last year’s state runner-up squad but return a pair of key all-conference players in senior Riley Hill and junior Zack Keisel.
3. Mountain View: The Buffalos’ depth will be a question, as seven all-conference players are gone, but Mountain View does return all-conference picks Jason Stoddard and Colby Rees and should be a contender again.
4. Lyman: The three all-conference players the Eagles return is second only to Big Piney in the West Conference. Beaudee Bluemel may be one of 2A’s most versatile players, while linemen Wesley Eyre and Dryden Menck will provide stability.
5. Wheatland: The Bulldogs get back a pair of all-conference players, and QB Trevor Vaughn and wideout Zac Gunter will form an explosive pairing. If the line can develop, the Bulldogs might be a surprise.
Dark horse: Big Piney. The Punchers were 1-7 last year but return all four of their all-conference players (most in the West Conference) after losing only a handful of talent to graduation.

1A 11-man
1. Big Horn: Last year’s 2A champ is the early favorite after moving down to 1A 11-man thanks to three returning all-state players. And Kade Eisele, Seth Mullinax and Kade VanDyken are all juniors — setting up the Rams for a title run not only this year but next year, too.
2. Cokeville: The Panthers are loaded. They return four of their five all-state players (Hunter Cheney, Rick Nate, Antheny Petersen and Cordell Viehweig will all be seniors) and six of seven all-conference choices. Cokeville’s stiffest challenge to a West Conference title will be injuries.
3. Pine Bluffs: Repeating as champs will be tough in a loaded 1A 11-man this year, but the Hornets are up to the challenge. They return three all-state choices with seniors Haize and Wyatt Fornstrom and junior Hunter Jeffres, and they’ll be buoyed by the confidence that comes from winning the school’s first state championship.
4. Upton-Sundance: Don’t write off the Patriots, who only return one all-state choice in Dawson Butts but have lost just twice in the past two years. There’s some rebuilding to do, but the Patriots’ pedigree for success runs deep.
5. Pick ’em: Any number of teams could fill this spot: Rocky Mountain, Saratoga, Shoshoni, Tongue River, Southeast… but all of them will rely on unproven talent to make a dent past the regular season.
Dark horse: Again, pick ’em. This will be a year of change in 1A 11-man. The four favorites are clear. Everything else looks muddy, muddy, muddy.

1A six-man
1. Kaycee: The defending champs ride a 20-game winning streak into 2017, and with class-best tallies in returning all-state players (four) and all-conference players (five), the Buckaroos are favorites to win it all again.
2. Farson: The Pronghorns were breakthrough challengers in the West and with three returning all-state players, they figure to challenge again. Juniors Lain Mitchelson and Clancy Gines and senior Cruz Lucero will put the Pronghorns in prime position to win the West for the second year in a row.
3. Meeteetse: The Longhorns return a trio of all-conference selections in seniors Braenn Smith and Josh Graybill and junior Kirwin Johnson. Meeteetse won’t be overlooked, but it will have work to do to catch up to Farson.
4. Snake River: The Rattlers get back one of six-man’s top players in J.D. Corson and two other returning all-conference selections in Kameron Evans and Thomas Duncan. But they’ll have to adjust to a new coach, which always takes time.
5. Guernsey-Sunrise: The most likely challenger to Kaycee in the East, the Vikings return three all-conference selections. Seniors Garrett Oneyear and Gage Koetmann and junior Dylan Rose will keep the Vikings in contention.
Dark horse: Burlington. The Huskies proved they could hang with six-man’s best last year. However, they only get back one all-conference player, and have some work to do to prove they can remain one of the West’s tougher teams to beat.

What do you think? Who’s poised for a breakthrough in 2017? Who’s falling off the radar too soon? Post a comment and let’s work through what the 2017 season may bring us!

–patrick

Football season never stops at wyoming-football.com. That’s why even though it’s snowy and cold, we can’t look forward to a time when, um, it’ll be snowy and cold again…. Anyway, here are my way-too-early predictions for the 2016 season, which certainly could change by August, and again by November, thanks to any number of factors. For now, though:

Class 4A
1. Gillette: The Camels are the only team in 4A returning more than one all-state selection. Lineman Lane Tucker and receiver Madden Pikula were so honored last year, and their returns give Gillette one of the stronger returning senior classes in 4A this fall. The trick will be finding ways to replace the nine all-conference selections the Camels lost to graduation.
2. Cheyenne East: The Thunderbirds return half of their 10 all-conference selections and will be a tough team to beat because of that experience. Lineman Jacob Ross is East’s only returning all-state selection, but he’ll have more help surrounding him than is immediately apparent.
3. Rock Springs: Matt Fowler might be the best returning running back in the state next fall, and he has two things going for him: He’s part of an offense that focuses on the run, and he’s surrounded by stronger and more talented players than the Tigers have had in probably a decade.
4. Sheridan: The defending champs lost a ton to graduation. It’ll be tough for the Broncs to repeat, but they’ve got the system and the coaching to stay competitive. Lineman Jacob Hallam is Sheridan’s only returning all-state — or all-conference — selection, and the Broncs will need to build around him.
5. Natrona: Inertia alone has the Mustangs here. Even though it loses all 10 of its all-conference picks to graduation, NC typically fields one of the state’s best teams. Nearly the same thing happened last year, and Natrona remained near the top of 4A. The names will be new, but the results won’t.
Dark horse: Laramie. The Plainsmen return a trio of all-conference players, and they’re all on the outside — QB Taylor Dodd, WR/DB Connor Beeston and LB Carless Looney. If the Plainsmen get some linemen to step up, they could be really dangerous.

Class 3A
1. Star Valley: The Braves showed how talented they were in their run to a 3A title last year. And with three all-staters back this year (Kellen Hansen, Collin McGinley and McCabe Smith), more than all but one school in the class, the Braves will be the early 3A favorites, even with a new head coach.
2. Douglas: The Bearcats had a down year last year, finishing with a losing record for the first time under Jay Rhoades. That happened in part because they had a bunch of juniors on the field who were busy gaining experience. Douglas returns six of its seven all-conference players and has all three all-state selections (Zach Hoopman, Eric Jamerman and Gage Pitt) back this fall, numbers — and maybe talent — no other 3A school can match.
3. Jackson: The Broncs will be interesting to watch. Their centerpiece, running back Theo Dawson, will be gone. But that might make Jackson more diverse, opening up opportunities for a young but talented group of returning players.
4. Green River: Last year’s breakthrough season will be difficult to repeat, but the Wolves showed they have the ability to compete with, and beat, anyone in 3A. Much like Jackson, though, Green River has to show it can overcome the loss of its offense’s centerpiece player — Tyler Vendetti — to graduation.
5. Riverton: The Wolverines have three returning all-conference players, and all-stater Teron Doebele will lead a team that will be easy to overlook this offseason but will probably start turning heads sooner rather than later.
Dark horse: Torrington. The Trailblazers lost eight all-conference selections from last year’s East Conference championship team. Will they be able to recover from that? Maybe, but young players will need to show they’re ready for the varsity level.

Class 2A
1. Glenrock: Last year’s state runners-up have the early edge in what will be a wild, wide-open title race in 2A. Glenrock has five all-conference and a classification-high three all-state players (Logan Downs, Cooper Fargen and Garrett Schwindt) back for 2016, and that talent has now tasted success. They’ll be raring for more.
2. Big Horn: The Rams will be one of the classification’s more talented teams, with all-staters Nolan McCafferty and Colton Williams anchoring a crew that will see five all-conference players return. Lest we forget, Big Horn was the only program last year to find a way to beat Wheatland in 2015.
3. Greybull: The Buffs won’t sneak up on anyone this fall. After all, they’ve got six all-conference players coming back, more than any other team in 2A, and returning all-staters Dawson Forcella and Gabe Keisel should provide stability to a team ready for a big breakthrough.
4. Lovell: The defending West Conference champions return more than half of their all-conference selections and should be primed for another deep playoff run. Losing three-year starter Beau Green under center won’t help, but if someone can fill his shoes, watch out.
5. Wheatland: The senior class the Bulldogs lost will be difficult if not impossible to replace. Even so, Wheatland should stay competitive thanks in part to a pair of returning all-staters (Josh Madsen and Jacob Ward) and a crew of underclassmen that knows what it takes to win it all.
Dark horse: Mountain View. The Buffalos have five returning all-conference players and should be able to hang with anyone in the state. Told you 2A was gonna be wild.

Class 1A 11-man
1. Upton-Sundance: This really isn’t fair. The Patriots had six all-state selections from their 2015 title team, and four of them — seniors Hunter Woodard, John Sullivan and Thomas Davis and junior Dawson Butts — will return for 2016. U-S will start the season at No. 1, and until someone proves otherwise, this is their spot (and title) to lose.
2. Shoshoni: The Wranglers’ disappointing end to 2015 is tempered a bit in the knowledge that they return six of their eight all-conference selections from a team that ran through the regular season undefeated. J.J. Pingetzer and Jason Thoren were all-state picks last year and front a hungry team.
3. Tongue River: Now that the Eagles know how to win, they’ll be tough to stop. They return three all-conference and a pair of all-state selections (Cody Buller and Brennan Kutterer), and now that they’ve had the experience of playing at The War, they should carry that momentum into the offseason.
4. Rocky Mountain: Of all the sleeper teams in 1A 11-man (a long list that includes Pine Bluffs, Wright, Southeast and others), the Grizzlies are at the top. That’s because they return four-fifths of their all-conference selections, meaning they have enough raw talent to play with any team in the classification.
5. Cokeville: The Panthers were young in 2015 and will be young again in 2016, but the 2016 squad will be up to the challenge. Senior Trenton King and juniors Rick Nate and Cordell Viehweig will give stability and leadership to a team that’s always tough to top.
Dark horse: Southeast. Honestly, the Cyclones could be a top-tier team by the end of the season. They’ll need some time to grow, but they proved last year they won’t be intimidated and that they can play with any team in 1A 11-man.

Class 1A six-man
1. Meeteetse: In a weird twist, the Longhorns had seven players selected to the West Conference’s all-conference team. That’s just how deep they were last year. Of those, four will be back, including all-stater and multipurpose threat Dalton Abarr. That will give the Longhorns the early edge.
2. Kaycee: The defending champs will lose some talented players to graduation, but the return of a pair of all-state selections in junior Mark Largent and senior Reed Stafford will make the Buckaroos the favorites in the East and one of the top teams statewide.
3. Lingle: Even though the Doggers aren’t going to be eligible for the playoffs, they should field one of the better six-man teams in the state. They have the talent — both Garrett Cooper and Dallen Fleenor return as 11-man all-state selections from 2015 — so the speed at which the Doggers adapt to six-man may determine how well their season goes.
4. Snake River: The Rattlers return three all-conference selections and an all-state pick in junior J.D. Corson. With only six returning all-state selections in the entire classification, simply having one back will give Snake River a centerpiece around which to build, something most teams in six-man next year won’t have the luxury of possessing.
5. Farson: The Pronghorns — along with Snake River and six-man newcomers Riverside and Burlington — will be busy chasing down Meeteetse as the early West Conference favorites. But the Pronghorns do return three all-conference selections, and their experience will give them an edge.
Dark horse: Riverside. Just like Lingle, the Rebels’ successful adaptation to six-man will depend on the speed at which the players and coaches can learn the game. The quicker that process goes, the more dangerous the Rebels will be — well, at least for the regular season.

How about you? Who do you have winning state titles in 2016? How would you break down the top five teams in your favorite classification? Who’s going to surprise us? Post a comment and let’s talk football at a time that’s way too early to be talking football.

–patrick

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

We have a lot of time between now and Nov. 13-14. And a lot can happen in 10 months — injuries, transfers, coaching changes, offseason training, growth spurts and more will all influence who wins the championship trophy in Laramie this November.

That doesn’t mean we can’t look ahead to see who might win the title next season, though.

With the state championship games still 10 months away, here are my pre-preseason top 5 teams for each classification:

Class 4A
1. Gillette: The Camels always reload well, as the program has great numbers and great tradition. But Gillette also returns talent, with Super 25er Zach Taylor and OL Lane Tucker to anchor each side of the ball.
2. Sheridan: Returning three all-conference players on offense in QB Blake Godwin, RB Evan Coon and OL Davis Alden will help the Broncs transition into 2015 easily.
3. Natrona: One of the best senior classes in state history will be gone. But that doesn’t mean the Mustangs have an empty cupboard. They never do.
4. Cheyenne East
: The T-Birds lose a lot, but also have a couple rocks to anchor the defense in lineman Quin Happold and linebacker Jack Danni. They’ll need to find some offensive playmakers, though.
5. Cheyenne South: The Bison should be better than they’ve ever been with three all-conference players back in Nik Seui, Marquez Jefferson and Isaac McHenry. Only Sheridan has more all-conference players back this year than South.
Dark horse: Cheyenne Central. The Indians improved a ton from Week 0 to Week 8 in 2014, but they’ll need to replace some key players.

Class 3A
1. Jackson: Super 25 RB Theo Dawson is the centerpiece, but three other returning all-conference players (Dillon Hartranft, Keegan Bommer and Ryan Johnston) give the Broncs enough depth to improve on last year’s early playoff exit.
2. Cody: Granted, the Broncs lost a ton of star players. But Cameron Myers and Blake Hinze and a host of other underclassmen played key parts on 2014’s title team. And they’re confident now.
3. Torrington: The Trailblazers, with Super 25 RB Skyler Miller, are poised for another breakout season — if they can replace an underrated senior class.
4. Douglas: Every single one of the Bearcats’ nine all-conference selections last year was a senior. However, if anyone can reload in a hurry, it’s Douglas.
5. Rawlins: The Outlaws’ improvement will continue in coach Corey Wheeler’s second year — the second year is always better — as he returns key players in QB Jace Allard and lineman J.D. Smith.
Dark horse: Riverton. Every single all-conference player graduated. Can the Wolverines replace them and stay in the top half of what’s now a competitive East Conference?

Class 2A
1. Wheatland: The Bulldogs return all four of their all-state selections (Justis Borton, Josh Calvert, Daniel Chesser and Nathan Willis), by far the most in 2A. A trip to last year’s semifinals should give Wheatland the experience, and the hunger, to reach Laramie.
2. Mountain View: The defending champs lose a lot to graduation but also retain three all-staters in Dalton Hereford, Dusty Iorg and Kale Iorg. The defense will be stout; the offense remains the question mark.
3. Big Horn: You can’t count out the Rams. Big Horn will rely a lot on their three all-conference returners, seniors Brice Beisher and Collin Powers and junior Nolan McCafferty, to make up for the loss of a deep, and speedy, senior class.
4. Thermopolis: The Bobcats have one of the classification’s most talented running backs in Tyler Cornwell, and he’s surrounded by experienced players who can get the job done.
5. Glenrock: The Herders return all five of their all-conference players and could be a legit contender, but they’ll have to survive a stacked East Conference.
Dark horse: Greybull. Yes, all-everything player Calder Forcella graduated. But the Buffs return a trio of all-conference role players (Lane Nielsen, Dawson McEwan and Elias Ewen) who can keep the program steady.

Class 1A 11-man
1. Cokeville: The Panthers are No. 1 by default, because that’s what consistency earns you. The Panthers’ deep senior class is gone, but Jackson Linford, Ellis Toomer and Trent King were all-conference selections last year (Linford and Toomer were all-state, too), and they will lead the transition year.
2. Lingle: Last year’s East Conference runners-up are stacked for a run at the title game this year, as seniors Dillon Forkner, Colten Wunder and Brice Hill and junior Dallen Fleenor will give the Doggers both depth and experience.
3. Shoshoni: After an 0-3 start, the Wranglers went on a tear last year, and they’ll be tough to stop this year as they return both of their all-state selections (seniors Patrick Forster and Conner Wilkinson) and juniors J.J. Pingetzer and Jason Thoren.
4. Lusk: I feel really scared ranking the Tigers this low, but seven of Lusk’s eight all-conference players are gone. That leaves returning all-stater Logan Lamar to lead a thinner, possibly rebuilding, team.
5. Upton-Sundance: The Patriots have to replace RB Jett Materi, but a pair of senior all-conference returners, Rourke McPeters and Cole Ingrahm, give U-S a good place from which to build.
Dark horses: Rocky Mountain and Tongue River. Both lost some key seniors, but both return a bevy of role players from competitive teams.

Class 1A six-man
1. Meeteetse: In terms of straight-up talent, the Longhorns return more than any other team in six-man. Carter Johnson and Dalton Abarr were both all-state picks and Scott Sessions and Shawn Shepperson also have proven abilities.
2. Kaycee: All-stater Taylor Rouse has been as consistent as a player can be. If his senior classmates surround him and give him some help, the Buckaroos could be in Laramie.
3. Guernsey-Sunrise: An athletic senior class departs, but all-state selections Forest Foos and Seth Frederick played important parts in last year’s title run and will lead the Vikings next season.
4. Farson: The Pronghorns’ only all-state selection, Lynndon Lehmann, graduated, but the team returns every other all-conference player. Seniors Kelton Broadhead, Neale Jones and Isaac Orozco give Farson consistency and athleticism.
5. Dubois: Last year’s state runners-up graduated the bulk of their key players, but the Rams could surprise out west thanks to returning all-stater Zac Rose.
Dark horse: Snake River. Who knows how the Rattlers will handle losing a talented senior class? Returning all-conference selection Braden Duncan gives Snake River a good start.

Who do you think will haul home the first-place trophy from Laramie next November? Post a comment and let’s talk about this, way way way way before it’s logical to do so.

–patrick

Four questions to answer

Will Gillette and Natrona play again in Laramie in mid-November? Although anything can happen in 4A, right now the Mustangs and Camels are the favorites to meet for the 4A title at The War. Of the 11 returning all-state players, six belong to either the Camels or Mustangs (three apiece). Given that talent disparity, the odds are on the Camels and Mustangs to play again for the 4A title.

Can anyone crack the vice grip the top four schools have on 4A? In short, probably not this season. Cheyenne East, Sheridan, Gillette and Natrona have made up the Class 4A semifinal field each of the past three seasons. And of the 11 aforementioned returning all-staters, 10 belong to these four schools — Kelly Walsh lineman Alex Pietrzak is the only returning all-stater not from one of these four schools.

Humor us… Which team has the best chance at breaking that vice grip? Probably Kelly Walsh. The Trojans have shown steady improvement in Jon Vance’s two years — from 2-7 in 2011 to 4-6 in 2012 — and if that improvement continues, KW could be a darkhorse contender for a semifinal appearance, or more.

Is this the year South breaks its streak? Hopefully. Winless in their first 18 varsity contests, the Bison were much more competitive in 2012 than they were in 2011 and nearly upset Evanston in the sixth game of the season last year. Although the Bison still face a talent and tradition disparity from the rest of the schools in 4A, they have several advantages in 2013 — another year together, a kinder schedule and, maybe most importantly, a desire to put the losing streak behind them.

Four players to watch

Taven Bryan, Natrona. The first Wyoming recruit in recent memory to secure an offer from an SEC school (Florida), Bryan, a lineman, could play either side of the ball in college. That versatility makes him a tremendous weapon for the Mustangs in his senior year. The only question is if the expectations are distractors or motivators for this multitalented athlete.

Austin Fort, Gillette. A University of Wyoming commit, Fort moved to Gillette last year and almost automatically became one of the best quarterbacks in the state. His big arm, his size and his mobility made him the perfect fit for the Camels’ diverse offensive attack. He led 4A in completions (160) and passing yards (2,137) last year, and if he can rein in his interception total from a year ago (he threw 14 picks), he could lead Gillette back to Laramie for the second year in a row.

Tevis Bartlett, Cheyenne East. The junior will be THE key to East’s offense in 2013. He was the only 11-man player in the state last year to run for more than 1,000 yards (1,093) and throw for more than 1,000 yards (1,393). Even though his yardage totals may not hold up as teams key on him more, he will likely have to shoulder a bigger burden in terms of leadership than he did a year ago.

Billy Williams, Gillette. Williams makes this list for one simple reason: He’s a tackling machine. The linebacker is Class 4A’s top returning tackler; he led 4A in solo tackles (45) a year ago and also added four turnovers (two fumble recoveries, two interceptions) and four tackles for loss. He was one of only five players in 4A last year to rack up more than 16 defensive points per game, and the other four have graduated. …

Four key games

Gillette at Natrona, Sept. 20. Last year’s regular-season showdown featured two undefeated teams; the two teams met three weeks later to play for the state title. This year’s meeting is much earlier in the calendar (Week 3 instead of Week 8), but the game will likely have just as big an affect on the seeding for the playoffs.

All of Week 5. Rivalry Week is back, as the Oil Bowl (Kelly Walsh-Natrona), Energy Bowl (Sheridan-Gillette) and Capital Bowl (East-Central) are all slated for the week of Oct. 4. Just as key, though, are the other two 4A games that week (Laramie at South and Evanston at Rock Springs), both of which are games that could decide playoff qualification.

Kelly Walsh at Sheridan, Sept. 6. Is Kelly Walsh’s program truly growing into one of 4A’s best? We’ll find out in a hurry in 2013, as the Trojans face Gillette and Sheridan the first two weeks of the season. Arguably the bigger game is the road opener against the Broncs, the team that has knocked KW out of the playoffs three of the past four years.

Gillette at Cheyenne East, Oct. 25. Both the Camels and the Thunderbirds have reached the 4A semifinals each of the past three seasons. To secure hosting duties and high seeds in the playoffs, a victory in this Week 8 game could be crucial. After all, the road to Laramie is a lot easier if the only bus trip is the one TO Laramie.

Predicted order of finish

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

Way-too-early title-game score prediction

This is Natrona’s year. Again. But Gillette stands in the way. Again. Natrona 28, Gillette 14.

Trivia

Only two schools in Wyoming have had a player in the Shrine Bowl in each of its 40 years. They’re both current Class 4A schools. Which schools are they?

Classification’s 2013 theme song

Is the 4A title really Natrona’s to lose? Will 2013 be the fourth year in a row we see the “Big Four” in the semis? Who has the best chance of throwing a kink in that tradition? Comment below and let me know what big schools you’re watching this year.

–patrick

Four questions to answer

Powell, right? Yep. Powell is quite clearly the 3A favorite this year. With six of their nine all-state players coming back, and riding the momentum of back-to-back state championships and a 15-game winning streak, the Panthers are the team to catch.

So who can catch Powell? Given the right circumstances, a number of teams have the potential to topple the Panthers off their championship perch. Cody returns all four of its all-state selections; Star Valley returns a pair of all-staters and nearly knocked off Powell in last year’s title game; Green River, Douglas and Buffalo are perennial contenders and should compete again this fall. The path from Powell to Laramie is well-worn, but it’s not free of sinkholes just yet….

What affect will coaching turnover have in 3A? Quite a bit, actually. New coaches in Cody (Matt McFadden) and Riverton (Pat Patterson) will affect their conferences dramatically — McFadden and Cody in how it handles higher expectations and a load of talent, Patterson and Riverton in how it handles the target that comes with winning a conference title and the fallout of a shocking first-round playoff loss.

Will the East Conference actually win a playoff game this year? Maybe not. The power in 3A this year is quite clearly in the West. Of the 13 returning all-state selections, 12 are in the West Conference. Unless the East develops young talent quickly this season, a second consecutive first-round sweep for West Conference teams is a distinct possibility.

Four players to watch

Tony Lujan, Garrett Lynch and Brendan Phister, Powell. Really, I could make all four “players to watch” come from Powell, but out of fairness to the other schools, I’ll group these three together. And what a group it is — Lujan, Lynch and Phister are all already two-time first-team all-state choices, and it’s their leadership that could help lead Powell to a third consecutive state title.

Logan Barker, Douglas. The senior was the East Conference’s defensive player of the year last year, and he’s the only returning East Conference player who was an all-state selection last year. He was also Douglas’ leading rusher last season with 1,008 yards.

Carter Myers, Cody. Myers is the Broncs’ Mr. Everything. As a sophomore, he led Cody in assisted tackles but showed his diversity by notching a fumble recovery, an interception AND a blocked kick on defense, as well. Oh, and he was the team’s No. 2 rusher, No. 3 receiver, No. 2 scorer and top kicker.

Trace Haderlie, Star Valley. Haderlie is 3A’s top returning quarterback; the all-state choice threw for a 3A-best 1,605 yards last season and tossed 16 touchdowns. As the Braves continue to emphasize the passing game, Haderlie’s abilities will help key Star Valley’s success in 2013.

Four key games

Douglas at Buffalo, Sept. 27. Although Riverton is the defending East Conference champion, the Bearcats and Bison have long been the East’s top programs. And a victory in the conference opener is essential to getting a leg up in the race for the conference championship.

Powell at Star Valley, Oct. 4. The angle here is simple: Powell has won the 3A state championship two years in a row, beat Star Valley in last year’s title game and comes into the season with the state’s longest active winning streak. The catch? Powell hasn’t won in Afton since 1999. This game may be Powell’s biggest hurdle to a third consecutive trip to Laramie.

Cody at Powell, Oct. 18. Ten — count ’em, 10 — returning all-state players are slated to play in this game, four for Cody and six for Powell. That alone should make this game worth the price of admission, but the heated nature of one of the state’s oldest rivalries helps make the game a must-see.

Riverton at Lander, Oct. 24. In 2011, Lander was the East’s “it” team in the regular season, but after a 7-1 regular season, the Tigers lost in the quarterfinals. In 2012, Riverton was dubbed “it” after winning the conference championship, but the Wolverines, too, didn’t win a game in the playoffs. Success for the Fremont County schools the postseason in 2013 may depend on ending the regular season the right way here.

Predicted order of finish

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

Way-too-early title-game score prediction

If you believe the hype, the only question is who Powell will beat in the title game. I’ll believe it. Powell 24, Star Valley 14.

Trivia

Now that Rawlins’ losing streak is over, which Wyoming team has the longest active losing streak, entering 2013?

Classification’s 2013 theme song

Powell, Powell, Powell… right? Who do you think has the best chance of knocking the Panthers off their title perch? Can anyone end the winning streak? Comment below and let me know!

Next Thursday: Class 4A.

–patrick

Four questions to answer

Can an East Conference team finally win in Laramie? If so, this year might be the year. The last four Class 2A titles have all been won by current West Conference teams (although, admittedly, Thermopolis was in the East Conference when it won titles in 2009 and 2010). And two West Conference teams, Lovell and Lyman, have played each other for the past two 2A titles. However, the East Conference has more depth than it has the past couple years, and the bulk of the West Conference’s best players have moved on thanks to graduation.

So who’s the favorite in 2A this year? That’s anyone’s guess. Last year’s four semifinalists — Lovell, Lyman, Newcastle and Big Horn — all lost significant numbers due to graduation. The lack of a clear-cut favorite in 2A should make it an interesting year.

No, really. Who’s the favorite? I’m serious, dude. I don’t know. And nobody else seems to know either. In a preseason survey of 2A coaches, no fewer than 10 schools were named as genuine potential heirs to the throne. Even the coaches aren’t sure how the season will play out. When that’s the case, often it’s offseason training that makes the difference. The title in November may come down to work put in during June.

What player’s departure will most affect his former team? The one not caused by graduation. Glenrock’s Jordan Millay, who led the Herders in rushing as a sophomore last year and totaled almost 1,700 yards in his freshman and sophomore years, has been forced out of the sport due to chronic injuries. While Millay should be commended for thinking of his future, his unexpected loss leaves a big hole in the Herder backfield.

Four players to watch

Merritt Crabtree, Newcastle. Crabtree was the East Conference defensive player of the year last year, and with good reason. The Dogies ranked second in 2A in yards allowed per game (216.6) and Crabtree finished third in 2A in defensive points per game (19.9). His 17 tackles for loss were the best in 2A, and he helped force five turnovers (three fumble recoveries, two interceptions).

Connor McCafferty, Big Horn. Conversely, McCafferty was the East’s offensive player of the year a year ago. Few quarterbacks in the state were as efficient as McCafferty, who completed 65 percent of his passes and had a 25-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio. And he didn’t dink and dunk his way to that: his yards-per-completion average of 13.0 ypc was best in the state last year, making his efficiency even more impressive.

Austin Houskeeper, Mountain View. Houskeeper had a huge season as a sophomore, finishing second in Class 2A in both passing yards per game (161.0) and defensive points per game (20.1). That kind of versatility will be a big boon to an improved Buffalos squad that returns three all-state selections.

Critter Ruwart, Wheatland. Is it the year of the quarterback in 2A? Possibly, especially with McCafferty, Houskeeper and Ruwart — the top three passers in 2A a year ago — back for more. Ruwart had more completions (100) and threw for more yards (1,566) than anyone in 2A last year, and his presence will help keep the Bulldogs in the hunt in a competitive East Conference.

Four key games

Big Horn at Newcastle, Sept. 13. This Week 2 game has all the preseason indications of being a big one in the East — much like it was last year, when the two teams met in the final week of the regular season, both undefeated. If nothing else, this game will help us figure out how much parity exists in the East this year.

Mountain View at Greybull, Sept. 13. Both Buffs squads came up again and again in the coaches’ lists of preseason favorites. The West Conference opener between the two programs might be the game that pushes one ahead of the other.

Lyman at Lovell, Sept. 20. Lyman beat Lovell in last year’s 2A title game; Lovell beat Lyman in the 2011 2A title game. And in both cases, the team that won the regular-season game won the rematch in Laramie.

Glenrock at Wheatland, Sept. 27. If the Herders or Bulldogs want to challenge for the conference championship, they have to win this game in Week 4. For Glenrock, this game starts a critical three-week stretch in which the Herders face Wheatland, Big Horn and Newcastle in consecutive weeks.

Predicted order of finish

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

Way-too-early title-game score prediction

This is ridiculous. No fewer than 10 teams are legit threats to make it to Laramie. But put a gun to my head and I’ll say: Mountain View 12, Big Horn 8.

Trivia

Lyman coach Dale Anderson won the state championship in his first year with the Eagles. Before Anderson, who was the last Wyoming coach to win a state championship in his first year as head coach at that school? (This is a trick question — it has two answers.)

Classification’s 2013 theme song

I think Class 2A has the potential to be the most even, exciting, parity-filled classification of the year. How about you? Who do you think will emerge from this group of contenders to be the favorite? Post your thoughts below.

Next Thursday: Class 3A.

–patrick

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.

Trivia

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.

–patrick

Four questions to answer

Will the new six-man teams be competitive in their first year? At least one will be in the title hunt right away, but with four new teams entering six-man this year — Wyoming Indian, Normative Services and Saratoga moving down from 11-man and St. Stephens coming up from the junior-varsity level — anything is possible. Saratoga, an 11-man playoff qualifier just two years ago, has the best chance of being immediately competitive. Meanwhile, NSI and Wyoming Indian are a combined 5-57 the past four years and can only benefit from the switch.

Even so, is Dubois still the favorite? Yep. The Rams won their first state football championship last year and even though they lost five all-staters, main offensive weapon Sterling Baker and fellow all-state pick Austin Tharp will return to keep the Rams in the upper echelon of six-man.

Whose turn is it for a breakthrough year? Midwest. The Oilers have been gearing for 2013 for a while now, and with both of the squad’s all-state players (Cam Ray and Tucker Even) back from last year, can you blame them? Midwest is the early favorite in a restructured East Conference and is a legitimate threat to make it back to a state championship game for the first time since winning the nine-man title in 1991.

How have you gotten this far without mentioning Snake River? Good question. The Rattlers have been participants in the past three state title games, winning it all in 2010 and 2011. But the perennial pacesetters in six-man lost 10 seniors and all their starters to graduation and now face a conference schedule that includes state champ Dubois, up-and-comer Meeteetse and 11-man newcomer Wyoming Indian. The Rattlers will likely still be one of six-man’s better teams, but unlike the last few years, the Rattlers will have to earn that designation rather than have it given to them.

Four players to watch

Sterling Baker, Dubois. The North Conference’s offensive player of the year last year, Baker ran for 1,933 yards and 34 touchdowns in leading the Rams to the state championship. He also threw most of the Rams’ passes, throwing for 569 yards and 12 scores, and was second on the team in defensive points. He’ll again be the catalyst for the Rams if they hope to make it back to Laramie to defend their title.

Cam Ray, Midwest. One of two all-state choices back for the Oilers this fall, Ray led the Oilers in most major statistical categories, piling up 1,983 yards of all-purpose offense, scoring 114 points and notching more than 20 defensive points per game. The diminutive quarterback will be a big piece of Midwest’s success in 2013.

Seth Bennett, Meeteetse. Bennett missed the bulk of his sophomore season due to injury, but came back with a vengeance as a junior. He led Class 1A six-man in rushing yards (1,951), rushing touchdowns (39), scoring (261 total points) and all-purpose offense (3,485 total yards), and was fifth in 1A in defensive points. And he’s back.

Story Penning, Hulett. One of the most athletic football players in the state, Penning is the charge that makes the Red Devils’ offense go. An all-state choice last year, Penning ran for 1,420 yards — 12.5 yards per attempt — and 17 touchdowns; more importantly, he was second in the state with 27 defensive points per game.

Four key games

Saratoga at Midwest, Sept. 20. Perhaps the most intriguing game on the six-man calendar, this game will answer numerous questions: Is this really Midwest’s breakthrough year? How will Saratoga match up in six-man conference play? And can either team mount a serious challenge to the West Conference’s top teams in the playoffs?

Hulett at Kaycee, Sept. 28. No one can overlook the Red Devils this fall. Poised for a breakthrough year in six-man, Hulett will need this victory over the perennial contenders from Kaycee to establish itself as a serious contender for the state title.

Dubois at Snake River, Oct. 19. Snake River beat Dubois for the 2011 six-man title; Dubois beat Snake River for the 2012 six-man title. This one is big.

Dubois at Wyoming Indian, Oct. 25. Every game the Chiefs play this fall will be interesting, as the school with just one playoff berth in program history to its credit tries to reverse its fortunes in what may be its only playoff-eligible year of six-man. The regular-season finale could be the ramp-up to a memorable playoff run, or it could be the end of a busted experiment. For long-suffering Chiefs football fans, we can hope for the former.

Predicted order of finish

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

Way-too-early title-game score prediction

I can’t pick the Oilers without being accused of being a homer. So I’ll vote my head and not my heart. Dubois 60, Midwest 56.

Trivia

Normative Services enters 2013 with an unfortunate streak in tow — the Wolves haven’t beaten a varsity opponent on the road in 21 consecutive tries. The question: Who was the last varsity team to lose to NSI away from Sheridan?

Classification’s 2013 theme song

So who’s your pick to win it all in six-man this year? The changes, plus the talent turnover, will make this one of the most intriguing classifications this season. Post some thoughts below and let’s start discussing the season!

Next Thursday: Class 1A 11-man.

–patrick

In preparation for the second annual Wyoming Sports Preview Guide magazine, I’ve spent the last two months talking to football coaches across the state. So far, I’ve talked to 62 of the 64 coaches (NSI doesn’t have a coach yet, and for one school I talked to an assistant coach rather than the head coach).

A standard question I asked every coach was to pick the favorite in their conference. In asking that question, something became clear — sometimes, the coaches are just as uncertain about who should be the favorites as the guys asking the question.

Just like in previous years, I’m posting my predictions for the standings for each classification and conference. But new this year is the “Confidence Index,” a number that demonstrates my faith that I’ve picked that team’s placing correctly. The “Confidence Index” has no basis in math; it’s more an instinctual feeling than anything.

As we progress, you’ll notice some classifications and conferences have a higher overall confidence than others. That’s not a mistake. Some classes are easier to pick than others — both for me and for the coaches.

The picks will start today with the classification with the smallest schools, Class 1A six-man:

THE PICKS
East: Midwest, Guernsey, Saratoga, Hulett, Kaycee, Hanna, NSI. West: Dubois, Meeteetse, Snake River, Wyoming Indian, Farson, St. Stephens, Ten Sleep.

THE TEAMS
Midwest
Pick: First in East
Confidence Index: 85 percent
My gut says: Almost every coach in six-man says this is the Oilers’ year to break through. I agree.

Guernsey
Pick: Second in East
Confidence Index: 65 percent
My gut says: Guernsey will challenge the best teams in six-man this year. To finish this high, though, they’ll have to win a bevy of tough games.

Saratoga
Pick: Third in East
Confidence Index: 50 percent
My gut says: The transition from 11-man to six-man will be good for the Panthers, and I’m all but certain they’ll make the playoffs. But the steep learning curve may keep them from hosting in the first round.

Hulett
Pick: Fourth in East
Confidence Index: 70 percent
My gut says: Hulett is a genuine middle-of-the-pack team. The game against Kaycee in Week 4 may be for a playoff spot.

Kaycee
Pick: Fifth in East
Confidence Index: 45 percent
My gut says: I think I have Kaycee too low. But I also think the four teams I have ahead of them are better teams – this year. One upset will be all Kaycee needs to make the postseason.

Hanna
Pick: Sixth in East
Confidence Index: 60 percent
My gut says: Hanna won’t be an easy team to beat. However, a coaching change plus a lack of depth probably means this won’t be the Miners’ year to make a deep playoff run.

NSI
Pick: Seventh in East
Confidence Index: 30 percent
My gut says: I’m so scared to put the Wolves here. Six-man could be the program’s niche. As it stands, though, the lack of certainty about the program’s makeup from year to year forces me to have them here.

Dubois
Pick: First in West
Confidence Index: 75 percent
My gut says: Just like Midwest in the East, Dubois in the West was basically a unanimous No. 1 choice from the coaches. I trust them.

Meeteetse
Pick: Second in West
Confidence Index: 90 percent
My gut says: The Longhorns are poised to be one of six-man’s toughest teams to beat this fall. Even so, I’m not sure if it’s enough to oust Dubois as the favorite.

Snake River
Pick: Third in West
Confidence Index: 25 percent
My gut says: I put the Rattlers here out of respect for the program and the tradition it has. What scares me is that the team lost basically all the experience it had to graduation, and the players coming back are untested.

Wyoming Indian
Pick: Fourth in West
Confidence Index: 35 percent
My gut says: I think the Chiefs could finish even higher than this, but I hesitate to put them any higher because of (1) history and (2) the six-man learning curve. The Week 6 showdown vs. Snake looms huge.

Farson
Pick: Fifth in West
Confidence Index: 50 percent
My gut says: I think the Pronghorns are steadily improving, and they have what it takes to notch a couple victories this year. But that’s it.

St. Stephens
Pick: Sixth in West
Confidence: 65 percent
Why?: The Eagles are young and inexperienced. They’ll struggle in their first year of varsity play. But they’ve got enough going right to pull a surprise or two.

Ten Sleep
Pick: Seventh in West
Confidence: 50 percent
My gut says: The Pioneers only anticipate having seven players. They’re two injuries away from not even having a team. That won’t make them pushovers, though.

THE PLAYOFFS: Quarterfinals, Midwest over Wyoming Indian, Guernsey over Snake River, Meeteetse over Saratoga, Dubois over Hulett; semifinals, Midwest over Meeteetse, Dubois over Guernsey; championship, Dubois over Midwest.

Six-man football has generally been upset-free in its short history, but the classification has more teams — and now more parity — than in previous years. That could make for a fun, unpredictable season.

Tomorrow: Class 1A 11-man.

–patrick

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