The 2020 Wyoming high school football guide, previewing every active team in the state, is out!

Click here to read it.

Free print copies will be available in print at the locations of all the advertisers, hopefully within a few days (depending on how fast the mail can make it happen). Be sure to support the advertisers who are in the magazine — this can’t happen without them!

Also, a HUGE thanks to the publishers, CNS Inc., for putting it all together — they do they layout, sell the ads and handle distribution.

–patrick

It’s impossible to talk about Class 4A football in Wyoming without talking about the influence of the Big Four.

Combined, the group of Sheridan, Natrona, Cheyenne East, and the unique circumstance of Gillette (up to 2016) and Thunder Basin (since 2017) have combined for 71 playoff victories since 2009.

The other 4A programs in Wyoming — Cheyenne Central, Cheyenne South, Kelly Walsh, Rock Springs and Laramie, and previously Evanston (left after 2016) and Green River (left after 2010) — have combined for six.

The stratification seemed to break a bit in 2019, as Cheyenne Central reached the semifinals while Natrona didn’t. Even so, two Big Four programs — Sheridan and Thunder Basin — met for the championship.

Sheridan won the big-school championship for the fourth time in five years, continuing the Big Four’s domination over the classification.

Central’s resurgence, though, is showing the path other 4A schools can take to challenge the supremacy of the programs that have dominated the goings-on for a decade.

Four questions to answer

Is the guard really changing in Class 4A? Yes, but don’t get too excited. Cheyenne Central — which hadn’t won a playoff game since 2009 prior to last year — will be the fifth team in the title chase, breaking up the “Big Four” of Cheyenne East, Thunder Basin, Sheridan and Natrona. And Rock Springs is hovering. However, there’s still a clear split between the top and the bottom of the classification.

Who’s going to win it all this year? Probably a team from Cheyenne. Both East and Central are absolutely loaded this year, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them play each other in a title game in November. That said, Sheridan can never be counted out, Thunder Basin will again be extremely talented, and Natrona lacks experience but has loads of tradition and depth.

Any hope for anyone else? Not really. I love what I saw from Rock Springs last year, and if they can turn close losses into close victories, the Tigers can be one of those teams other coaches hate to see on a schedule. Campbell County showed some spunk in the quarterfinals, too. And Laramie’s been the beneficiary of a transfer boom. All that said, a quarterfinal victory for anyone who’s not Thunder Basin, East, Central, Natrona or Sheridan would be a surprise. Central’s entry into this discussion is welcome surprise in a staid 4A, but a surprise nonetheless.

Really — nothing about Sheridan? OK, time for the Broncs to get their love. They deserve it. With four championships in five years, Sheridan can never be ruled out of a 4A championship chase. No program develops talent faster or more consistently than the one up north.

Four players to watch

Graedyn Buell, Cheyenne East. Buell did something pretty rare last year — he was named the Class 4A offensive player of the year as a junior. The stats back that choice, though. He led the entire state regardless of classification with 2,989 passing yards, completing 201 of 327 passes while sporting a 35-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Carter Lobatos, Cheyenne Central. No player in Wyoming will be a bigger threat on both offense and defense than Lobatos. He led the Indians’ rushing attack with 1,238 yards last year, and he also led Central’s defense with 127 tackles — second-best in 4A last year.

Jaxon Pikula, Thunder Basin. Pikula was a consistent threat out of Thunder Basin’s backfield, running for 1,189 yards and 16 touchdowns last year. He also caught 17 passes for 129 yards as part of a balanced ‘Bolts offense.

Andrew Johnson, Cheyenne Central. Johnson led Class 4A in receptions last year with 73 and was second in receiving yards with 994. But on defense, he finished with five interceptions and 10 pass deflections, numbers that no other returning player in 4A could match in 2019.

Four key games

Week 0 games, Aug. 28. The opening week of the season gives us two critical games that will go a long way in shaping this season’s 4A race — Central at Natrona and East at Thunder Basin. Both Cheyenne teams have high hopes, and if they can anchor those hopes to a 1-0 record, those hopes turn into expectations.

Thunder Basin at Rock Springs, Sept. 4. The Tigers could be 4A’s biggest surprise this year. All it would take is a couple attention-getting victories early in the season. Rock Springs has no better opportunity than this game against the ‘Bolts in Sweetwater County in the second game of the season.

Cheyenne East at Sheridan, Sept. 25. The Broncs have won the past seven games they’ve had with the Thunderbirds. East will need to find a way past Sheridan, at Homer Scott Field, to really show it belongs in the championship conversation.

Cheyenne East at Cheyenne Central, Oct. 9. The annual Capital Bowl takes on added fervor in 2020 with both teams trying to stake claims to the top spot in 4A. This might be the most critical rendition of the intra-city rivalry in more than a decade.

Predicted order of finish

Cheyenne East, Sheridan, Cheyenne Central, Thunder Basin, Natrona, Rock Springs, Laramie, Campbell County, Kelly Walsh, Cheyenne South.

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Cheyenne East 33, Sheridan 26. Class 4A will probably be (and normally is) the classification with the most variability between teams from the beginning to the end of a season. The game we see between them in September will probably be wildly different from any playoff rematch.

What do you think about 4A’s changes? Leave a comment, or drop a line on Twitter or Facebook.

–patrick

With four championships in five years, discussions of Class 3A football usually begin — and often end — with Star Valley.

The Braves from Afton rolled up a 12-0 season last year, facing a slate full of challengers all gunning to take them down. None did, and the Braves were champs yet again.

For Star Valley to win a fifth title in six years, though, they’ll have to replace a graduating class for the ages.

But isn’t that what’s been happening for the better part of a decade?

Four questions to answer

Is Star Valley’s run over? Maybe. The Braves have won four championships in the past five years, but making it back to a title game will require a lot of growing up. Star Valley lost its top four rushers, top six receivers and 11 of its top 12 tacklers, so another championship run will rely on a bunch of players untested at the varsity level. But the Braves’ JV has been incredibly successful, so they might be up to the task again.

If not the Braves, then who? The West Conference is a murderer’s row of opponents. Cody, Powell and Jackson all have the athleticism, depth and coaching to make the West the kind of conference that demands the best from every team every week.

Will the East Conference have any title threats? Probably not. That said, the top four teams in the East — likely Lander, Riverton, Buffalo and Douglas, although not necessarily in that order — are capable programs. It’s just hard to overlook how easily the West swept the East in the first round of the playoffs last season without thinking something similar could happen again this season. The first three weeks will show us a lot.

What about the new coaches? Oh yeah. That’s a huge shift in 3A this year.  Green RiverPowellRiverton and Worland all have new coaches this fall. Don’t expect wholesale changes for any of them, but do expect to see some tweaks that we didn’t see last year from each of these programs.

Four players to watch

Hyrum Hatch, Buffalo. Already a two-time all-state selection in Class 2A, Hatch will be one of 3A’s top players. He’s especially tough to stop on defense, where led the Bison defense in tackles a year ago with 100 and notched 34 solo tackles.

Brant Nelson, Star Valley. If the Braves are going to continue to run up championships, Nelson will be a big part of it. He completed an otherworldly 71.3 percent of his passes last year, completing 92 of 129 for 1,229 yards and 17 touchdowns last year. That’ll keep an offense running.

Jack Sweeney, Lander. Sweeney’s a double threat. He’s one of 3A’s top returning running backs, as he notched 534 yards and seven TDs last year. But he might be even more valuable on defense, where he finished tied for fourth in 3A in defensive points per game last year.

Colter Dawson, Jackson. Only a junior, Dawson was one of 3A’s best defensive players last year. The linebacker had 108 tackles, including 10 for loss, and tied Sweeney for fourth in 3A with just more than 19 defensive points per game.

Four key games

Cody at Powell, Sept. 25. If the Broncs haven’t had this game circled on their calendars since five minutes after the end of last season, they’d be crazy. The Broncs were supposed to be the ones in Laramie; instead, Powell went. Revenge might be too kind a word for what Cody wants, but Powell isn’t an easy out by any stretch.

Star Valley at Jackson, Sept. 25. West Conference play starts for the defending champs against their regional rivals in the Fall Brawl. Jackson would absolutely love to get this one and force Star Valley to chase — a position the Braves haven’t faced in a long time.

Lander at Riverton, Oct. 9. Combined, the Tigers and Wolverines have 10 returning all-conference selections; the rest of the teams in the East Conference have a combined six. So, yeah, in addition to being Fremont County’s premiere rivalry, the conference championship may end up being decided here.

Douglas at Buffalo, Oct. 16. Back in the same conference after a couple years separated, the longtime rivals both have high goals this season. This game often decides who wins the conference, or at minimum who hosts a playoff game; this year’s game will likely have similar high stakes.

Predicted order of finish

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

Preseason top five: 1. Star Valley; 2. Powell; 3. Jackson; 4. Cody; 5. Lander.

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Star Valley 20, Powell 18. The kings of 3A are kings for a reason. West foes Powell, Cody and Jackson are all capable of throwing the Braves off the path (or winning the title themselves), but come the postseason, the Braves’ newbies won’t be newbies anymore.

Do you think this is the year for a team aside from Star Valley? Leave a comment, or drop a line on Twitter or Facebook.

Next Thursday: Class 4A.

–patrick

“Cokeville and Torrington are in the same classification.”

If someone would have said this to you 10, or 20, or 50 years ago, no one would have blamed you for doing a double-take.

But that’s Class 2A in 2020 for you.

Big Horn, Upton-Sundance and Cokeville are opting up. Torrington is shifting in due to reclassification. Buffalo, Greybull and Moorcroft are gone. Thermopolis is switching conferences.

Those shifts alone would normally be enough to turn an entire classification into a head-scratcher. On top of that, though, the returning talent in Class 2A is spread out across multiple teams.

Expect upsets, uncertainty and unpredictability.

Four questions to answer

What’s new in 2A? Is “everything” too strong a word? Class 2A’s dynamics shifted completely with the introduction of five new programs (Big Horn, Upton-Sundance, Torrington, Tongue River, Cokeville) and the departure of three others (Buffalo, Greybull, Moorcroft). Those changes may have made 2A the most interesting, and competitive, classification of football in Wyoming.

Which conference will be the most fun to follow? The West. At the top, this was a boring conference in 2019: Mountain View won its six conference games by an average of 49.33 points. But of the six games between the teams that finished in spots 2-5 in the conference standings (Lyman, Big Piney, Lovell and Pinedale), five were decided by eight points or fewer. Those four teams return similar levels of talent. And with Mountain View graduating a bunch, with semifinalist Thermopolis moving from the East to the West Conference, and with 1A power Cokeville opting up, the 2A West could be the most parity-filled conference in the state regardless of classification.

So no love for the East? The West will be fun to follow for its parity. The East will be fun to follow for its uncertainty. With four new teams, including a handful who have never faced each other, the East will be a new adventure every single week. And that’ll be a blast.

So who’s gonna win it all? Lulz. Of course, defending 1A 11-man champ Big Horn is up there, as is last year’s 2A champ Mountain View. But at least four or five other teams are true, legit threats to make it to the 2A championship this season. Watch out for Thermopolis, Upton-Sundance, Torrington, Wheatland, Big Piney, Lovell, Cokeville and Lyman; they’re all capable of a title-game run.

Four players to watch

Carson Bates, Big Horn. Bates will likely be a three-time all-state selection by the time the season is done, and with good reason. He’s a dual threat on offense — he ran for 1,169 yards and also had 523 receiving yards last year. But he might be the most prominent big-play threat in 2A this year, and his 12.6 yards per carry helps show that.

Nate Barnes, Cokeville. Barnes was Cokeville’s top player on both offense and defense — and that’s saying something. As a junior, he ran for 996 yards and eight touchdowns, but he also fronted Cokeville’s defense with 151 total tackles, a number topped by only one other player in all of 11-man football in Wyoming last year.

Logan Cole, Thermopolis. A two-time all-state selection, Cole had a smaller piece of the running game last year but was a bigger piece of the Bobcats’ approach in the passing game and, maybe even more critically, on defense, where he comes into 2020 as Thermop’s leading returning tackler. As his game grows, he’ll be even more versatile.

Colby White, Pinedale. What more can he do? White was one of 2A’s top tacklers a year ago, finishing second in the class in defensive points per game while notching 82 total tackles, including 32 solo and seven for loss. He also led the Wranglers’ rushing game with 803 yards.

Four key games

Week 2’s West Conference games, Sept. 11. As noted, the West will be a parity-filled conference this year. Gaining a victory early could be the momentum spark for the rest of the season, so those Week 2 games (Big Piney at Thermopolis, Lyman at Cokeville, Mountain View at Lovell and Pinedale at Kemmerer) will be crucial.

Wheatland at Torrington, Oct. 16. If anyone in the East can hang with the Rams or Patriots, it’ll likely be one of these two. If the Bulldogs or ‘Blazers can knock off either one of the frontrunners, this Week 7 rivalry game could have huge playoff implications.

Mountain View at Thermopolis, Oct. 16. Don’t forget how good of a season the Bobcats had last fall. They proved to be true 2A contenders. Even with all the parity in the West, this Week 7 matchup could decide who the conference’s top seed is in the playoffs.

Big Horn at Upton-Sundance, Oct. 23. The showdown between what might be the top two teams in the East doesn’t come until Week 8. The Rams have historically dominated this series, but both teams could be undefeated in conference play by the time this one rolls around.

Predicted order of finish

East Conference: Big Horn, Upton-Sundance, Torrington, Wheatland, Glenrock, Newcastle, Burns, Tongue River. West Conference: Mountain View, Thermopolis, Big Piney, Lovell, Cokeville, Lyman, Pinedale, Kemmerer.

Preseason top five: 1. Big Horn; 2. Mountain View; 3. Thermopolis; 4. Upton-Sundance; 5. Torrington.

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Big Horn 35, Mountain View 30. Even with a move up, the Rams are still loaded for a deep playoff run in 2020. Don’t be surprised to see them win their third in a row.

What are your thoughts on an expanded Class 2A field, 16 teams deep? Leave a comment, or drop a line on Twitter or Facebook.

Next Thursday: Class 3A.

–patrick

No classification exemplifies the changes that reclassification can bring like Class 1A nine-man.

The classification came together in two waves — one the wave of programs who decided against opting up to 11-man and playing in Class 2A, the other wave the group of six-man schools who made the jump up.

Somehow, they all fit together in nine-man. Wyoming’s first attempt at a nine-man classification since 1994 is a fun experiment. Whether it will last is still up for debate, but the longevity of nine-man will, one way or another, be influenced by the first season.

Last time Wyoming messed around with nine-man, it lasted only six years.

This time, two waves of misfits will help decide if nine-man is a failed experiment or a fixture for years to come.

Four questions to answer

What should we expect from this classification in 2020? In short, who knows? This classification didn’t even exist last year, and as an amalgamation of former 11-man and six-man teams, literally anything is possible. The only team that reached the 1A 11-man semifinals last year that’s still around in 1A nine-man this year is Southeast, and that vacuum at the top creates all kinds of opportunities for something new.

Does any one team have the advantage in nine-man’s first season? No. But three teams keep getting mentioned by nine-man coaches: Lusk, Southeast and Rocky Mountain. Those programs have the talent and experience that other coaches envy, and that edge puts those three programs near the top in nine-man’s first go-round.

What about the former six-man programs? Watch out. Four former six-man teams are moving to nine-man this year, and they’ve all got potential. Saratoga, Riverside and Lingle all bring back at least one player who was all-state at six-man.

What’s the most overlooked thing about nine-man’s new setup? The renewed rivalries. Lingle-Southeast is returning to Goshen County, and Riverside-Greybull comes back to Big Horn County. Meanwhile, four Fremont County schools (Wyoming Indian, St. Stephens, Shoshoni and Wind River) form a quadrant of regional rivalries that will be fun to explore.

Four players to watch

Drake Lamp, Lusk. Lamp is trying for something rare this season — his fourth all-state selection. He led Class 1A 11-man in rushing last season in both total yards (1,633) and yards per game (204.1). But he’s never had a chance to play in a playoff game, and that’s gotta be motivating.

Tryston Truempler, Shoshoni. Truempler is the Wranglers’ go-to player. He was third in all of Class 1A 11-man last season with 26.4 defensive points per game and was by far Shoshoni’s leading tackler. On offense, the quarterback also led Shoshoni in both passing yards (747) and rushing yards (640), accounting for 11 touchdowns.

Tyler Banks, Rocky Mountain. On a senior-laden Grizzly team, Banks has plenty of support. But his role as a leader on both sides of the ball can’t be understated — he ran for 1,049 yards and eight TDs last year and was also second on the team with 66 tackles.

Noah Rimmer, Saratoga. Rimmer is a beast for the Panthers. He led Class 1A six-man in receiving yards last year despite not playing in the postseason, and he finished fourth in six-man in defensive points. His skills translate well to nine-man, and he’ll help the Panthers stay in the East Conference race.

Four key games

East-West Jamboree, Aug. 28. In a classification with so much uncertainty, a series of scrimmages during Zero Week in Casper could be the source of a lot of clarification. Nine teams are scheduled to attend the first-of-its-kind mass nine-man jamboree.

Lingle at Southeast, Sept. 11. Both the Doggers and Cyclones want to challenge for the No. 1 spot in the East Conference. The fact that the Goshen County rivals face each other in the conference opener is certainly clear, and motivating, to both squads.

Rocky Mountain at Shoshoni, Sept. 11. Two top contenders for the West Conference championship also meet in the conference opener in Week 2. This game, win or lose, will help set the pace for the rest of the season in the West.

Riverside at Greybull, Oct. 9. These two southern Big Horn County rivals haven’t played each other since 2014, and Riverside hasn’t won this game since 2008. Having the rivalry back is nice, but this game will also likely have big postseason implications, too.

Predicted order of finish

East Conference: Southeast, Lusk, Saratoga, Lingle, Moorcroft, Wright, Pine Bluffs. West Conference: Rocky Mountain, Shoshoni, Riverside, Greybull, Wind River, Wyoming Indian, St. Stephens.

Preseason top five: 1. Southeast; 2. Rocky Mountain; 3. Lusk; 4. Shoshoni; 5. Saratoga.

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Southeast 28, Rocky Mountain 26. Class 1A nine-man should be a class full of parity, and several other teams have the goods to make championship runs. On paper, though, the Cyclones and Grizzlies have the best chances to be the last two teams in November.

How much fun will the uncertainty of nine-man bring to us in 2020? Leave a comment, or drop a line on Twitter or Facebook.

Next Thursday: Class 2A.

–patrick

Note: This is the first of five classification previews for the 2020 season at wyoming-football.com. Previews will run every Thursday for the next five weeks.

Since its reintroduction to Wyoming in 2009, six-man football has seen nothing but dominant champions.

The combined record of the 11 six-man champs since 2009 is 115-2. Only one champion (Kaycee in 2015) had an in-state loss during its championship season.

For comparison, the champs in 4A, 2A and 1A 11-man have a combined nine losses in that span; 3A champs have a combined 12 losses.

Domination isn’t just an expectation in six-man. It’s a requirement.

This year’s dominant team is a bit tougher to find, as four teams leave for the new nine-man division, one team comes back to varsity play for the first time in almost 30 years and another returns after a couple years away.

While the conversation starts with last year’s champs, it doesn’t end there — not in a year where parity could actually be part of the season in a classification that rarely sees it.

Four questions to answer

Can Snake River make another shutout run like last year’s? No. Snake River’s nine consecutive shutouts last year is a feat we’ll likely never see again in six-man. And the Rattlers graduated six all-state players, leaving opportunities for several other teams to fill the void left by those departing seniors.

But can Snake River repeat as champs? Ask the coaches, and they’ll give you the standard answer — they’re the champs until someone beats them, that makes them the favorites, and so on. But six-man should have parity at the top this season, and several teams are capable of making a title run.

So who’s the favorite? Dunno. One of the challenges in assessing the preseason prospects is that of the 40 players selected all-conference last season, only 14 return, thanks to graduation and teams moving to nine-man. Farson and Burlington have three returners apiece, and Hanna and Kaycee two apiece, so pencil them in at the top for now.

What’s new this year? With a little luck, two “new” teams. Encampment played a mix of varsity and sub-varsity teams last year and finished 5-2, and the Tigers will be a fully-fledged West Conference team this year. Meanwhile, Ten Sleep has missed the past two seasons due to low numbers but is scheduled to return in 2020.

Four (OK, five) players to watch

Parker Clawson, Farson. Clawson was incredibly valuable on a balanced Pronghorn team last season, leading them in receiving (30 catches, 436 yards) and finishing second in tackles. He’s also Farson’s only returning all-state pick.

Devon Grosstick and Jase Smith, Hanna. They’re not twins, but they put up similar numbers in 2019. Grosstick, a senior, caught 25 passes for 376 yards and had 202 defensive points; Smith, a junior, caught 22 passes for 290 yards and had 208 defensive points. As Hanna’s two returning all-state picks, they’ll be key in getting the Miners back to Laramie.

Zander Risner, Snake River. The Rattlers’ only returning all-stater has a lot on his shoulders as a junior. He’s Snake River’s only returning player who had more than 20 tackles last year — and he had 78. That total included 19 tackles for loss and 11 sacks.

Dalton Peterson, Encampment. Even though the Tigers didn’t play a full varsity season last year, Peterson made his presence known. As a junior, he led 1A six-man in defensive points per game with 33.4 and was one of only three six-man players with at least 100 tackles; the other two played deep into the playoffs, while Peterson accomplished his feat in only seven games.

Four key games

Snake River at Hanna, Sept. 5. Both the Rattlers and Miners are going to look drastically different than they did when they met for the state championship last season. And if either wants to be a contender to return to Laramie again this season, a victory here in this non-conference but intra-county contest will be mighty helpful.

Farson at Burlington, Sept. 11. The West Conference is always competitive in six-man, and both the Pronghorns and Huskies should be near the top again this fall. Winning this one — the conference opener for both squads — will go a long way in reaching the goal of a conference championship.

Snake River at Encampment, Sept. 12. The Tigers’ first official conference game comes at home against the defending state champions. What an opportunity for Encampment to prove it belongs in the discussion as something more than a novelty.

Hanna at Kaycee, Oct. 23. On paper, the Miners and Buckaroos should be near the top of the East Conference again this season, so when they meet in the regular-season finale, it’ll likely be for way more than just pride.

Predicted order of finish

East Conference: Hanna, Kaycee, Hulett, Guernsey-Sunrise, Midwest, NSI Academy. West Conference: Farson, Burlington, Snake River, Encampment, Dubois, Meeteetse, Ten Sleep.

Preseason top five: 1. Farson; 2. Burlington; 3. Hanna; 4. Snake River; 5. Encampment.

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Farson 44, Burlington 38. The West Conference will be top-heavy, and that’ll prepare those teams for postseason play. That said, though, six-man appears to have more balance than usual, so don’t look for one team to dominate the season like we’ve traditionally seen.

What do you think about the potential goings-on in six-man this fall? Leave a comment, or drop a line on Twitter or Facebook.

Next Thursday: Class 1A nine-man.

–patrick

When I wrote my way-too-early top 5s last year, I correctly picked three of the five eventual state champions, while another was ranked second and the other fourth. So who’s got the best chance to win Wyoming state titles in 2020? Well, here’s my January guesses for November successes:

Class 4A
Classification: For once, some parity? We finally saw some cracks in the Big Four last year, and even though East, Sheridan, Thunder Basin and Natrona will all be in the running again, it’s no guarantee those four will be the semifinalists — or that one of those four will win it all.
1. Cheyenne East
: The Thunderbirds return five all-staters, more than any other team in 4A, including 4A’s offensive player of the year in QB Graedyn Buell. I’m not sure anyone will be able to match East’s offensive firepower.
2. Cheyenne Central: A program on the move up, the Indians return four all-state picks and a 4A-high seven all-conference selections. However, most of those players are on the outside, leaving a line that will need to fill a couple holes.
3. Sheridan: The defending state champs return six all-conference selections and a ton of program momentum — the kind of stuff that winning four titles in five years can bring you.
4. Thunder Basin: The ‘Bolts graduated numerous key contributors but still return five all-conference players, including RB Jaxon Pikula, who might be one of Wyoming’s best individual playmakers in 2020.
5. Natrona: The Mustangs dipped out of the playoffs earlier than they would have liked last year but still return QB Harrison Taubert, whose experience under center will be a steadying force for NC.
Dark horse: Rock Springs. The Tigers under coach Mark Lenhardt proved they can play with anyone. Now they just need a couple victories against top-tier programs to build their confidence.

Class 3A
Classification: The West is still the stronger conference, and it’s likely the state champ will come from there. But the East will challenge more consistently and, with several West teams needing to replace key contributors, 2020 could be more unpredictable.
1. Star Valley
: As the Braves shoot for their fifth 3A title in six years, it starts up front with two returning all-state linemen, Gabe Nield and Lucas Chappel. More spots than usual need filling, but Star Valley has shown it knows how to reload.
2. Cody: The Broncs, too, have holes to fill, but they return a pair of all-staters in Nic Talich and Keaton Stone and should be a tough team to beat in the West.
3. Jackson: The Broncs will shade young, as both returning all-staters (Sadler Smith and Colter Dawson) are juniors. But Jackson’s program continues to develop and has turned from nice surprise to perennial contender.
4. Riverton: With six returning all-conference players, more than any other 3A program, the talent is there to do big things. Even with a coaching change upcoming, the Wolverines could start the season as the favorites in the East.
5. Lander: The Tigers had a nice breakthrough in 2019 and have four returning all-conference players and all-state linebacker Jack Sweeney on which to keep the momentum rolling.
Dark horse: Powell. Even with only one returning all-conference or all-state player on the roster (lineman Geordan Weimer), the Panthers did play in the title game last year, and that’ll help the program momentum grow.

Class 2A
Classification: Wyoming’s biggest classification (16 teams) will be instantly competitive thanks to the newbies in the ranks. As senior-heavy teams had the most success in last year’s playoffs, anything is possible.
1. Big Horn
: The Rams should have no problems with the shift from 1A to 2A. With two consecutive state titles behind them and six returning all-state players — more than any other team in the state regardless of classification — the Rams will be one of the teams to beat to start 2020.
2. Mountain View: The Buffalos’ dominance from 2019 should carry over to 2020 thanks to returning all-state picks Hunter Meeks and Ashton Schofield, but the squad has a bunch of holes to fill due to graduation.
3. Upton-Sundance: The Patriots get back three all-state players from last year’s 1A-11 semifinal team and should handle the shift to 2A easily.
4. Big Piney: Don’t overlook the Punchers. They return five all-conference players, most in the West Conference, and QB Kaden Raza was an all-state pick last year.
5. Thermopolis: The Bobcats keep steadily improving and should be solid again in 2020 as all-staters Logan Cole and Remington Ferree lead a squad that will be young but will have potential.
Dark horse: Pick ’em. Class 2A should be extremely competitive this year, as Wheatland, Cokeville, Lovell, Lyman and Pinedale all return at least three all-conference players. Any one of those teams could be a surprise championship contender, as could Torrington as it moves down from 3A.

Class 1A nine-man
Classification: As three of the four semifinalists from 1A 11-man last year make the move to 2A, the new 1A nine-man is wide, wide, wide open. Even so, the classification will be competitive and even at the top.
1. Southeast
: From 0-8 in 2018 to potential championship contender in 2020, Southeast could be one of the strongest teams in the new nine-man division thanks to returning all-staters Harrison Hall and Ryan Clapper and three other returning all-conference choices.
2. Rocky Mountain: Rocky has been building to this 2020 season for a long time. The Grizzlies return all six of their all-conference selections, and Tyler Banks and Trace Moss were both all-state picks.
3. Lusk: The Tigers, too, return a pair of all-staters with Drake Lamp and Dylan Molzahn and have four total all-conference players coming back — behind only to Rocky Mountain and Southeast.
4. Lingle: With — what a coincidence — two returning all-staters from six-man in Cordell Forkner and Cooper Hill, the Doggers should transition to nine-man smoothly and be immediate contenders.
5. Shoshoni: Tryston Truempler was an all-state choice last year, and with three all-conference players back, the Wranglers should be in the thick of the race in the West.
Dark horse: Riverside. The Rebels were extremely young the past couple seasons but should be ready to transition to nine-man with an experienced senior class ready to keep the program competitive.

Class 1A six-man
Classification: We could see a bit more parity in 2020 — at least in conference play. The West will once again be the stronger conference, and there’s a chance no one will emerge from that rigmarole unscathed.
1. Farson
: The 2018 six-man champs could be back again in 2020 thanks to three returning all-conference players, tied for the most in six-man, and all-stater Parker Clawson leading the way.
2. Snake River: Last year’s champs lost a ton to graduation, with junior Zander Risner the only returning all-state or all-conference selection. But last year’s backups saw plenty of time on the field and should be prepared for varsity speed in 2020.
3. Hanna: The Miners return two all-state selections, more than any other team in six-man, in senior Devon Grosstick and junior Jase Smith. Plus, they’ve got the confidence that comes from playing in War Memorial.
4. Encampment: Last year’s Tiger team went 5-2 playing a patchwork schedule but proved their mettle by beating the varsities from Meeteetse and Dubois. In their first full year at the varsity level, they should be ready to compete immediately.
5. Burlington: The Huskies return three all-conference players and will have enough playmakers on offense to keep opposing defenses off-balance.
Dark horse: Kaycee. The Buckaroos return a pair of all-conference selections in Dylan Fauber and Rhys Stafford and should compete with Hanna for the top spot in the East.

Who’s being overlooked here? Leave a comment and let’s start talking 2020, because it’s never too soon to talk football.

–patrick

Hi everyone… So, I forgot to post my preseason top five ballot prior to Zero Week’s fun. My bad. You’re going to have to take it on faith that I haven’t changed anything.

Here was my ballot for the first version of the Wyopreps.com Coaches and Media Football Poll:

4A: 1. Thunder Basin; 2. Natrona; 3. Sheridan; 4. Cheyenne East; 5. Rock Springs.
3A: 1. Star Valley; 2. Jackson; 3. Cody; 4. Douglas; 5. Worland.
2A: 1. Mountain View; 2. Buffalo; 3. Greybull; 4. Thermopolis; 5. Burns.
1A 11-man: 1. Big Horn; 2. Upton-Sundance; 3. Cokeville; 4. Pine Bluffs; 5. Lusk.
1A six-man: 1. Snake River; 2. Hanna; 3. Farson; 4. Burlington; 5. Meeteetse.

–patrick

The 2019 edition of the Wyoming Sports Preview Guide magazine is now available!

Click here to read full team previews on every team in Wyoming.

This is the eighth year we’ve been able to bring this magazine to you. It’s the most comprehensive preview you’ll find anywhere. I interviewed every single head coach in the state (except one, as astute readers will notice), pored over stats, pestered ADs for schedules, predicted some winners — and it’s all here.

While the digital version is out today, the hard-copy version won’t be out for another week or so. When the hard copies do come out, you should be able to pick them up, for free, at the locations of the advertisers listed in the magazine. Please support the advertisers who support this magazine; it doesn’t happen without them.

Enjoy!

–patrick

The king is dead.

Long live the king?

Sheridan’s run of consecutive Class 4A championships ended last season at three, as Natrona finally broke through to end the Broncs’ reign atop the big-school classification.

Natrona could be in line for a dynasty of its own. The Mustangs get back one of Wyoming’s most exciting running backs in Dante Wallace as well as a proven quarterback and a handful of other contributors from last season.

The most likely team to stop the Mustangs from forming a new 4A dynasty is Thunder Basin, which returns a bevy of contributors on defense and maybe the state’s most feared aerial pairing.

With a title, or a dynasty, at stake, the margin for error in 4A will be thin this year.

Four questions to answer

Does Natrona start the season as the favorite? As THE favorite? No. As one of them? Yes. The defending champs lost a ton of quality contributors to graduation but return enough offensive firepower to remain a threat to repeat. However, repeating isn’t in Natrona’s nature.

Who else is in the conversation? It’s 4A, so Sheridan, Cheyenne East and Thunder Basin. Of those, Thunder Basin appears to be in the best position to actually make a move at a title. After falling short in the semifinals at home against Sheridan last year, the ‘Bolts have to be motivated — and now, more mentally prepared for the rigors of the playoffs than they were last year.

So, the Big Four again? Yep, the big four again. None of the other six teams in 4A have yet shown they’re ready to be seriously considered as title contenders, or even semifinal contenders. However, Cheyenne Central appears improved, and coaching changes at Kelly Walsh and Rock Springs, as well as at Gillette, could bring shifting fortunes to 4A’s second tier.

What was that about new coaches? In case you missed it, two coaches from the ranks of smaller programs will get their shots to run 4A programs this year. Mark Lenhardt moves from back-to-back title game appearances at 3A Torrington to take on the head coaching job at Rock Springs, while Aaron Makelky moves from 2A Big Piney to Kelly Walsh. They, along with Andrew Rose — a promoted assistant at Gillette — will give 4A a new look this fall.

Four (OK, five) players to watch

Mason Hamilton and Blaine Allen, Thunder Basin. You can’t mention the ‘Bolts’ quarterback without mentioning his favorite receiver. Hamilton was dazzling as a junior, throwing for a state-high 2,592 yards and 31 touchdowns, while Allen led 4A with 805 receiving yards. Together, they give Thunder Basin an aerial pairing no one else can match — not only this year, but maybe ever.

Dante Wallace, Natrona. Wallace was 4A’s top rusher last year in basically every category. He had more carries (235), more yards (1,812) and more touchdowns (23) than any other back in 4A. And he’s back for more as a senior, ready to help Natrona in its repeat attempt.

Garrett Coon, Sheridan. Coon is a bit of a throwback. As a mixture of fullback and linebacker, Coon was one of 4A’s most physical players last season. He’ll likely take on more of a role in the Broncs’ offense, but it’ll be hard for him to do more than he did on defense last year, where he was fourth in 4A in total points and second in the classification with 101 total tackles.

Graedyn Buell, Cheyenne East. It might be easy to overlook Buell, whose sophomore season was cut short due to a broken ankle. But he put up steady stats (1,346 passing yards, 12 touchdowns to just three interceptions, 303 rushing yards) before the injury, and if he can be full speed on his return, he could once again be one of 4A’s most dynamic players.

Four (OK, five) key games

Natrona at Sheridan, and Thunder Basin at Cheyenne East, Sept. 13. The third game of the season will give us the first matchups of 4A’s “Big Four.” It’s likely that all four teams will be 2-0 at this point, and a victory here sets up the winners for the rest of the year — and puts the losers in chase mode.

Sheridan at Thunder Basin, Sept. 20. The rivalry game between the Broncs and the ‘Bolts doesn’t have a name yet. Maybe in its third year — and its fourth iteration, after Sheridan beat Thunder Basin in Gillette in last year’s semifinals — it should get one. I humbly submit the “Basin to Bighorns Bowl,” with the ‘Bolts and Broncs playing in Buffalo with blue jerseys and brown footballs and a halftime show of babies, balloons and banjos. Despite all the “B’s,” expect an A-level performance in this one.

Natrona at Thunder Basin, Oct. 4. On paper, the Mustangs and ‘Bolts have the two most talented teams in 4A this year. This Week 5 game in Gillette will likely set the pace for the second half of the season.

Cheyenne East at Sheridan, Oct. 25. No matter how you look at it, this game between two perennial contenders will have huge playoff implications. The fact that it comes right before the playoffs will only heighten the anticipation.

Predicted order of finish

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

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Thunder Basin 35, Natrona 26. The ‘Bolts’ offensive stars will get a lot of the preseason, and mid-season, and post-season, attention. However, an unheralded but, by 4A standards, experienced defense could be the unit that carries Thunder Basin to its first state championship.

Stadium tour and season preview video

What do you think? Is the Big Four going to keep 4A football boring until the semifinals? Or is 4A actually more complicated than I’m giving it credit for? Leave a comment, or drop a line on Twitter or Facebook.

–patrick

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