The third in a five-part series of weekly season previews, released every Wednesday, our season preview continues today with Class 2A.
Four questions to answer
Can Lovell keep on winning? Probably. I mean, after all, the Bulldogs return their top thrower in quarterback Dylan Hultgren, their top rusher in back Dino Collins, their top receiver in wideout Cody Savage and their top defensive points man in Dillon Pickett. How many defending state champions have ever been able to say that?
What team has the best chance of challenging Lovell for the state title? Newcastle. In case you didn’t notice, the Dogies are building a solid program. They finished just three points away from making it to the state title game, nearly knocking off Lovell in the semifinals a year ago. And they’ve got three returning all-staters — more than any other team in 2A and equal only to Lyman.
Which new coach in the 2A West has the best chance of immediate success? Dale Anderson, Lyman. Anderson — one of four new coaches in the 2A West, joining Justin Bernhardt in Greybull, Brent Walk in Mountain View and Aaron Makelky in Big Piney — comes into a good situation at Lyman. He has three returning all-state players, including returning first-team Casper Star-Tribune Super 25 player Cisco Taylor, and inherits players who know how to win. With all the turnover in the conference, Anderson is the one set up for the most immediate success.
Are you psyched for the return of the Thunder Bowl? Definitely. The annual rivalry game between Tongue River and Big Horn is back — with a twist. Two new coaches, John Scott at Tongue River and Michael McGuire at Big Horn, have both proven they know how to win. This season will also mark the first time since 1961 that the Eagles and Rams are meeting on the field in a year when both schools have first-year head coaches. That game finished as a 6-6 tie…. and neither team won a game in 1961. I’m anticipating better in 2012.
Four players to watch
Dino Collins, Lovell. As I mentioned before, Collins was a big piece of Lovell’s state championship run in 2011 and will likely have a similar role in 2012. He ran for 1,202 yards and 17 touchdowns last season; if he can come close to duplicating those numbers this season, the Bulldogs will again be tough to stop.
Cisco Taylor, Lyman. Don’t expect Taylor’s numbers to be as gaudy as the were last year — 57 catches, 939 yards, 12 touchdowns. But do expect Taylor to have a bigger impact, as his catches will mean more in an offense that looks to focus more on the running game.
J.T. Harper, Newcastle. Harper fulfilled a dual-threat role with the Dogies last year, as he was the team’s leading rusher (110 carries, 698 yards, nine touchdowns) and one of the team’s top defenders (third on team with 98 defensive points, team-high four interceptions). The returning all-state choice will likely have an even bigger role this season as a senior.
Colton Wright, Burns. Wright is Burns’ most explosive player on both offense and defense. Already a two-time all-state selection, Wright led Burns’ outside attacks on both sides of the ball, finishing by far as the team’s top receiver (33 catches, 638 yards) and narrowly as the team’s top defensive points man (11.9 per game, team-high four interceptions). Burns will need Wright’s consistency to keep pace in a deep East Conference.
Four key games
Glenrock at Tongue River, Sept. 7: In the first East Conference game of the year for both teams, I’m eager to see what happens in a game that looks like it’s between two programs in transition years. Can Glenrock reload and replace all the seniors that were key parts of last year’s conference championship team? Can Tongue River rebound and play competitive football after a year off and a coaching change?
Lovell at Lyman, Sept. 14: Rematch of last year’s title game. Full stop.
Thermopolis at Kemmerer, Sept. 22: Remember the mess in the middle of the 2A West standings last year — the one that led to the triangular playoff at the end of the season? Yeah, me too. The winner here takes a huge step forward to (1) avoiding such a mess this season and (2) keeping pace with the top dogs in the West.
Wheatland at Newcastle, Oct. 12: I haven’t mentioned Wheatland yet, but I’m big on the Bulldogs rebounding from last year’s disappointing season, and I think they could be one of the surprise teams in 2A this year. If all goes well, this Week 7 showdown at Schoonmaker Field could be for the East Conference championship.
Predicted order of finish
East: Newcastle, Burns, Wheatland, Glenrock, Big Horn, Moorcroft, Wright, Tongue River.
West: Lovell, Lyman, Thermopolis, Kemmerer, Greybull, Mountain View, Pinedale, Big Piney.
Completely outlandish, way-too-early title game score prediction
Lovell 27, Newcastle 20
Despite all the coaching changes in 2A this year — a grand total of six — Class 2A also boasts more coaches than usual that have stayed for quite a while at their current stop. In fact, Class 2A has more coaches that have been the head coach at their current school for at least a decade than any other classification. The question: How many of those coaches exist in Class 2A? The bonus: What are their names, and how long has each one been at his current school?
I think 2A could be one of the most unpredictable classifications this year, in part because of a weird mix of returning talent, in part because of a huge amount of coach turnover, in part because of the already unsteady nature of these conferences already. What do you think? Post some thoughts below and let’s talk 2A.