The records alone indicate how dominant Star Valley has been the past four seasons.

10-1 in 2015.

11-1 in 2016.

10-1 in 2017.

10-2 in 2018.

Along the way, the Braves have won three straight championships, falling short only in 2017.

This year, the Braves will try to win their fourth title in five years, and on paper, this year’s team could be one of the program’s all-time best.

To win the title this year, though, they’ll have to survive a rugged and talented West Conference. Specifically, Cody returns four all-state players while Jackson returns a 2,000-yard rusher.

The Braves will also have to survive a tough schedule that includes a season opener against the defending 3A champions from Utah, Summit Academy, and a Week 2 game against the defending 3A champions from Idaho, Sugar-Salem (which destroyed Star Valley in a game last year).

Meanwhile, across the state, Douglas has the potential to be the best team in the East, Worland is slowly climbing and Torrington is regrouping after back-to-back losses in the championship game.

Regardless, Star Valley is still king — and everyone else in 3A is trying to find a way to avoid being the Braves’ jester.

Four questions to answer

Can anyone catch Star Valley? Probably not. The Braves return five all-state and seven all-conference players; both those totals are higher than any other 3A team in the state. They return key players on the line and in the backfield.

Who’s the Braves’ biggest threat? Someone named the Broncs. Cody has four quality all-state players returning and has the most diversity and athleticism of any potential title-game opponent. And they’ve proven they can go into Afton and win (see 2017). Jackson, meanwhile, returns a ton of playmakers and is a legit title threat, as well.

Will the East Conference produce anyone who’s a threat for the title? It’s not likely. After back-to-back title game losses, Torrington has a new coach who will need time to rebuild after some devastating losses to graduation. Douglas returns three all-staters and is the early favorite to win the conference, but the Bearcats will need something special to hang with the best from the West. And Worland and Lander are both capable but unproven.

So, I should watch Star Valley every chance I get? Now hold on. If I have a chance to watch any 3A team this fall, I’m watching Jackson. Jeydon Cox is a dynamic rushing threat, and I’m excited to see him chase down a second 2,000-yard rushing season. Per my unofficial records, only six players have hit 2,000 rushing yards in a season in state history, and Cox could be the first to make it happen twice in a career.

Four players to watch

Jeydon Cox, Jackson. Obviously. Look at this number: 2,257. That’s the number of rushing yards Cox had last year over 10 games. It’s an insane level of productivity, and the Broncs will be one of the strongest teams in the state if for no other reason than Cox is back this fall.

R.J. Cazier, Star Valley. While we’re talking about running backs, let’s not overlook Cazier, who ran for 1,212 yards last year in helping the Braves to the 3A championship. The consistency Cazier gave to the Braves’ rushing attack will be a key piece of their attack in 2019, as well.

Chase Merrell, Star Valley. Merrell is getting serious consideration from colleges thanks to a breakout junior season. He was Star Valley’s leading receiver with 23 catches for 496 yards, and he was also the Braves’ No. 2 tackler and led 3A with eight interceptions.

Parker Merritt, Star Valley. How can anyone overlook Merritt, who was the 3A West lineman of the year last year as a junior? In short, no one can. He was a key piece of the Braves’ rushing attack on offense, and on defense he efficiently racked up 50 tackles. (And in case you’re counting, yes, that’s three players from Star Valley.)

Four key games

Jackson at Cody, Sept. 27. Both Bronc squads have visions of state championships this season — and for good reason. The West Conference opener for both squads is key to fulfilling that vision, with the winner taking the early lead for the conference title.

Torrington at Douglas, Oct. 4. Either Torrington or Douglas has won the East Conference championship every year since 2013. One way or another, the path to the East’s top playoff seed still goes through this game.

Jackson at Star Valley, Oct. 11. One of the toughest things for Jackson this season is that the games that look like the Broncs’ toughest — the ones against Cody and Star Valley — are both on the road. If Jackson can sneak out this road victory in a rivalry game, look out.

Star Valley at Cody, Oct. 18. This game between the Braves and Broncs has always been a key West Conference game. The past two years, though, the rivalry has taken on added meaning, as a pair of semifinal meetings has added a competitive spirit to a game that’s already full of it.

Predicted order of finish

East Conference: Douglas, Worland, Torrington, Lander, Rawlins, Riverton.

West Conference: Star Valley, Jackson, Cody, Powell, Green River, Evanston.

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Star Valley 35, Jackson 21. On paper, the Braves and the Broncs have enough returning talent to be the preseason favorites. A bunch of things could derail this matchup — maybe a Cody victory in the West Conference opener, maybe a surge from Douglas, maybe one of 3A’s famous playoff upsets — but all indicators keep pointing to this as the matchup we’ll see in Laramie.

Stadium tour and season preview video

What do you think? Is Star Valley’s dynasty destined to continue? Or can Cody, Douglas, Jackson or someone else end the Braves’ dominant run? Leave a comment, or drop a line on Twitter or Facebook.

Next week: Class 4A preview.

–patrick

Class 2A championships aren’t supposed to be won as easily as the way Buffalo won its title in 2018.

After opting up to play in Class 3A in 2016 and 2017, the Bison entered 2A last year as one of the favorites to win the title. They had several things going for them — their size (biggest school in 2A), their talent, their recent experience against bigger 3A programs.

Bolstered by all of that, the Bison lost just once in 2018 (7-0 to 3A Douglas in the season opener) and won their final 10 games to claim the 2A title, the program’s first championship since the dominant 2005 squad won it all in 3A.

Only one team stayed within single digits of the Bison, and even the championship game turned into a rout as Buffalo bumped off Mountain View 43-18.

Whether the Bison’s title was the start of a dynasty or a coalescing of multiple right factors at the right time will be seen in 2019. For now, though, everyone’s chasing the little-guys-turned-big-guys, who are now defending a title instead of chasing one.

Four questions to answer

Was Buffalo’s championship the start of a new 2A dynasty? Possibly. The Bison get back five all-state players from last year’s title team, setting them up well for a repeat in 2019. If that momentum can keep building, the Bison could be the team to beat in 2020, too.

Who’s Buffalo’s biggest threat? Mountain View, again. Just like Buffalo, Mountain View returns five all-state players. And like Buffalo, Mountain View has seen a ton of success in the postseason recently. Mountain View will start as the favorite in the 2A West and, if everything falls together by November, the Buffalos could notch their first undefeated season since 1997.

Will anyone else challenge for a championship? Probably not. Mountain View and Buffalo return five all-state players apiece; the rest of 2A, combined, has four (Burns’ Boe Clayson, Kemmerer’s A.Q. Martinez, Moorcroft’s Rowdy Pfeil and Thermopolis’ Logan Cole). The talent gap between Buffalo and Mountain View and the rest of 2A is pretty wide this season, so any dark horses will need a bunch of talent to develop quickly to put up a legitimate challenge to the top squads.

Will the West Conference have as much parity in the middle as it did last year? Almost certainly. No one represented the West’s parity like Pinedale, which won conference games by scores of 28-22, 21-14 and 14-6 and lost them by scores of 14-7, 21-14, 12-6 — a net score of plus-one in six games decided by eight points or less. With basically every team (outside of Mountain View) returning similar talent at similar levels, the rest of the West appears to be a crapshoot, one that will be decided in tight games week after week.

Four players (OK, three players and a unit) to watch

Hunter Gross, Mountain View. When coaches get together to award player of the year honors, they almost always go to a senior. Not last year, and not for Gross, who won the 2A lineman of the year award as a junior. He was second for the Buffalos in defensive points and racked up a team-high eight sacks — and he could be even more dominant this year.

Rowen Ruby, Buffalo. Ruby was one of 2A’s most consistent running backs last season, finishing with 1,072 yards (7.5 per carry) and 14 touchdowns. The Bison’s featured running back could have an even better season in 2019; Buffalo graduated its quarterback, its top receiver and its No. 2 running back, putting Ruby in a much brighter spotlight.

Dawson Hatch, Buffalo. Hatch was all over the field for the Bison last year, finishing first for the team in defensive points. He somehow finished with 10 tackles for loss and six interceptions, helping prove his versatility. And he was Buffalo’s No. 2 receiver and even carried the ball a few times.

Everyone from Mountain View’s backs and receivers. How do you stop Mountain View’s offense? You don’t — not with all the returning talent the Buffalos have, and not with their ability to place basically anyone in any spot at any time. Briggin Bluemel ran for 1,106 yards and Kimball Madsen added 985; Madsen threw for 866 yards and Braeden Walk chipped in 381; Walk led the team with 468 receiving yards, Ashton Schofield had 300, Bluemel had 163 and Madsen 140. The versatility the Buffalos have — particularly with those four players — makes them a challenge for any opposing defense.

Four key games

Pinedale at Kemmerer, Sept. 20. With the parity on display in the West Conference last year, this Week 3 game — after both teams have already played Lyman to open their conference schedules in Week 1 and Week 2, respectively — will tell us a lot about the makeup of a tumultuous West Conference.

Buffalo at Burns, Sept. 20. The Bison’s first road conference game of 2019 will be in eastern Laramie County against an up-and-coming Burns squad. A Buffalo victory here will be key in a repeat attempt… but a Broncs upset could completely change the outlook for the rest of the season for every team in the East.

Greybull at Mountain View, Oct 25. These two teams have been in the West Conference’s top three finishers every season since 2014, and last year they finished as the top two teams in the conference. A Week 8 showdown could determine the conference champion again this year.

Thermopolis at Burns, Oct. 25. Both teams are ready to make leaps up the East Conference standings this season. If they both capitalize on that potential through the season, this Week 8 meeting could be absolutely huge.

Predicted order of finish

East Conference: Buffalo, Thermopolis, Burns, Glenrock, Wheatland, Moorcroft, Newcastle.

West Conference: Mountain View, Greybull, Kemmerer, Big Piney, Lovell, Lyman, Pinedale.

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Mountain View 28, Buffalo 26. The Buffaloes have been scary consistent, with four trips to Laramie in the past six years. With a deep and motivated senior class, this just might be Mountain View’s year to return to the top of 2A. But Buffalo is the defending champs, and the Bison won’t make anything easy.

Stadium tour and season preview video

What do you think? Is another Mountain View-Buffalo championship game inevitable? Or is there someone outside of last year’s two title-game teams who could challenge for the 2A championship? Is 2A is any deeper than the two teams that are on top on paper? Leave a comment, or drop a line on Twitter or Facebook.

Next week: Class 3A preview.

–patrick

Well, Big Horn, how do you come up with an encore for that?

The Rams were more than just dominant in 2018 on their way to the Class 1A 11-man title. The numbers speak for themselves — 11-0 record, a state 11-man record 577 points scored, a title-game victory margin of 53 points, a state record for most points scored in a three-game playoff series… and on and on.

Now, the Rams have to find a way to remain competitive despite graduating seven all-state picks. Somehow, they have six other all-state picks coming back, and Big Horn remains the favorite to win 1A 11-man even with all the changes.

Part of the reason the Rams are drawing so much respect is because the talent well is just that deep in Big Horn. And part of it is that the Rams proved they could handle change last season when they shifted head coaches, giving Kirk McLaughlin a perfect start to his head coaching career with that dominant season.

If anyone can handle high expectations AND transition at the same time, it’s Big Horn. However, a repeat of last year’s record-setting season would be a surprise — and challengers like Upton-Sundance, Pine Bluffs and Cokeville will make an undefeated season in and of itself a challenge.

Four questions to answer

What makes Big Horn the favorite again? Returning firepower. In short, no other team returns what Big Horn returns this fall. The six returning all-state players is the highest number in the state regardless of classification, and with so many key players back from an undefeated team, the Rams start the year as the favorites.

Who’s most likely to challenge Big Horn for the top spot? Is “pick ’em” an option? Several squads return key chunks of players, including Upton-Sundance, Pine Bluffs and Lusk from the East and Cokeville, Rocky Mountain and Shoshoni from the West. Any one of those teams is capable of pulling off a first-round playoff victory given the right circumstances, although Upton-Sundance appears on paper to be the most capable of challenging Big Horn for both conference and state title honors.

What was that about Lusk? Oh yeah, Lusk is a thing again. The Tigers return four of their five all-conference choices from last year, including a pair of all-staters in senior Damien Molzahn and junior Drake Lamp. After missing the playoffs last year thanks to a little bad luck in a coin flip, Lusk should be a contender again this year.

What about the West Conference? In short — what about it? Aside from Cokeville, the conference was disappointing in the postseason last year, with the No. 2, 3 and 4 seeds losing first-round games by scores of 67-8, 54-0 and 56-0. With Saratoga playing six-man and Wyoming Indian playing a patchwork schedule, four teams are eligible for the four playoff spots out of the West — not exactly conditions conducive to creating playoff-ready, tested squads.

Four players to watch

Quinn McCafferty, Big Horn. Any discussion of the Rams’ hopes this year starts with the man under center. McCafferty led Class 1A 11-man with 1,731 passing yards (157.4 per game). His completion percentage of 63.4 (92 of 145) was by far the best among 1A, and he had a 27-to-3 touchdown to interception ratio. His presence will keep the Rams stable in a new season.

Will Pelissier, Big Horn. Pelissier is a rare player that can show up in the top 10 of the classification in both the rushing and receiving categories. He was ninth in 1A in rushing last year, carrying 82 times for 653 yards and 10 touchdowns, but he was just as dangerous through the air, finishing with 20 catches for 429 yards. As a senior, both yardage totals could go up as Pelissier gets even more opportunities.

Dax Yeradi, Wright. The Panthers broke a long streak last year by qualifying for the playoffs, and Yeradi was a big reason why. As the Class 1A 11-man leader in defensive points each of the past two years, Yeradi has consistently proven his ability to provide huge plays (class-high seven interceptions last year) and keep Wright in games.

Jayden Caylor, Upton-Sundance. As a junior, Caylor was instrumental in the Patriots’ run in the playoffs. He led U-S in several key statistics, including rushing (779 yards), receiving (331 yards), scoring (110 points), tackles (91), and defensive points (147). As the Patriots’ only returning all-state player, Caylor might see his responsibilities increase in 2019 — as if that’s possible.

Four key games

Big Horn at Upton-Sundance, Sept. 27. This showdown between the Patriots and the Rams is always key — and the Rams have always had the upper hand. Big Horn is 2-0 against the U-S co-op, winning 55-14 last year and 53-13 the year before that.

Cokeville at Rocky Mountain, Oct. 11. The Panthers appear to be ready to cruise to yet another West Conference title, and no one appears to be in a position to put up much of a fight against that. However, the up-and-coming Grizzlies, at home in Week 6, are in the best position to catch the Panthers in a potential trap game.

Upton-Sundance at Pine Bluffs, Oct. 18. This game between the Patriots and Hornets has had playoff implications for the past several years. Expect similar stakes this year, where a victory could mean the difference between having a home playoff game and not.

Pine Bluffs at Lusk, Oct. 25. A lot of people are looking at Lusk as a potential breakout team in 2019. If the Tigers uphold their end of the expectations, this Week 8 meeting at home against perennially tough Pine Bluffs could have higher stakes than pride on the line.

Predicted order of finish

East Conference: Big Horn, Upton-Sundance, Pine Bluffs, Lusk, Tongue River, Wright, Southeast.

West Conference: Cokeville, Shoshoni, Rocky Mountain, Wind River, Wyoming Indian.

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Big Horn 34, Upton-Sundance 24. By acclimation, the Rams are the favorites in 1A this year. A surprise might be waiting somewhere along the line, but as of August, the Rams are in the best position to be the last team standing come November.

Stadium tour and season preview video

What do you think? Can Big Horn keep up the pace it set for itself last year? Could Upton-Sundance, Pine Bluffs or someone else end the Rams’ run in the East? Is Cokeville, of all programs, being overlooked? Leave a comment, or drop a line on Twitter or Facebook.

Next week: Class 2A preview.

–patrick

After two consecutive runner-up finishes, Farson finally won its first state football championship last year.

And how.

The Pronghorns stampeded their way to an 11-0 finish, outscoring their opponents 790-231, and won the state title game 73-38.

The question facing six-man in 2019, though, is if the Pronghorns are still the favorites despite losing several key playmakers to graduation.

Although the Pronghorns figure to be in the hunt, the tides are shifting a bit in six-man. The East Conference — which went 0-for-4 in its first-round playoff games last year — is much stronger this year, with Hanna the favorite to take the top seed. Snake River could emerge from a weaker but still competitive West. Burlington learned a lot from its runner-up finish. And several other teams return enough players to stay competitive and potentially pull a playoff upset or two.

While Farson was the favorite from start to finish last season, no team takes that honor this year. In what might be six-man’s most wide-open season since its inception in 2009, no team is the definitive favorite.

Four questions to answer

What’s different about six-man this year? The conference balance. Last year, the West dominated the East; the West was much stronger, top to bottom, and East teams didn’t win a single playoff game. This year, though, the East has 14 returning all-conference players, total, while the West has eight. While East teams won’t be as dominant as West teams were last year, they’ll be much more competitive than they were in 2018.

So which team from the East has the best chance of upsetting the West’s dominance? Hanna. The Miners were undefeated in the regular season last year before losing to West No. 4 seed Burlington in the first round. They return most of their key players from 2018, including the McGraw twins (Conor and Shane), who play equally important roles. That was shown in one key statistic, total offense — Shane had 1,596 yards of total offense last year, while Conor had a nearly identical 1,590.

So let’s get to it — who’s gonna win the state championship? Probably Snake River. The Rattlers will have close to a dozen seniors on this year’s team, including a pair of all-staters in Riggen Myers and Wyatt Duncan. After finishing third in the West and reaching the semis last year, Snake River has the chance to be the team everyone else is chasing.

Who’s ready to surprise everyone? Riverside. The Rebels had a roster last year that included zero seniors, one junior, three sophomores and eight freshmen. Although the Rebels are still ineligible for postseason play — and will move to nine-man in 2020 — they could have a heck of a final year in six-man if the young players develop quickly.

Four players to watch

Riggen Myers, Snake River. Myers was a beast on both offense and defense for the Rattlers. Last year, he ran for 1,398 yards and 24 touchdowns while also piling up 207 defensive points and 71 total tackles. On a senior-laden Rattler team, Myers will be the pacesetter.

Conor McGraw, Hanna. The Miners’ dynamic McGraw twins fulfill different, but similar, roles. It’s Conor McGraw’s role to run the ball (881 yards, 14 touchdowns last year) and lead the defense (207 points, second-best in six-man last season).

Shane McGraw, Hanna. Meanwhile, it’s Shane McGraw’s role to pass (558 passing yards, 12 TDs and zero interceptions), run (762 rushing yards, 13 TDs) and support defensive efforts (fourth on the team with 139 defensive points, including three sacks and three pass break-ups).

Jarom Davidson, Burlington. Davidson is the only returning all-state selection for last year’s runners-up, and he’ll be a terror on defense. He led the Huskies and was fifth in the state in defensive points last year, racking up 127 total tackles. He was also the Huskies’ top receiver last year.

Four key games

Kaycee at Burlington, Sept. 7. Both programs have had recent success — Kaycee with three straight titles from 2015-17, Burlington with a runner-up finish last season. But neither is in the early talk for state title contenders. That could change with a statement victory against the other on opening weekend.

Farson at Snake River, Oct. 12. This Saturday matchup between the Pronghorns and Rattlers in Baggs might determine the West’s No. 1 seed. On paper, they’re the two best teams entering 2019, which means something will have to give.

Burlington at Farson, Oct. 18. The rematch of last year’s state championship game comes in Week 7 in Farson — and both teams will need to win here to keep hopes of a No. 1 seed alive.

Hanna at Guernsey, Oct. 25. Hanna finishes its schedule with its two toughest games — at Kaycee in Week 7 and at Guernsey in Week 8. Whether the Miners muster a postseason push that gets them to Laramie may well depend on whether they can win in Platte County in the regular-season finale.

Predicted order of finish

East Conference: Hanna, Guernsey, Hulett, Lingle, Kaycee, Saratoga*, NSI, Midwest.

West Conference: Snake River, Farson, Burlington, Meeteetse, Riverside*, St. Stephens, Dubois, Ten Sleep.

*-ineligible for playoffs

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Snake River 54, Hanna 52. On paper, these are the two best teams entering the season. Both teams return a ton of players from competitive teams, and either one could be six-man’s most dominant program in 2019. Call this pick a bias for geography: It’d be fun to see these two Carbon County rivals play each other in the season finale.

Stadium tour and season preview video

What do you think? Is a Hanna-Snake River title game the stuff of legend, or will another team (like, say, the defending state champs from Farson) come along and surprise us all? Leave a comment, or drop a line on Twitter or Facebook.

Next week: Class 1A 11-man preview.

–patrick

The 2018 Wyoming High School Football Preview Magazine is now out and posted here at wyoming-football.com!

I spend two months compiling what you see here — preview stories about every team in the state, interviews with every single head coach, players to watch, schedules, key games, predictions and more. It’s a heck of a lot of work, but I think it’s worth it. You won’t find a more thorough, comprehensive and complete preview of Wyoming high school football anywhere else.

Thanks again to all the coaches statewide for their help! I couldn’t do this without their cooperation, and it’s greatly appreciated.

Hard copies should be out soon. Stop by any of the advertisers listed in the magazine to pick up your FREE hard copy. And mad props to the advertisers for allowing this magazine to become a reality.

–patrick

Four-peats don’t happen often in Class 4A.

The last big-school team to four-peat was Sheridan from 1990-93. Prior to that, it was Worland from 1924-27.

That’s it. For now.

In 2018, Sheridan could complete the third four-peat at the big-school level in Wyoming history. The Broncs have plenty of challenges facing them this year — among them the loss of a big senior class and an entire state’s worth of teams targeting them as the team to beat — but that doesn’t change the fact that Sheridan’s poised to make some history.

Four questions to answer

Will Sheridan win a fourth consecutive championship? The odds are good. If I had to guess, I’d say Sheridan’s odds were about 50/50 — it’s a 50 percent chance that Sheridan will win 4A, and a 50 percent chance the other nine programs combined have. The Broncs have a ton of new personnel and a new coach in Jeff Mowry, but they also have tradition, high expectations and momentum.

Who’s got the best shot to challenge Sheridan? No one knows. Honestly: No. One. Knows. In my interviews with 4A head coaches this summer, the definitive response to this question was seemingly “Uhhhh….” Now, coaches did say some teams are in the running. Kelly Walsh has a chance, maybe Natrona, maybe East, maybe Thunder Basin… but not a single coach could give a specific reason, outside of tradition, why any team other than Sheridan should be considered a legit contender for the 4A crown. And if you’re in Sheridan, that’s a good thing.

So who actually has the best shot? Kelly Walsh. If you cut through all the presuppositions, the team that’s unanimously on the rise is KW. Opposing coaches came away impressed with the Trojans’ performance last year, their ability to finally get a playoff victory (first since 2009) and the personnel that returns. If last year was a breakthrough, this year could be the start of a pattern.

Will new coaches at Sheridan and Cheyenne Central change 4A much? Not this year. Jeff Mowry in Sheridan learned from Don Julian for several years and likely will not mess with what’s working. And Mike Apodaca inherits a rebuilding project at Cheyenne Central that will take longer than a year to turn around completely. In five years, we may look back on this and see the start of something new, but for now, don’t expect too much boat-rocking.

Four players to watch

Parker Christensen, Sheridan. In July, Christensen verbally committed to the University of Wyoming. He earned that opportunity after running for 1,049 yards on just 98 carries (do the math and that’s 10.7 yards per carry). As one of the top running backs in the state, playing for the three-time defending champs, Christensen will have a huge responsibility ahead.

Brock Spiegelberg, Kelly Walsh. As KW shifted to a balanced running game, Spiegelberg piled up the stats. He ran for 1,399 yards and 17 touchdowns last year, and he’s Class 4A’s leading returning rusher. As the centerpiece of the Trojans’ offense, he could put up even bigger numbers this fall — and more importantly, lead KW deeper in the playoffs.

Zach Alexander, Cheyenne East. Alexander is preparing to enter his third year as East’s starting middle linebacker — an honor few 4A players could ever claim. As the centerpiece of the defense, he’s been a steady performer, and he’ll lead East’s defense in a wide-open 4A race.

Chase Brachtenbach, Natrona. Not too many players lead Natrona in defensive points as a junior, but that’s exactly what Brachtenbach did last season. The Mustangs’ leader in tackles for loss and sacks, Brachtenbach will be a key piece of a rebuilding Mustang defense.

Four key games

Thunder Basin at Cheyenne Central, Aug. 24. There’s probably not a 4A game on the schedule that has more questions than this one. How will Thunder Basin come back after losing a large chunk of seniors? How will Central play under new coach Mike Apodaca? Will either one be a surprise challenger? This game should help answer a lot of those queries.

Kelly Walsh at Cheyenne East, Aug. 31. If the Trojans want to be taken as a serious 4A title contender, they have to beat the Thunderbirds. East has beaten KW nine consecutive times, and KW hasn’t won at East since 2006. If the Trojans can get this one, they’ll be right in the thick of things.

Sheridan at Natrona, Sept. 7. Sheridan got the best of Natrona in both of their matchups, including the big one in the state title game. Both teams look to be contenders again this fall, so this early season matchup should set the pace for 4A for the rest of the season.

Natrona at Kelly Walsh, Oct. 5. This Oil Bowl could have higher stakes than any Oil Bowl in the past decade. Both the Mustangs and Trojans want to be in the title chase, and what better way to prove yourself than against your cross-town rival?

Predicted order of finish

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

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Sheridan 34, Kelly Walsh 26. There’s a lot of uncertainty in the 4A ranks this year. What is clear, though, is that no one team has specifically risen up to give Sheridan a challenge for 4A supremacy. An undefeated state champion is unlikely, but Sheridan will remain the favorite until someone — anyone — proves they can knock the Broncs out of the king’s throne.

What do you think? I’ve got Sheridan down to win it all in November. Do you? Who’s the Broncs’ biggest challenger? Leave a comment, because I’ve got some thoughts and I want to work through them with you all.

–patrick

Cody’s run to the 2017 Class 3A championship was pretty special.

With one inspired run, the Broncs won their fifth state title, ended Star Valley’s attempt at a three-peat and established themselves as one of the favorites to win 3A in 2018.

However, a lot of uncertainty surrounds 3A this year.

Of the seven returning all-state selections, three play for Cody and three for Torrington; most teams are trying to rebuild this year. New coaches at Rawlins, Lander, Green River and Powell make the classification unstable. Worland has switched conferences.

When the stream gets stirred up like this, the lack of clarity makes it difficult to navigate — but exciting to try to wade through.

Four questions to answer

Was Cody’s state championship a fluke? No way. The Broncs proved they were the best team at the right time last year, and the playoff victories they earned against Buffalo, Star Valley and Torrington — all as the lower seed — were all definitive. That means the Broncs didn’t just win a title last year. They set a new standard for the program.

Does that mean that Cody’s the favorite to win the 3A title again this year? Sort of. Cody returns three all-state players, more than any other 3A school except Torrington. And there’s the rub. Torrington, last year’s 3A runner-up, is loaded for another deep playoff run. We may see a repeat in the 3A title game this year, and this time the Trailblazers could be the ones hoisting the champions’ trophy.

Isn’t Star Valley still in the mix? Yeah… but this year is a true test for the program. The Braves lost more seniors than a nursing home at Sunday brunch. Until we know if those new players have the ability to bear the brunt of the old expectations, it’s best to wait and see with the Braves this year.

What big offseason change will affect 3A the most long-term? John Scott’s hiring at Lander. Scott has a history of taking under-performing programs and turning them around. He’s done it at Kemmerer, Gillette and Tongue River. And now he’s at Lander, taking over a program that’s gone 2-31 combined the past four seasons. The turnaround won’t be immediate, but knowing Scott’s history, it will happen.

Four players to watch

Bryan Lemmon, Torrington. Lemmon might be 3A’s best running back — for the second year in a row. He ran for 1,261 yards and 18 touchdowns last year in leading the Trailblazers to the title game. He also had 25 catches for 475 yards… and he was also Torrington’s leading tackler last year, giving opposing offenses fits from his linebacker spot.

Jared Grenz, Cody. One number makes Grenz stand out on the stat sheet: 31.8. That’s how many yards per catch Grenz averaged last year, needing only 16 catches to rack up 509 yards. He also ran 48 times for 341 yards (a not-too-shabby 7.1 yards per carry). His big-play ability will be key for Cody’s repeat run.

Anthony Mitchell, Green River. The Wolves’ lone returning all-state player did most of his damage last year on defense, where he was second for Green River in defensive points. Graduation may open up more opportunities on offense, though, as Mitchell is in prime position to become the Wolves’ main aerial threat.

Treyton Paxton, Riverton. Even in a down year last year, the Wolverines’ passing game was still on point. Paxton led that effort by throwing for 1,520 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has to break in basically an entirely new group of receivers (Riverton’s top four receivers from last year are all gone), but Paxton’s abilities throwing the ball could make his receivers’ jobs, and transitions, easier.

Four key games

Green River at Torrington, Sept. 14. One of the most intriguing nonconference games of the season puts Green River on the road against Torrington — the same matchup that ended the Wolves’ season last year. Although it won’t count for any playoff seeding, this game will be huge for both teams to gauge their abilities against teams from the other side of the state.

Rawlins at Douglas, Sept. 21. A heartbreaking 17-14 loss to Douglas nearly marked the end of a long string of losses the Outlaws had suffered to the Bearcats; Rawlins last beat Douglas in 2001. Both teams will need this victory to stay in the race for a home playoff game.

Riverton at Worland, Sept. 21. The Warriors’ East Conference opener… wait, what? Yep, it’s true — after years in the West, Worland jumps to the East Conference this year to balance the conferences after Buffalo’s drop to Class 2A. And this conference opener against the Wolverines will likely have huge playoff seeding implications.

Cody at Star Valley, Oct. 12. The Braves have to be hungry for the opportunity to play the Broncs again. Remember, on its way to the 3A title last year, Cody had to knock off undefeated Star Valley in Afton. They did. This game won’t have the same stakes, but it will be a chance for both teams to make a late push in the West Conference.

Predicted order of finish

East Conference: Torrington; Douglas; Rawlins; Worland; Riverton; Lander.

West Conference: Cody; Star Valley; Green River; Evanston; Powell; Jackson.

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Torrington 20, Cody 13. On paper, the Trailblazers and Broncs are the clear favorites in their respective conferences. But 3A is quirky, especially in the playoffs, so there may be a surprise or two after Week 8 that could derail this potential dandy of a title game.

What do you think? Is a rematch of last year’s title game inevitable, or will we see another surprise team come up and win the title the way Cody did last season? Comment with your thoughts and let’s discuss how 3A might turn out this fall.

Next Thursday: Class 4A.

–patrick

Class 2A football was going to be exciting in 2018, regardless.

Then along came Buffalo.

The Bison’s move from Class 3A to Class 2A this season adds another solid program to what was already a classification full of intrigue. With both returning champion Mountain View, runner-up Glenrock and a host of others looking at 2018 as “their” year, Buffalo’s entry into the equation makes this season one to watch.

Oh, and there’s five new coaches in the classification, making the classification that much more uncertain.

Four questions to answer

Will Mountain View repeat as 2A champion? Definitely maybe. The Buffalos definitely return enough talent (five all-state selections) to win another title. The problem is that Glenrock — last year’s runner-up — is also returning boatloads of talent, and Buffalo is moving from Class 3A to Class 2A right in the middle of a resurgence. Mountain View is still one of the favorites, but it’s gonna be tough.

What’s that about boatloads of talent in Glenrock? Two running backs, 3,495 combined yards — that’s what the Herders have back in seniors Ian Arnold and Tucker Bopp. There hasn’t been a more dangerous pair since Butch and Sundance. The Herders’ line is still young, but their backfield is stacked for another deep playoff run.

And what was that about Buffalo? The Bison are ready for a breakthrough. And they would have been ready for a breakthrough even without a move from 3A to 2A. With seven starters back on both offense and defense, including three returning all-state picks, the Bison will be competitive immediately at the 2A level.

How much have coaching changes affected 2A? In a word, bigly. Five Class 2A schools — Burns, Greybull, Lovell, Moorcroft and Wheatland — have new coaches. That’s more than any other classification in the state. And while all five new coaches have interesting backstories and challenging roads ahead, the most intriguing offseason hire was Jeny Gardner, the state’s first female head coach, at Lovell.

Four (OK, six) players to watch

Ian Arnold and Tucker Bopp, Glenrock. There’s not a more dynamic pair of running backs in Class 2A — heck, maybe in the state — than the Herders’ pair of Arnold and Bopp. The speedster Bopp ran for 1,949 yards and 20 touchdowns last year, while the powerful Arnold ran for 1,546 yards and 19 touchdowns.

Kimball Madsen and Braeden Walk, Mountain View. The juniors split time at quarterback and wide receiver last season, combining for 1,874 passing yards and 409 receiving yards. The Buffalos’ plan is to do more of the same this year, with each player getting his chances to run, catch and throw, a twist that may be enough to keep opposing defenses off-balance.

Colton Caves, Wheatland. Don’t overlook Wheatland this season, and don’t overlook Caves. He ran for 1,305 yards and 13 touchdowns last year and also led the Bulldogs in solo tackles last season. He may shift to quarterback this season — the Bulldogs were still figuring that out late this summer — but regardless of where he is, he’ll be the focus for opposing teams.

Colby Rees, Mountain View. If the foundation of all great teams begins with the line, then the Buffalos are in good shape with Rees leading the way. He was the Class 2A lineman of the year last year as a junior, leading the Buffalos in assisted tackles while finishing second for Mountain View in defensive points, and he should be even better this year.

Four key games

Wheatland at Newcastle, Aug. 31. Even though the bulk of the 2A focus has been elsewhere this offseason, both the Bulldogs and Dogies have talented and deep squads returning this season. They’ll need to be on their games early — they meet in Week 1 of the 2018 season, and the losing team will have to play catch-up for the remainder of 2018.

Buffalo at Glenrock, Sept. 21. Glenrock has won or shared the East Conference championship four years running, but Buffalo presents a league challenge the Herders haven’t had to face in years. The Bison’s move from 3A gives the East Conference an entirely new dynamic, and this Week 4 matchup could be huge.

Mountain View at Pinedale, Sept. 28. On paper, this showdown between the Buffalos and Wranglers could have important implications for the West Conference championship and playoff seeding. Both squads return lots of players from last year’s squads, and Pinedale gets the home-field advantage this time around.

Mountain View at Greybull, Oct. 19. In the aftermath of Mountain View’s state title, it’s easy to forget how efficiently Greybull beat Mountain View in Week 8 last season, smoking the eventual champs 41-15 in the regular season finale. It will be interesting to see if this year’s game is more competitive — and who ends up winning what could be an important game in the conference title race.

Predicted order of finish

East Conference: Buffalo; Glenrock; Wheatland; Newcastle; Thermopolis; Burns; Moorcroft.

West Conference: Mountain View; Greybull; Pinedale; Lovell; Big Piney; Kemmerer; Lyman.

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Buffalo 20, Mountain View 19. The top three spots in 2A are clear, with Buffalo, Mountain View and Glenrock. Buffalo would have been a contender in 3A; in 2A, the Bison just might be the favorites.

What do you think? Is Buffalo the team to beat? Mountain View? Glenrock? Someone else who’s overlooked but ready for a breakthrough? Put your thoughts in a comment and let’s talk 2A.

–patrick

After 77 seasons without a state championship, Pine Bluffs won its first in 2016.

The Hornets liked winning state titles so much, they did it again in 2017.

Now poised on the edge of a three-peat, Pine Bluffs may face its toughest challenge yet — and it won’t have to leave its conference to do so.

Both Big Horn and Upton-Sundance are trying to challenge Pine Bluffs for the Class 1A 11-man title in what might be the toughest conference in the state to win this fall. And, as always, Cokeville lurks out west.

Four questions to answer

Where’s the strength of Class 1A 11-man? The East Conference. With Big Horn, Upton-Sundance and Pine Bluffs, the three best teams (on paper) in the classification are all in the East Conference. After that, the talent level drops off pretty significantly, so it will be a pretty big surprise if one of these three teams doesn’t come away from 2018 with the first-place trophy in their possession.

Of those three, which one is most likely to win it all? Big Horn. By far. The Rams return all six of their all-state selections and almost the entirety of the rest of their squad. That will make the transition to new head coach Kirk McLaughlin — previously an assistant with the Rams — smoother than usual. While Upton-Sundance and Pine Bluffs return enough players to be favorites in pretty much any other year, this year everyone’s starting the season chasing the Rams.

No love for the West Conference this year? Nope. Cokeville graduated 10 seniors. Wind River is resurgent but may still be a year away from state title contention. Rocky Mountain lost a bunch of key players and has a long history of quarterfinal playoff exits. Don’t be surprised if the East sweeps the West in the first round of the playoffs.

Wait, what? A sweep??? The West Conference may field only four teams this fall, as Saratoga has forfeited its varsity season and Wyoming Indian has question marks about whether it can gather enough players (and many conference foes are playing the Chiefs with their JVs anyway). If that’s the case, the remaining four teams in the West are guaranteed playoff spots… and the seven teams in the East are left fighting for the remaining four. Competition will breed success.

Four players to watch

Kade Eisele, Big Horn. Eisele was a huge part of Big Horn’s success last year, running for 1,768 yards and 25 touchdowns. The workhorse of the Rams’ offense could put up even bigger numbers this year thanks to an experienced offensive line and another year of physical development.

Seth Mullinax, Big Horn. One of the guys blocking for Eisele is Mullinax — and he’s hard to miss. At 6-foot-4 and 275 pounds, Mullinax is a nimble and powerful offensive guard. He’s also got the potential to be a terror on defense, but most of the time opposing defensive lines double-team him. Sometimes that doesn’t even work.

Hunter Jeffres, Pine Bluffs. As a junior, Jeffres led Pine Bluffs in defensive points. He was the Hornets’ leader in both solo and assisted tackles. He might draw more attention from opposing offenses this year, which may affect his stats, but he’ll still be a key piece of the Hornets’ three-peat run.

Clayton Louderback, Upton-Sundance. On a senior-laden Patriot team, Louderback the quarterback has the job of keeping the offense chugging. He’s a dual threat, running for 586 yards and throwing for 1,114 more while combining for 24 touchdowns last year. With a veteran line in front of him, he could be even more dangerous this fall.

Four key games

Upton-Sundance at Big Horn, Sept. 21. Big Horn smacked Upton-Sundance 53-13 last year, so you know the Patriots have been looking forward to proving that one was an anomaly. They get their chance early in the season, and if they can somehow upset the Rams in Sheridan County, the Patriots could prove to be the team to beat in the East.

Big Horn at Pine Bluffs, Sept. 28. Obviously, this is a rematch of last year’s Class 1A 11-man title game. But more than that, this game is likely to be a key piece of the East Conference championship race this fall. This game is just as much present as it is past.

Wind River at Rocky Mountain, Oct. 12. If either the Cougars or Grizzlies want to challenge Cokeville for West Conference supremacy, they’ve got to get past each other first. For Wind River, this could be huge, with the Cougars’ game with Cokeville looming in Week 8 — if they can get past this one first.

Pine Bluffs at Upton-Sundance, Oct. 12. When the preseason top three are all in the same conference, it makes sense that each one of their meetings will be huge. This Week 7 contest is likely to play a huge part in determining the East Conference champion, playoff hosting duties and more.

Predicted order of finish

East Conference: Big Horn; Upton-Sundance; Pine Bluffs; Wright; Tongue River; Lusk; Southeast.

West Conference: Cokeville; Wind River; Rocky Mountain; Shoshoni; Wyoming Indian. (Saratoga will not field a varsity-level team this season.)

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Big Horn 34, Upton-Sundance 26. The Rams start the season head and shoulders above the rest of the 1A 11-man field. Whether U-S, or Pine Bluffs, or Cokeville, does enough to catch the Rams this season will be the huge question of the season.

What do you think? Whose turn is it to finish atop the 1A 11-man mountain? Leave a comment with your thoughts on the 1A 11-man scene this fall and let’s figure it out together.

Next Thursday: Class 2A.

–patrick

At the beginning of the season in Class 1A six-man, the talk will be about Kaycee — and rightly so.

The Buckaroos have won three consecutive Class 1A six-man championships and 30 games in a row, tied for second-longest in state history and just five shy of the overall mark of 34 set by Laramie from 1959-63.

However, whether Kaycee even has the opportunity to break that streak, much less win a fourth consecutive six-man championship, is very much in question.

Graduation decimated the Buckaroos’ lineup, and several other teams (Farson, Burlington, Snake River, Meeteetse, Hanna) think this year might be their year. For once, the competition will be strong in six-man.

Four questions to answer

Will Kaycee win a fourth consecutive six-man championship? Probably not. The Buckaroos lost half its team to graduation — yes, half — and will rely on a ton of younger players to stay competitive. That turnover opens the door for Farson, the six-man runners-up the past two years, to come into the season as favorites for the title.

If Farson’s the favorite, who else is in the title chase? Snake River and Burlington. The three teams split the West Conference title last season, and all three return enough firepower to be state title contenders. Farson’s individual talent — always a bigger deal at six-man than 11-man — gives the Pronghorns the upper hand on paper in the preseason, but both the Rattlers and Huskies could be problematic for Farson this season.

Is anyone from the East a contender? Not really. As noted, Kaycee lost a lot of talent, but pretty much every other team in the East did to. Hanna is the lone exception, but most of the Miners’ key players this year are juniors — setting the team up well for a 2019 push but likely making a run at a championship this year more difficult than usual.

Who’s got the best chance to be a surprise contender? Meeteetse. The Longhorns will have six seniors — a ton for six-man — and could compete for the West Conference crown if everything lines up well. We’ll know Meeteetse’s fate early: The Longhorns play Snake River, Burlington and Farson consecutively in Weeks 3-5.

Four (OK, five) players to watch

Lain Mitchelson, Farson. Mitchelson is arguably the best athlete in Class 1A. Also an accomplished basketball player and track athlete, Mitchelson ran for 944 yards, threw for 412 and received for 276, combining for 24 touchdowns. He also led the Pronghorns with almost 20 defensive points per game.

Clancy Gines, Farson. Gines helps give the Pronghorns the physicality they need to be both respected and a little bit feared by opponents. His 954 rushing yards was tops for Farson last year, and he was second (behind Mitchelson) in defensive points per game.

Hunter Rouse, Kaycee. Somehow, these Kaycee quarterbacks just keep getting the job done. Rouse threw for 18 touchdowns last year and had only two interceptions. His ability to control the pace of the game — and protect the ball — will be huge keys as the Buckaroos’ only returning all-state player tries to push his team toward a fourth consecutive six-man championship.

Conor McGraw and Shane McGraw, Hanna. The twin juniors come from good stock; they’re the sons of NFL player Mike McGraw and grandchildren of NFL player “Fum” McGraw. They’re starting to make their own names, too. Conor was all over the field last year and led Hanna in receiving and defensive points, while Shane led the Miners in rushing yards and also split time throwing the ball, too.

Four key games

Snake River at Burlington, Sept. 7. The Rattlers and Huskies are both trying to challenge Farson’s supremacy in the West Conference. However, the team that can’t get this victory in Week 2 to open conference play will be chasing not only Farson but also the team that wins this game — and that’s going to be a tough spot this season.

Meeteetse at Farson, Sept. 28. This is the third game in Meeteetse’s brutal three-game stretch of Snake River, Burlington and Farson. Meanwhile, this will probably be Farson’s first big test of the season. Maybe the Longhorns sneak this one out in Farson thanks to the seasoning they’ll have had by the time this game rolls around.

Farson at Burlington, Oct. 12. This Week 7 showdown might be Farson’s toughest challenge on the season. Overcoming a long trip to Burlington, as well as a formidable Huskies team, will be key for the Pronghorns to prove their mettle in a title chase.

Kaycee at Hanna, Oct. 13. Kaycee’s trek to a fourth consecutive title will be difficult regardless. This trip to Carbon County might be a trap if the quickly maturing Miners continue to improve. Will this game usher in a changing of the guard at the top of the East Conference?

Predicted order of finish

East Conference: Kaycee; Hanna; Hulett; Guernsey-Sunrise; Midwest; Lingle; NSI; Rock River.

West Conference: Farson; Burlington; Meeteetse; Snake River; Riverside; St. Stephens; Dubois. (Ten Sleep will not field a program this fall.)

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Farson 48, Burlington 42. After two runner-up finishes, it’s about time for Farson to hoist the first-place trophy. They have the talent and the experience to do just that.

What do you think? Is a four-peat in the cards for Kaycee, or is it time for another program to hoist the trophy and end the Buckaroos’ reign? Leave a comment to talk some six-man.

Next Thursday: Class 1A 11-man preview.

–patrick

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