I always take note when I recognize a name for a new high school coach.

Generally, when I recognize a name of a new coach, it’s because I remember that coach as a player. That’s what happened a bunch this summer, with new coaches like Cody Bohlander, Clayton McSpadden and Eli Moody¬†among others sparking memories of their playing days.

Those memories got me thinking — how many of Wyoming’s head football coaches graduated from a Wyoming high school? Or a Wyoming college?

So, as part of the Wyoming High School Football Preview Magazine, I asked every coach about their alma maters, both high school and college. And here’s what I found:

Of the 64 Wyoming high school football coaches entering the 2018 season, 34 went to Wyoming high schools, while 30 did not. Wyoming coaches also graduated from high schools in Montana (6), Colorado (4), Idaho and Nebraska (3 each), California, Utah and Washington (2 each) and Alaska, Arkansas, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Oregon, Texas and the District of Columbia (1 each).

The only bordering state not to have at least one head coach in Wyoming is South Dakota.

In all, 27 different Wyoming high schools were represented on the alma mater list of Wyoming coaches. Nine coaches (Burlington’s Trent Aagard, Cheyenne Central’s Mike Apodaca, Cokeville’s Todd Dayton, Evanston’s Pat Fackrell, Farson’s Trip Applequist, Hulett’s Boz Backen, Lusk’s Ryan Nelson, Rawlins’ Clayton McSpadden and Snake River’s Jack Cobb) are the head coach at the high school from which they graduated. Similarly, Hanna’s Zack Scott is an alumnus of nearby and now closed Medicine Bow, while Thunder Basin coach Trent Pikula graduated from Gillette in the days before TBHS existed.

Eight high schools graduated more than one Wyoming high school coach; Cheyenne Central, Douglas, Hulett, Lander, Lovell, Lusk, Midwest and Chadron (Nebraska) each have two alumni as head football coaches in Wyoming. The city of Cheyenne leads all cities with three coaches from that city claiming alumni status from one of that city’s high schools.

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For college, the most popular undergraduate alma mater was the University of Wyoming, from which 19 Wyoming coaches graduated. Even so, 42 of the remaining 43 coaches went to out-of-state locales to finish their bachelor’s degrees.

Next was Black Hills State with eight alumni and Chadron State with four. After that, coaches graduated from Sioux Falls and Montana State (3 each), Colorado Mesa, Montana-Western, MSU-Billings and Weber State (2 each), and Arkansas, Augustana, Colorado State, CSU-Sacramento, Dakota Wesleyan, Dickinson State, Kansas State, MSU-Northern, Northern Michigan, South Dakota Mines, Southern Utah, Sterling (Kansas), Southwest Minnesota State, Tabor (Kansas), Texas, UNLV and Utah State (1 each). (Two coaches have not finished their undergraduate degrees.)


–patrick

A few weeks ago, before the season officially got going, I was on KNYN radio in Evanston with Jake Hibbard to talk about the 2018 season (the program is here in case you want to listen). We got to talking about programs and coaches and all kinds of fun stuff, and I made the point that, most of the time, it takes about three years for a new coach to really put their mark on a program and win with their approaches.

But then I got to thinking about it and started to wonder — statistically, is that actually the case? Do coaches really do their best, in terms of winning games, in their third season? And did I just lie to a bunch of radio listeners in Uinta County????

To test this hypothesis, I tracked down the results of every Wyoming high school football coach who spent at least four consecutive years in their position since 1980 and looked at which of the first three years was the best. (Why four years? You’ll see soon.) I found 194 coaches who fit this description. Of those 194:

  • 58 (29.9 percent) had their best year in their first year
  • 64 (33 percent) had their best year in their second year
  • 72 (37.1 percent) had their best year in their third year*

So, yes, there is a connection here — teams get better as the coach stays longer, at least through the first three years. My hypothesis was right — but not by the margin I thought. I thought it’d be much higher.

But I wasn’t done thinking about this topic. If it really takes three years to get up to speed, then shouldn’t the fourth year be the best of them all? So I decided to look at the fourth year, trying to answer the question of how many coaches have a season in their fourth year that’s better than any one of their first three years.

The answer: 46 of those 194 coaches (23.7 percent) had that fourth year be better than any of the previous three.

Even at random, a fourth-year coach should have a 25-percent chance of having their best year be their fourth year. Fourth-year coaches are below that. I’m not totally sure what that means, but I found it interesting nonetheless.

Finally, some light statistical breakdowns help show the (weak) trend that I inherently believed to be true but had never tested.

The third year really is the best — at least 37.1 percent of the time. That’s 37.1 percent good news for the nine head coaches starting their third year in 2018: Dan Gallas at Cheyenne South, McKay Young at Star Valley, Matt McPhie at Thermopolis, Mitch Espeland at Pinedale, Richard Despain at Rocky Mountain, Curtis Cook at Guernsey-Sunrise, Matthew Cornelius at Lingle, Doug Spriggs at Rock River and Trent Aagard at Burlington.

Answering the question WHY the third year is the best, though, is much more difficult. Still working on that one. ūüôā

*-Note that in cases of ties, I went with the first year in which a record was reached. Rankings were by winning percentage.

–patrick

One of my favorite purchases every summer is my copy of Phil Steele’s College Football Preview. I discovered the Phil Steele preview about 15 years ago and refer to it often throughout the season, and it’s the only college football preview I buy.

I love it because it flips a lot of conventional wisdom on its head to make its preseason predictions, looking not only at the win-loss record and who’s back but other factors like two-deep returners, turnover ratio, close games and, one of my favorite stats, yards per point.

Entering the 2018 season, I decided to break down the yards-per-point stat for Wyoming high school football teams, both on offense and on defense. The formula is simple: number of yards gained (or allowed) divided by the number of points scored (or allowed).

On offense, you want a LOWER YPP — that means you’re scoring a lot of points in comparison to the number of yards you’re gaining. A higher YPP means usually means one of two things: you’re gaining yards but not scoring points, or you’re not gaining yards and scoring basically zilch.

On defense, you want a HIGHER YPP — teams may get their yards, but they won’t get their points. High YPPs on defense show either a team that bends but doesn’t break or a team that is on lockdown and doesn’t allow many yards OR many points.

In Phil Steele’s preview, he mentions that YPP is fluid. YPP measures efficiency, not strength. It’s a ratio, not a cumulation. Because of the fluidity of the stat, it’s also often a predictor of how well a team will do the following season. Teams that have really high (or low) YPPs usually have a tough time maintaining that (in)efficiency from year to year; exceptional outliers tend to indicate a particularly lucky (or unlucky) team that either succeeded or struggled because of bad breaks and inefficiency, which are more easily rectified than, say, a lack of talent.

When I dug into Wyoming’s high school football statistics from last season, I found six teams ripe for turnarounds, because they were in the bottom 10 statewide of¬†both YPP offense and YPP defense:¬†Shoshoni, Cheyenne South, Gillette, Burns, Wright and Jackson.

Conversely, seven teams were in the top 10 of both categories, and may have a tough time maintaining that efficiency (and success) in 2018: Pine Bluffs, Sheridan, Natrona, Cokeville, Star Valley, Torrington and Mountain View.

I also found a few weird outliers worth discussing.

One weird outlier — and potentially a team ready to benefit from better luck — is Powell. The Panthers finished dead last statewide in Offensive YPP, at 23.93. However, Powell’s defense checked in with a YPP of 12.4, dead smack in the middle of the statewide ranks. So Powell’s defense was solid, but its offense was horrendously inefficient at scoring points; looking at it that way, it’s no surprise they finished 1-7 despite having a good defense. A few more breaks go the Panthers’ way, and maybe they’re in the hunt in the 3A West. (Other programs with efficient defenses but inefficient offenses in 2017: Lusk, Lander and Kemmerer.)

Another weird outlier is Wind River, which finished 3-6 last year. The Cougars were seventh in the state in offensive YPP last season (10.31). But they were sixth-to-last statewide in defensive YPP (9.62). So the Cougars had one of the state’s most efficient offenses and one of its least efficient defenses, all in the same season. Will the real Wind River please stand up? (Other programs with efficient offenses but inefficient defenses in 2017: Saratoga, Tongue River, Thunder Basin and Rock Springs.)

Here’s a quick glance at the leaders statewide….

Top and bottom 10 in YPP Offense:

Top 10: Pine Bluffs (8.85), Sheridan (8.91), Natrona (9.32), Cokeville (9.44), Star Valley (9.66), Torrigton (9.73), Wind River (10.31), Big Piney (10.49), Mountain View (10.89), Glenrock (10.99).

Bottom 10: Powell (23.93), Shoshoni (23.53), Cheyenne South (23.1), Kemmerer (21.34), Lander (20.81), Lusk (19.83), Gillette (19.31), Burns (17.65), Wright (15.55), Jackson (15.13).

Top and bottom 10 in YPP Defense:

Top 10: Cokeville (32.85), Star Valley (26.86), Sheridan (23.04), Mountain View (22.13), Pine Bluffs (20.93), Cody (19.14), Buffalo (18.3), Natrona (18.11), Rocky Mountain (17.87), Torrington (17.24).

Bottom 10: Jackson (6.29), Cheyenne South (6.94), Gillette (7.06), Saratoga (8.12), Shoshoni (8.6), Wind River (9.62), Wright (9.73), Burns (9.95), Tongue River (10), Thunder Basin (10.61).

(These numbers include 11-man teams only. Six-man stats were too inconsistent to apply these methods.)

And here’s an unsponsored link to go buy Phil Steele’s college football preview.

–patrick

Want to know who’s going to win the Wyoming state football champions this year? Here’s how to do so, in decreasing order of necessity, based on how that team finished last year:

1. They had at least two victories last year: Only one team since 1990 has won a title with fewer than two victories the previous year — and even that comes with an asterisk. Lingle won the nine-man state championship in 1990 after going 1-7 in 1989, but that 1989 season was played at the 11-man level. In short, it’s exceedingly rare for a team to win zero games or one game in one season and turn around to win a state championship the next year.

2. They were in the playoffs last year: Pine Bluffs proved to be the exception to this rule in 2016, winning the 1A 11-man state title despite missing the playoffs in 2015. Before the Hornets, the last state champion that missed an eight-team playoff bracket the year before? Cokeville in 1993. (In 1992, Cokeville finished 4-3 but missed out on a playoff spot; the Panthers won it all in 1A the next season.)

3. They have the same coach: Only eight of the past 115 state champions have won titles with a coach in his first year as head coach at the school. But the trend is changing, as it’s happened five times the past six years with Lyman’s Dale Anderson in 2012, Meeteetse’s Matt Jensen in 2013, Kaycee’s Lee Kremers in 2015, Star Valley’s McKay Young in 2016 and Kaycee’s Tony Rouse in 2017.

4. They had a winning record last year: Only 14 of the 120 state champions since 1994 had a losing record the previous season; nine of those occurrences were between 2005 and 2010. And it’s happened three time in the past three years. Those teams: Rocky Mountain in 1995, Kemmerer in 2005, Jackson in 2007, Cheyenne East in 2007, Burns in 2008, Gillette in 2008, Guernsey-Sunrise in 2009, Thermopolis in 2009, Snake River in 2010, Natrona in 2010, Star Valley in 2015, Pine Bluffs in 2016 and Cody in 2017.

5. They reached at least the semifinals the previous season: Only 26 of the 120 state champions since 1994 were not in the semifinals of the playoffs the year before. However, two of those 26 were last year: Cody in 3A and Mountain View in 2A.

6. They played in the state title game the year before: Of the past 120 state champs, 53 played in the state title game the previous season. However, just two years ago, this trend was busted up pretty well: None of the 2015 state champs played in the title game in 2014… the first time that’s happened since 1997.

So, to those 13 teams who had one win or fewer: Your title chances are basically zilch, based on historical precedent. Sorry.

To those 24 teams who missed the playoffs last season: Your title chances are basically zilch, based on historical precedent. Even though there’s a Pine Bluffs-in-2016-style chance, it happens rarely. The Hornets may have been the one exception granted by this rule for the next 20 years. Sorry.

To those 30 teams who had losing records: Your title chances are slim, slim, slim (about 1.7 percent) — but not zilch — based on historical precedent. Sorry.

To those 20 teams who reached the semifinals last year: Your title chances are actually pretty good, based on historical precedent! Hurray for you!

To those 10 teams who played in the title games last year: Your title chances are EXCELLENT, based on historical precedent! Hurray for you.

And to those 14 teams with new head coaches: Your title chances, oddly, are better than they’ve ever been. Congratulations?

–patrick

In Week 4 of the 2016 season, Rocky Mountain picked up a milestone victory when it beat Cokeville 26-0 in Cokeville.

It marked the first time in 12 tries that Rocky Mountain had beaten Cokeville, and (obviously) the first time the Grizzlies beat the Panthers in Cokeville in seven trips to Lincoln County.

That victory got me thinking: Which teams always lose on the¬†field of one particular foe? I quickly realized the Grizzlies’ ability to put an end to those streaks pales to another home winning streak Cokeville has against another foe — Shoshoni.

Cokeville has beaten Shoshoni 17 consecutive times in games in Cokeville, tied for the largest advantage of any series between active schools in any one location; Cheyenne Central has beaten Torrington 17 times in games in Cheyenne, while Rock Springs beat Superior 17 straight times at home before that series ended in 1947.

Shoshoni gets its 18th chance to beat Cokeville in Cokeville on Sept. 21 this season.

The tougher list — winning every time against a certain opponent on the road — is topped by Natrona. The Mustangs have beaten Riverton all 12 times the two teams have played in Riverton. Torrington holds down second in this category with 10 victories without a loss on the road against St. Mary’s, a streak that will never be stopped due to St. Mary’s closing. Cokeville and Kelly Walsh split third place; Cokeville’s beaten Dubois all nine times that the Panthers have made the trip to Dubois, while Kelly Walsh is 9-0 in games against Lander in Lander.

Meanwhile, the overall series that’s been the most one-sided is Torrington-St. Mary’s, in which Torrington holds — and will always hold — a 21-0 advantage. The biggest shutout streak between currently open schools is in the 20-game series between Cokeville and Dubois, in which Cokeville has won all 20 games.

The longest overall streaks that have a chance of falling in 2018 are a pair of 8-0 streaks: Riverside’s 8-0 record against Ten Sleep and Lovell’s 8-0 mark against Wind River. Lovell hosts Wind River in Week 1 (Aug. 31), while Riverside faces Ten Sleep in Week 3 (Sept. 15).

No unbeaten road records of six games or greater are on the schedule in 2018.

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Here are the series in which one team has never lost to (or tied) the other (in-state programs only, at least six games, series involving at least one closed school in italics, games on the 2018 schedule noted with an *):

Home series
Cheyenne Central: 17-0 at home against Torrington
Cokeville: 17-0 at home against Shoshoni*
Rock Springs: 17-0 at home against Superior
Big Piney: 13-0 at home against Saratoga
Cokeville: 11-0 at home against Dubois
Torrington: 11-0 at home against St. Mary’s
Burlington: 10-0 at home against Wyoming Indian
Cokeville: 10-0 at home against Burlington
Cheyenne Central: 9-0 at home against Douglas
Sheridan: 9-0 at home against Midwest
Big Piney: 8-0 at home against Hanna
Byron: 8-0 at home against Manderson
Newcastle: 8-0 at home against St. Mary’s
Byron: 7-0 at home against Morton

Cheyenne Central: 7-0 at home against Wheatland
Glenrock: 7-0 at home against Manville
Hanna: 7-0 at home against Farson
Lusk: 7-0 at home against Saratoga
Meeteetse: 7-0 at home against Worland Institute
Torrington: 7-0 at home against Guernsey (not Guernsey-Sunrise)

Cokeville: 6-0 at home against Pine Bluffs
Jackson: 6-0 at home against Big Piney
Lander: 6-0 at home against Gebo
Lingle: 6-0 at home against Manville
Lusk: 6-0 at home against Guernsey (not Guernsey-Sunrise)
Lusk: 6-0 at home against Manville

Meeteetse: 6-0 at home against Hulett
Sheridan: 6-0 at home against Sundance
Southeast: 6-0 at home against Hanna
Star Valley: 6-0 at home against Thermopolis
Star Valley: 6-0 at home against Torrington
Thermopolis: 6-0 at home against Gebo

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Road series
Natrona: 12-0 on the road against Riverton
Torrington: 10-0 on the road against St. Mary’s
Cokeville: 9-0 on the road against Dubois
Kelly Walsh: 9-0 on the road against Lander
Big Horn: 7-0 on the road against Ranchester
Byron: 7-0 at on the road against Morton

Cheyenne East: 7-0 on the road against Rawlins
Mountain View: 7-0 on the road against Jackson
Riverside: 7-0 on the road against Wyoming Indian
Cheyenne Central: 6-0 on the road against Wheatland
Cheyenne East: 6-0 on the road against Wheatland
Cokeville: 6-0 on the road against Rocky Mountain
Greybull: 6-0 on the road against Wyoming Indian
Jackson: 6-0 on the road against Big Piney
Meeteetse: 6-0 on the road against Wyoming Indian
Pine Bluffs: 6-0 on the road against Huntley
Riverton: 6-0 on the road against Wheatland
Sunrise: 6-0 on the road against Huntley
Torrington: 6-0 on the road against Lingle

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Total series
Torrington: 21-0 vs. St. Mary’s
Cokeville: 20-0 vs. Dubois
Byron: 14-0 vs. Morton
Cheyenne Central: 13-0 vs. Wheatland
Jackson: 12-0 vs. Big Piney
Pine Bluffs: 11-0 vs. Huntley
Torrington: 11-0 vs. Guernsey (not Guernsey-Sunrise)

Sheridan: 10-0 vs. Midwest
Lovell: 9-0 vs. Wyoming Indian
Evanston: 8-0 vs. Thermopolis
Glenrock: 8-0 vs. Saratoga
Riverside: 8-0 vs. Ten Sleep*
Southeast: 8-0 vs. NSI
Lovell: 8-0 vs. Wind River*
Big Horn: 7-0 vs. Wheatland
Cheyenne Central: 7-0 vs. Midwest
Cokeville: 7-0 vs. Pine Bluffs
Cokeville: 7-0 vs. Wyoming Indian*
Kelly Walsh: 7-0 vs. Cheyenne South*
Lingle: 7-0 vs. NSI*
Natrona: 7-0 vs. Cheyenne South*
Rawlins: 7-0 vs. St. Mary’s
Sheridan: 7-0 vs. Cheyenne South*
Superior: 7-0 vs. Hanna
Big Horn: 6-0 vs. Dubois
Big Horn: 6-0 vs. Rocky Mountain
Big Horn: 6-0 vs. Wind River
Big Piney: 6-0 vs. Wind River
Glenrock: 6-0 vs. Goshen Hole
Guernsey-Sunrise: 6-0 vs. Bow-Basin
Hanna: 6-0 vs. Encampment

Lander: 6-0 vs. Basin
Lander: 6-0 vs. Gebo

Laramie: 6-0 vs. Worland
Lingle: 6-0 vs. Bow-Basin
Lovell: 6-0 vs. Wright
Pine Bluffs: 6-0 vs. Bow-Basin
Sheridan: 6-0 vs. Sundance
Thermopolis: 6-0 vs. Gebo
Wheatland: 6-0 vs. Manville

–patrick

Here we go: a look at the 2018 Wyoming high school football season, nine months before it’s set to begin.

4A
1. Sheridan: The Broncs don’t return a ton of players from last year’s undefeated team, and they don’t return coach Don Julian, but they do return all-staters Parker Christensen and Garrett Coon. No other 4A team returns more than one all-state pick. And there’s a lot to be said for the momentum of three consecutive state titles.
2. Natrona: The Mustangs were one drive away from potentially upsetting Sheridan in the 4A title game a year ago. And with a trio of returning all-conference picks, the Mustangs should be in better shape than most teams to rebuild quickly.
3. Kelly Walsh: The Trojans return four all-conference selections, more than any other team in 4A this year. Two of those — seniors Kameron Mellon and Connor Shopp — are linemen, giving the Trojans a nice base from which to build.
4. Cheyenne East: Yes, the Thunderbirds lost a bunch of talent from last year’s squad. However, last year showed East has the ability to grow quickly, and the T-Birds have reached at least the state semifinals in 10 of coach Chad Goff’s 12 seasons at the helm.
5. Thunder Basin: The ‘Bolts’ first year was a learning experience for everyone involved. Those growing pains will pay off this year, and with a pair of senior linemen in Marcus Glick and Terren Swartz to lead them, Thunder Basin could be a title contender.

3A
1. Torrington: No 3A team returns as many all-state players (three) or all-conference players (six) as the Trailblazers do. Last year’s 3A runners-up will be led by running back Bryan Lemmon, who showed last year he can be the centerpiece of an offense; every other 3A team is just a little freaked out about that.
2. Cody: With three returning all-staters, the Broncs will be in good position to defend their championship. Seniors Jared Grenz and Jackson Morris and junior Charlie Beaudrie give Cody a solid, experienced base, but how less experienced players fill in around them will determine the Broncs’ success.
3. Douglas: The Bearcats get back four all-conference players this year, second only to Torrington in the 3A ranks. And three of those (juniors Cody Pinkerton and Dawson Stinson and senior Dylan Hime) are linemen. That gives the Bearcats a chance to dominate games up front.
4. Star Valley: The Braves will be a complete mystery this season. They lost all eight of their all-state picks and all nine all-conference selections. But the past few years have show that if anyone can overcome losses like that, it’s Star Valley.
5. Rawlins: Coming off their best season in more than a decade, the Outlaws will be in a critical year for building their program. With some key players coming back, 2018 will be Rawlins’ chance to show last year’s success was more than just a flare-up.

2A
1. Mountain View: The defending 2A champs won the title last year with a lot of seniors and a lot of sophomores. Of Mountain View’s five returning all-state players this year, four of them (Hunter Gross, Briggin Bluemel, Kimball Madsen and Braeden Walk) will be juniors in 2018. No team in 2A can match that experience.
2. Buffalo: The Bison are moving from 3A to 2A right about the time they’re ready for a title run. The squad returns three all-state picks in seniors Luke Glassock, Cody Milmine and Aaron Thiele, putting them in prime position for a deep playoff run immediately.
3. Glenrock: No squad in 2A has the backfield experience the Herders do with returning all-state picks Tucker Bopp and Ian Arnold, who combined for 3,495 rushing yards (yes, 3,495). The young line will need to develop, but the backfield pair should help the early growing pains.
4. Wheatland: The Bulldogs return a pair of all-state selections in seniors Colton Caves and Clayton Iacovetto and six total all-conference picks, more than anyone in 2A. And they’re buoyed by the confidence of a semifinal appearance a year ago. A coaching change always comes with difficulty, but the Bulldogs should adjust quickly.
5. Pinedale: The Wranglers this year feel like Big Piney last year — coming off a forgettable season but loaded with returners. All five of Pinedale’s all-conference choices are back, giving the Wranglers a wealth of talent from which to build.

1A 11-man
1. Big Horn: One of the state’s best young teams last year, the Rams return all six of their all-state selections from 2017. No team in 1A can match that, and it’s not often a returning runner-up can say that. With that kind of experience, Big Horn will be the prohibitive favorites from day one.
2. Pine Bluffs: The two-time defending 1A 11-man champions return four all-state selections and a ton of program momentum. With Andrew Fornstrom, Hunter Jeffres, James Merryfield and Brad Shmidl anchoring the returners, the Hornets will be big-time threats to win their third consecutive title.
3. Upton-Sundance: The Patriots get back four all-state picks from a team that was a possession away from reaching the state title game. All-staters Tanner Hofland and Jayden Caylor were US’s top two tacklers a year ago, giving an already strong defense the opportunity to be even better.
4. Cokeville: The Panthers lose a huge senior class full of talent, but it’s never a good idea to count out a Todd Dayton-coached team. The Panthers return all-state senior Bentley Johnson and all-conference pick Brayden Johnson to anchor this year’s squad.
5. Wind River: No team in the West can match what Wind River has back in terms of numbers of key players returning. With six returning all-conference selections, including five seniors, the Cougars may be in line for a breakout season.

1A six-man
1. Farson: Farson’s advantage comes in pure talent. The Pronghorns return two of six-man’s most dynamic players in Lain Mitchelson and Clancy Gines, and the pair of seniors have enough talent returning around them to be favorites for 2018.
2. Burlington: The Huskies showed last year that they’re not afraid of anyone. With all-state selection Jacob Cook leading them, the Huskies should stack up well against any team in six-man.
3. Snake River: The Rattlers return Riggen Myers, an all-state pick, and Trenton Jeanerett, an all-conference selection, to anchor the team this year. They have some talent to replace, too, but the returning core should keep the Rattlers competitive.
4. Kaycee: The three-time defending champs lost half of their 18 players to graduation, so rebuilding will be the priority. The Buckaroos still have all-stater Hunter Rouse to lead the team, but filling the holes around him will be challenging.
5. Hanna: The Miners were young last year — three sophomores made the all-conference team — and it showed early. But they came on late and showed huge potential. That experience should help Hanna challenge for the East crown.

Which teams do you think are ready for breakthroughs in 2018? Who do you think will be hauling trophies back from Laramie at the end of the season? Leave a comment and let’s talk about the 2018 football season way before it’s probably logical to do so.

–patrick

When the 2017 season started, three schools had a chance to three-peat as state football champions.

Sheridan and Kaycee played up to the challenge, each going undefeated on their way to winning their respective titles — Sheridan in Class 4A, Kaycee in Class 1A six-man.

Star Valley did not. The Braves lost their first game of 2017 in the wrong spot, the Class 3A semifinals, and failed to win their third consecutive championship.

Historically speaking, though, Kaycee and Sheridan are the anomalies in three-peat attempts, not Star Valley.

Of the 46 teams in state history who have been in a position to win three consecutive championships (not including streaks of more than three), 19 succeeded like Kaycee and Sheridan did. But 27, like Star Valley, did not. That means just more than 41 percent of teams trying for a three-peat actually succeeded.

Some of those three-peat attempts came even closer than Star Valley’s did last year.

Of those 27 teams who failed to win their third consecutive championships, four teams reached the title game only to lose (Cheyenne Central in 1990, Star Valley in 1997, Lusk in 2001 and Snake River in 2012). Eight others lost in the semifinals, including three teams — Rocky Mountain in 1999, Cokeville in 2012 and Star Valley last year — who were undefeated until reaching the semis.

Seven of those 27 teams finished with one loss.

Granted, some teams rode a wave of great talent to repeat titles only to fall off quickly once that talent graduated — six teams who were trying to win their third consecutive title actually finished with losing records in their three-peat bid seasons. The steepest of those declines was in Green River, where the Wolves won the 1949 and 1950 Class A championships but went 1-8 in 1951. The most recent team to have this happen to them was Glenrock, which won titles in 2002-03 but had a losing record in 2004.

We know what happened to Sheridan, Kaycee and Star Valley in 2017; Pine Bluffs, the two-time defending Class 1A 11-man champion, will have a chance for a three-peat in 2018.

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Meanwhile, going from a three-peat to a four-peat — like Sheridan and Kaycee are trying to do in 2018 — is even more difficult than going from a repeat to a three-peat, with just more than 35 percent of four-peat attempts ending in success.

Of the 17 teams (so far) who have gone for a four-peat, six succeeded — Cokeville in 1989 and 1996, Sheridan in 1993, Southeast in 2009, and Worland in 1927 and 1955. But of the 11 who failed, all 11 finished with records of .500 or better the next season, and three teams (Byron in 1959, Cokeville in 2004 and Douglas in 2011) saw their four-peat attempts end in state title games.

+++

When the 2018 season starts, three schools have a chance to continue the championship streaks they’ve already begun.

While past success definitely helps future success, as we can see, a winning streak comes with no guarantees of continuation.

The challenges Sheridan, Kaycee and Pine Bluffs will face go beyond the history of other programs at other times. Nevertheless, one way or another, their attempts at titles this year will be interesting to see unfold, especially under the context of past successes.

–patrick

About a year ago, I compiled a list of¬†playoff records for Wyoming football coaches. One of the notable things about the list was that every coach on the list had his fair share of losses. Even the best coach can’t win every playoff game every year… right?

Well, I went back to the data, and as it turns out, of the 356 coaches who have coached at least one Wyoming playoff game, 33 are unbeaten in the postseason. Of those 33, though, only seven have three or more victories:

Rick VanCleeve, Thermopolis 1985-92, 9-0
Lee Kremers, Kaycee 2015-16, 6-0
Jim McLeod, Cheyenne Central 1979-89, 6-0
Wilford Mower, Byron 1945-52, 6-0
Lou Maiben, Byron 1954-57 and Wheatland 1959-62, 4-0
Will Gray, Pine Bluffs 2011-2016, 3-0
McKay Young, Star Valley 2016, 3-0

Three of these coaches — Kremers, Gray and Young — led their teams to state championships last season.

Of the remaining 26 coaches, 17 are 2-0 and nine are 1-0.

This is a tough list on which to stay.¬†The longer coaches coach, the more likely they are to have at least one playoff loss. Even the best playoff coach, Cokeville’s Todd Dayton (whose 67 playoff victories are more than twice as many as any other coach in state history) has 14 playoff losses to his name, too.

Meanwhile,¬†128 of those 356 coaches are winless in the playoffs….

–patrick

When I lived in Fargo, North Dakota, from 2012-15, I got exposed to the Minnesota style of high school football playoffs.

They were unlike anything I’d ever heard of: Every team qualifies for the playoffs, and the playoffs are set in regions.

That means the first three rounds of playoffs are against the teams from your conference — usually teams you’ve played before.

Minnesota’s regions are divided pretty evenly, with most regions having six, seven or eight teams. The first two rounds of the playoffs are played in the same week — first-round games on Tuesday, second-round games on Saturday — and then the regional final, the section final, the semifinals and the championship game coming on successive Fridays (usually) after that.

That means the Minnesota high school playoffs are six rounds: three rounds of regional qualifying, three rounds of section-level and state-level finals. For example, here’s last year’s Class AA bracket.

I started to think what playoffs might look like in Wyoming under the same system. So… here’s what Wyoming’s¬†2016 playoffs would have looked like under a Minnesota-style playoff system where every team qualifies, and playoffs are in regions rather than statewide cross-bracketing:

Class 4A
First round
(10) Evanston at (7) Cheyenne East
(9) Cheyenne Central at (8) Cheyenne South
Second round
Central/South winner at (1) Gillette
(5) Natrona at (4) Kelly Walsh
(6) Laramie at (3) Rock Springs
Evanston/East winner at (2) Sheridan

Of course, there wouldn’t be any changes in 4A, except for the addition of a first-round game for the bottom four seeds.

Class 3A East
First round
(6) Buffalo at (3) Riverton
(5) Rawlins at (4) Lander
Second round
Buffalo/Riverton winner at (2) Torrington
Rawlins/Lander winner at (1) Douglas

Class 3A West
First round
(6) Jackson at (3) Green River
(5) Worland at (4) Cody
Second round
Jackson/Green River winner at (2) Star Valley
Worland/Cody winner at (1) Powell

In 3A, we definitely don’t get a Powell-Star Valley title game. That comes as a regional final rather than a state championship.

Class 2A East
First round
(7) Thermopolis at (2) Big Horn
(6) Burns at (3) Wheatland
(5) Moorcroft at (4) Newcastle
Second round
Thermopolis/Big Horn winner vs. Burns/Wheatland winner
Moorcroft/Newcastle winner vs (1) Glenrock

Class 2A West
First round
(7) Kemmerer at (2) Greybull
(6) Big Piney at (3) Pinedale
(5) Lovell at (4) Lyman
Second round
Kemmerer/Greybull winner vs. Big Piney/Pinedale winner
Lovell/Lyman winner at (1) Mountain View

In 2A last year, we ended up with an East vs. West title game. Would we see the same in a different qualifying path, though?

Class 1A 11-man East
First round
(6) Lusk at (3) Pine Bluffs
(5) Wright at (4) Southeast
Second round
Lusk/Pine Bluffs winner at (2) Tongue River
Wright/Southeast winner at (1) Upton-Sundance

Class 1A 11-man West
First round
(6) Wyoming Indian at (3) Cokeville
(5) Wind River at (4) Saratoga
Second round
Wyoming Indian/Cokeville winner at (2) Rocky Mountain
Wind River/Saratoga winner at (1) Shoshoni

Obviously, in 1A 11-man, we don’t get a Pine Bluffs-Tongue River title game. At best, that’s a second-round game. At worst, neither one of those teams even makes it to Laramie.

Class 1A six-man East
First round
(7) Rock River at (2) Guernsey-Sunrise
(6) Hulett at (3) Midwest
(5) NSI at (4) Hanna
Second round
Rock River/Guernsey-Sunrise winner vs. Hulett/Midwest winner
NSI/Hanna winner at (1) Kaycee

Class 1A six-man West
First round
(7) Ten Sleep at (2) Meeteetse
(6) St. Stephens at (3) Snake River
(5) Dubois at (4) Burlington
Second round
Ten Sleep/Meeteetse winner vs. St. Stephens/Snake River winner
Dubois/Burlington winner at (1) Farson

And, in 1A six-man, both top seeds advanced. These brackets were drawn up eliminating Riverside and Lingle.

Would a Minnesota-style playoff qualifying system work for Wyoming? Post your thoughts and let’s walk through what would work and what wouldn’t about this system being applied in the Equality State.

–patrick

More than a million yards from scrimmage have been gained in 11-man football in Wyoming since 2009.

But how many of those were through the air? And how many were on the ground?

And which teams were the best at what they do?

An analysis of statistics from 2009 to 2016 shows certain teams have varied only slightly in their attacks the past eight seasons, while others have completely changed their approaches based on the talent of the players or the philosophies of coaches.

+++

A cloud of dust (or black rubber): The best at the running game

In 2016, the trend was clear: Keep it on the ground.

Statewide, coaches and players in 2016 gave us a season that focused on the run — much more so than any season since at least 2009. In 2016, 65.06 percent of all yards gained were gained on the ground, a total higher than 2015 (61.07 percent), 2014 (60.92), 2013 (61.4), 2012 (62.71), 2011 (61.86), 2010 (61.95) and 2009 (64.55).

That was shown most clearly in the approach of the Glenrock Herders.

The most run-heavy team since 2009 was last year’s Glenrock team, which gained 99.08 percent of its yards via the rush (3,757 rushing yards to 35 passing yards.) In second was Lingle’s 2015 team, which got 95.79 percent of its yards on the ground (3,322 rushing to 146 passing).

Overall, from 2009 to 2016 combined, the most run-heavy program was Lingle, with 93.37 percent of its yards coming on the ground in that time. Glenrock was next at 89.11 percent of its yards gained on the ground, while Lusk was third at 86.38. Others above 80 percent were Cokeville (82.43), Burlington (80.8) and Kemmerer (80.32).

+++

Air it out: The best at the passing game

Oddly enough, the teams that have gained the highest percentage of their yards through the air got there by accident.

For example:¬†The most pass-heavy team since 2009 was NSI’s 2011 team, which gained just 4.46 percent of its yards on the ground (40 rushing yards to 856 passing yards). But that came in part because of two factors — (1) NSI was a horrible rushing team that year, and (2) lots of negative rushing yards came via quarterback sacks. A similar fate befell Rawlins in 2010, when the Outlaws gained 4.99 percent of their¬†yards on the ground (35 rushing yards, 667 passing yards) after taking a bunch of negative yardage on QB sacks.

Of teams that weren’t just sacked into oblivion, the lowest percentage of rushing yards came with Riverside in 2013; the Rebels got 22.58 percent of their yards on the ground (466 rushing yards to 1,598 passing yards).

In the past eight seasons combined, NSI was the most pass-happy team, with only 37.86 of its yards coming on the ground. Rawlins was second at 39.4 percent, while Riverside (44.51), Wheatland (48.17), Cheyenne Central (48.74) and Laramie (49.89) were all more pass-heavy than run-heavy.

+++

Always the same… or always different

Some teams take the Remember the Titans approach and run just six plays.

For an example of that, look no further than Lingle, the team that varied its offensive approach the least over the past eight seasons.

The Doggers’ yardage percentages had a standard deviation of 2.48, the lowest in the state; Lingle’s percent of yardage gained on the ground, from 2009 to 2015, was 94.96, 92.86, 90.35, 95.1, 94.22, 89.45 and¬†95.79.

Of programs with at least four years of data, Upton-Sundance, Lusk and Lovell also had standard deviations below 5, meaning they had the most consistent offensive approaches.

The programs with at least four measured seasons with the highest standard deviation was Mountain View, which had a deviation of 20.23. From 2009 to 2016, Mountain View’s percent of yards gained on the ground were 86.43, 87.72, 75.45, 45.19, 51.61, 72.17, 35.89 and 46.1. Rock Springs, Rawlins and Greybull also had high standard deviations. The changes came in part because those programs saw coaching changes in those spans and offensive gameplans adjusted accordingly — Mountain View, Rawlins and Greybull toward more pass-heavy approaches and and Rock Springs¬†to a more run-heavy style.

Of programs that retained the same coach from 2009 to 2016, the one that saw the highest standard¬†deviation — or, in layman’s terms, the most ability to be flexible with the talent of the players it has — was Newcastle. Coach Matt Conzelman has had percentage of run yardage be as low as 36.43 in 2009 and as high as 87.35 in 2015.

If you want to dive into the data and explore teams’ rushing and passing yardage totals from 2009-16, click here. What sticks out to you?

Note: Six-man play was not included due to the lack of consistency in six-man statistics from 2009 to 2016. Seasons were excluded if team statistics were missing from three or more games. The following 11-man seasons were excluded due to lack of consistent statistics: Burlington 2015, 2013, 2010 and 2009; Rocky Mountain 2015; Wyoming Indian 2015, 2014 and 2010; Wind River 2010; Shoshoni 2015 and 2009; Riverside 2010; NSI 2009; Upton 2009.

–patrick

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