Four questions to answer
Will the new six-man teams be competitive in their first year? At least one will be in the title hunt right away, but with four new teams entering six-man this year — Wyoming Indian, Normative Services and Saratoga moving down from 11-man and St. Stephens coming up from the junior-varsity level — anything is possible. Saratoga, an 11-man playoff qualifier just two years ago, has the best chance of being immediately competitive. Meanwhile, NSI and Wyoming Indian are a combined 5-57 the past four years and can only benefit from the switch.
Even so, is Dubois still the favorite? Yep. The Rams won their first state football championship last year and even though they lost five all-staters, main offensive weapon Sterling Baker and fellow all-state pick Austin Tharp will return to keep the Rams in the upper echelon of six-man.
Whose turn is it for a breakthrough year? Midwest. The Oilers have been gearing for 2013 for a while now, and with both of the squad’s all-state players (Cam Ray and Tucker Even) back from last year, can you blame them? Midwest is the early favorite in a restructured East Conference and is a legitimate threat to make it back to a state championship game for the first time since winning the nine-man title in 1991.
How have you gotten this far without mentioning Snake River? Good question. The Rattlers have been participants in the past three state title games, winning it all in 2010 and 2011. But the perennial pacesetters in six-man lost 10 seniors and all their starters to graduation and now face a conference schedule that includes state champ Dubois, up-and-comer Meeteetse and 11-man newcomer Wyoming Indian. The Rattlers will likely still be one of six-man’s better teams, but unlike the last few years, the Rattlers will have to earn that designation rather than have it given to them.
Four players to watch
Sterling Baker, Dubois. The North Conference’s offensive player of the year last year, Baker ran for 1,933 yards and 34 touchdowns in leading the Rams to the state championship. He also threw most of the Rams’ passes, throwing for 569 yards and 12 scores, and was second on the team in defensive points. He’ll again be the catalyst for the Rams if they hope to make it back to Laramie to defend their title.
Cam Ray, Midwest. One of two all-state choices back for the Oilers this fall, Ray led the Oilers in most major statistical categories, piling up 1,983 yards of all-purpose offense, scoring 114 points and notching more than 20 defensive points per game. The diminutive quarterback will be a big piece of Midwest’s success in 2013.
Seth Bennett, Meeteetse. Bennett missed the bulk of his sophomore season due to injury, but came back with a vengeance as a junior. He led Class 1A six-man in rushing yards (1,951), rushing touchdowns (39), scoring (261 total points) and all-purpose offense (3,485 total yards), and was fifth in 1A in defensive points. And he’s back.
Story Penning, Hulett. One of the most athletic football players in the state, Penning is the charge that makes the Red Devils’ offense go. An all-state choice last year, Penning ran for 1,420 yards — 12.5 yards per attempt — and 17 touchdowns; more importantly, he was second in the state with 27 defensive points per game.
Four key games
Saratoga at Midwest, Sept. 20. Perhaps the most intriguing game on the six-man calendar, this game will answer numerous questions: Is this really Midwest’s breakthrough year? How will Saratoga match up in six-man conference play? And can either team mount a serious challenge to the West Conference’s top teams in the playoffs?
Hulett at Kaycee, Sept. 28. No one can overlook the Red Devils this fall. Poised for a breakthrough year in six-man, Hulett will need this victory over the perennial contenders from Kaycee to establish itself as a serious contender for the state title.
Dubois at Snake River, Oct. 19. Snake River beat Dubois for the 2011 six-man title; Dubois beat Snake River for the 2012 six-man title. This one is big.
Dubois at Wyoming Indian, Oct. 25. Every game the Chiefs play this fall will be interesting, as the school with just one playoff berth in program history to its credit tries to reverse its fortunes in what may be its only playoff-eligible year of six-man. The regular-season finale could be the ramp-up to a memorable playoff run, or it could be the end of a busted experiment. For long-suffering Chiefs football fans, we can hope for the former.
Predicted order of finish
East: Midwest, Guernsey, Saratoga, Hulett, Kaycee, Hanna, NSI. West: Dubois, Meeteetse, Snake River, Wyoming Indian, Farson, St. Stephens, Ten Sleep.
Way-too-early title-game score prediction
I can’t pick the Oilers without being accused of being a homer. So I’ll vote my head and not my heart. Dubois 60, Midwest 56.
Normative Services enters 2013 with an unfortunate streak in tow — the Wolves haven’t beaten a varsity opponent on the road in 21 consecutive tries. The question: Who was the last varsity team to lose to NSI away from Sheridan?
Classification’s 2013 theme song
So who’s your pick to win it all in six-man this year? The changes, plus the talent turnover, will make this one of the most intriguing classifications this season. Post some thoughts below and let’s start discussing the season!
Next Thursday: Class 1A 11-man.