The state championship games are 10 months away. Seems like the perfect time to predict who might win those games, right?
Here’s a peek at the 2017 top fives for each classification of Wyoming high school football, way sooner than is advisable to do so:
1. Sheridan: The two-time defending 4A champions return three all-state players (seniors Blayne Baker, Kyle Custis and Sam Smart) and tons of program momentum. The Broncs will need to find a new quarterback and rebuild big chunks of their line, but the precedent is there for Sheridan to do just that.
2. Natrona: No doubt, the most improved team in 4A last year was Natrona. The Mustangs relied a lot on juniors last year, and it showed early but paid off late — and will pay off big this year, as the Mustangs’ four returning all-state players (Mason Gallegos, Dan Slack, Brett Brenton and Riley Shepperson) is best among all 4A schools.
3. Gillette: With four first-team all-conference returning players, the Camels should be in good shape to challenge again. The big question hanging over the team in the offseason is how much talent will defect to Thunder Basin, putting into question something as simple as who’s back and who’s not.
4. Laramie: The Plainsmen are easy to overlook after losing a strong senior class, but they bring back three first-team all-conference players (seniors Nate Burman and Garrett Worden and junior Jason Upton) and are in great shape to notch their first winning season in almost two decades.
5. Rock Springs: This year is the test for the Tigers: Do they have a system that works, or did the players in that system the last couple years take it beyond expectations? With just a pair of first-team all-conference players back (senior linemen Bryan Mattinson and Will Petrovich), it’s time to see if the program can sustain itself.
Dark horse: Kelly Walsh. The Trojans had a nice breakthrough season in 2016; it’s easy to forget that KW hosted a playoff game last year. That should help build some momentum for a team that brings back only a pair of first-team all-conference picks.
1. Star Valley: The Braves have some holes to fill but bring back three all-state performers (seniors Josh Dawson, Cosmo Morgan and Noah Hutchinson), tied for the most in 3A. And then there’s the momentum of back-to-back championships.
2. Torrington: Six of the Trailblazers’ seven all-conference picks from a year ago are back. Yes, really. No team is in a better position to make an immediate run at a state title than Torrington; the key will be if it can continue to grow as the season (and this summer) goes along.
3. Powell: The Panthers were young but talented last year; they’ll have back three all-state picks from a team that finished as state runners-up. Seniors Brooks Asher and Max Gallagher will help make the Panthers a tough team to stop.
4. Green River: The Wolves will return four all-conference players, led by senior Cole White, Green River’s lone returning all-state selection. Quarterback Chance Hofer and running back Candon Croft could form one of 3A’s best 1-2 backfield punches in 2017; watch out.
5. Douglas: Riverton and Buffalo are lurking, but the Bearcats develop young talent as well as any team in the state, regardless of class. With just one of the 11 all-conference picks from last year returning this year, they’ll need to do so quickly.
Dark horse: Riverton. How many 3-6 teams actually outscore their opponents during the season? Riverton did just that in 2016. And the Wolverines get back a pair of offensive threats and defensive cornerstones in seniors Brodie Roden and Jaren Draper.
1. Glenrock: Believe it or not, no team in 2A brings back more than one all-state player this year. But the Herders also have back five all-conference players — highest in 2A — from a team that was undefeated until the semis.
2. Greybull: The Buffs lost a ton of seniors from last year’s state runner-up squad but return a pair of key all-conference players in senior Riley Hill and junior Zack Keisel.
3. Mountain View: The Buffalos’ depth will be a question, as seven all-conference players are gone, but Mountain View does return all-conference picks Jason Stoddard and Colby Rees and should be a contender again.
4. Lyman: The three all-conference players the Eagles return is second only to Big Piney in the West Conference. Beaudee Bluemel may be one of 2A’s most versatile players, while linemen Wesley Eyre and Dryden Menck will provide stability.
5. Wheatland: The Bulldogs get back a pair of all-conference players, and QB Trevor Vaughn and wideout Zac Gunter will form an explosive pairing. If the line can develop, the Bulldogs might be a surprise.
Dark horse: Big Piney. The Punchers were 1-7 last year but return all four of their all-conference players (most in the West Conference) after losing only a handful of talent to graduation.
1. Big Horn: Last year’s 2A champ is the early favorite after moving down to 1A 11-man thanks to three returning all-state players. And Kade Eisele, Seth Mullinax and Kade VanDyken are all juniors — setting up the Rams for a title run not only this year but next year, too.
2. Cokeville: The Panthers are loaded. They return four of their five all-state players (Hunter Cheney, Rick Nate, Antheny Petersen and Cordell Viehweig will all be seniors) and six of seven all-conference choices. Cokeville’s stiffest challenge to a West Conference title will be injuries.
3. Pine Bluffs: Repeating as champs will be tough in a loaded 1A 11-man this year, but the Hornets are up to the challenge. They return three all-state choices with seniors Haize and Wyatt Fornstrom and junior Hunter Jeffres, and they’ll be buoyed by the confidence that comes from winning the school’s first state championship.
4. Upton-Sundance: Don’t write off the Patriots, who only return one all-state choice in Dawson Butts but have lost just twice in the past two years. There’s some rebuilding to do, but the Patriots’ pedigree for success runs deep.
5. Pick ’em: Any number of teams could fill this spot: Rocky Mountain, Saratoga, Shoshoni, Tongue River, Southeast… but all of them will rely on unproven talent to make a dent past the regular season.
Dark horse: Again, pick ’em. This will be a year of change in 1A 11-man. The four favorites are clear. Everything else looks muddy, muddy, muddy.
1. Kaycee: The defending champs ride a 20-game winning streak into 2017, and with class-best tallies in returning all-state players (four) and all-conference players (five), the Buckaroos are favorites to win it all again.
2. Farson: The Pronghorns were breakthrough challengers in the West and with three returning all-state players, they figure to challenge again. Juniors Lain Mitchelson and Clancy Gines and senior Cruz Lucero will put the Pronghorns in prime position to win the West for the second year in a row.
3. Meeteetse: The Longhorns return a trio of all-conference selections in seniors Braenn Smith and Josh Graybill and junior Kirwin Johnson. Meeteetse won’t be overlooked, but it will have work to do to catch up to Farson.
4. Snake River: The Rattlers get back one of six-man’s top players in J.D. Corson and two other returning all-conference selections in Kameron Evans and Thomas Duncan. But they’ll have to adjust to a new coach, which always takes time.
5. Guernsey-Sunrise: The most likely challenger to Kaycee in the East, the Vikings return three all-conference selections. Seniors Garrett Oneyear and Gage Koetmann and junior Dylan Rose will keep the Vikings in contention.
Dark horse: Burlington. The Huskies proved they could hang with six-man’s best last year. However, they only get back one all-conference player, and have some work to do to prove they can remain one of the West’s tougher teams to beat.
What do you think? Who’s poised for a breakthrough in 2017? Who’s falling off the radar too soon? Post a comment and let’s work through what the 2017 season may bring us!