Everything — except history — will be on Thunder Basin’s side when the ‘Bolts face Gillette on Friday.

The game will be the first between the new Gillette rivals, the beginning of a rivalry that will likely live for decades and develop its own rich character and flavor.

The short-term football history between the intra-city foes is pretty simple: When the returning seniors and juniors got to choose their school, most of them chose Thunder Basin. Because of that mass migration south, Thunder Basin has a better-than-average chance of ending a streak of bad luck for first-year programs playing intra-city rivals for the first time.

The ‘Bolts are a respectable 2-2; losses to Cheyenne East and Sheridan the past two weeks have slowed their momentum a bit, but they’re still one of the better Class 4A teams in Wyoming.

The Camels, meanwhile, are 0-4, outscored 251-19 while playing with what mostly amounts to a junior-varsity team.

Yes, Thunder Basin will probably win the first “Coal Bowl.” However, while the short-term history might be on Thunder Basin’s side, long-term history is on Gillette’s side: Schools playing an intra-city foe in their first season have had historically bad luck, going 0-5 all-time.

Those losses include:

In 1960, Cheyenne East lost its first game to Cheyenne Central 13-7. (East beat Central 7-6 the next season.)

In 1965, Kelly Walsh lost its first game to Natrona 12-7. (Kelly Walsh first beat Natrona 8-7 in 1969.)

In 2011, Cheyenne South lost its first game to Cheyenne Central 63-0 and its first game to Cheyenne East 49-6. (South first beat Central 31-28 in 2014 and first beat East 31-28 last season.)

And, in 1908, University Prep lost its first game to Laramie 6-5. (Prep never beat Laramie, going 0-10-1 all-time.)

Thunder Basin will probably break this 109-year-old trend. After all, who needs history when you’re barely a month old?

If somehow Gillette pulls this one off, though, we can chalk it up to more than a century of history stacked against the ‘Bolts.

+++

A few other games that have me rubbernecking to check them out:

I didn’t anticipate that the Week 4 game between Rawlins and Buffalo would match up two undefeated teams. But here we are. And the winner might secure home field in the playoffs by late October in what’s turning into a weekly gauntlet in the 3A East. …

Last year’s 2A runner-up, Greybull, is off to a somewhat surprising 1-2 start. That makes Friday’s game against Pinedale — which started 2-0 in conference play — all of a sudden a make-or-break game for the Buffaloes. …

Tongue River travels south to play Pine Bluffs in a rematch of last year’s 1A 11-man title game. That feels like a lifetime ago. Nevertheless, in a competitive 1A 11-man East where only one team has a losing record right now, this is a big one. …

East-Natrona ought to be a good one. Even though East is undefeated, Natrona is still the favorite. I’m sure that will get East fired up. …

I’m curious to see how Cody stacks up on the road against Green River. The Wolves should win, but the Broncs have shown some pluck this season and I think they’ll be tougher than people might anticipate. …

Shoshoni’s been outscored 135-0 this season; Wind River’s been outscored 132-20. Someone will get off the schneid when they play each other; the winner’s likely headed for the playoffs. …

The only interclass game this week (Mountain View at Jackson) is actually really intriguing. Curious to see how the Buffalos do punching above their class against the winless Broncs. …

+++

Picks. Bold for winners. Obviously.

Thursday
Interclass
Cheyenne Central JV at Southeast
Friday
Class 4A
Cheyenne East at Natrona
Kelly Walsh at Sheridan
Laramie at Cheyenne Central
Rock Springs at Cheyenne South
Thunder Basin at Gillette
Class 3A
Cody at Green River
Evanston at Powell
Lander at Torrington
Rawlins at Buffalo
Riverton at Douglas
Worland at Star Valley
Class 2A
Big Piney at Kemmerer
Burns at Moorcroft
Greybull at Pinedale
Lyman at Lovell
Newcastle at Glenrock
Thermopolis at Wheatland
Class 1A 11-man
Big Horn at Lusk
Cokeville at Rocky Mountain
Tongue River at Pine Bluffs
Wind River at Shoshoni
Wright at Upton-Sundance
Wyoming Indian at Saratoga
Class 1A six-man
Burlington at St. Stephens
Dubois at Snake River
Hulett at Kaycee
Meeteetse at Riverside
Midwest at Lingle
NSI at Guernsey-Sunrise
Interclass
Mountain View at Jackson
Saturday
Class 1A six-man
Farson at Ten Sleep
Interclass
Cheyenne South JV at Hanna (six-man)

For a full schedule including kickoff times, check out the 2017 schedule and results page.

I pick every game every week. And I tally how well I do. But you knew that, right?

Last week: 27-5 (84 percent). This season: 96-18 (84 percent).

+++

On Rock River: As reported a couple weeks ago, Rock River has decided to forgo its varsity season. Longhorns coach Doug Spriggs said via email to wyoming-football.com this week the Longhorns will play a junior varsity schedule this year. The Longhorns have only six healthy players on their roster right now, Spriggs said; four of those hadn’t played varsity football prior to this season.

“It was not in the best interests of our student athletes or programs future to take on the juggernaut of six-man varsity football given these circumstances,” Spriggs wrote.

Spriggs said Rock River will run its junior high program this season and intends to field a high school varsity team in 2018.

+++

After this week, we’ll be halfway through the season. Who’s been your surprise team so far? Who’s been doing exactly what you expected? Leave a comment and let’s talk!

–patrick

When the WHSAA Board of Directors meets for the first of its four quarterly meetings on Sept. 26-27 in Casper, one of the big topics will be — get this — reclassification.

The WHSAA reclassifies schools every two years. Two big changes are part of this year’s reclassification cycle — the changes the WHSAA approved last spring, and Thunder Basin now officially being a part of reclassification rather than an add-on.

In case you forgot, here’s how the structures are changing:

  • Basketball, volleyball and track are changing from a 12-16-20 format to a 16-16-16 format. Four more teams in 4A, four fewer teams in 2A. That’ll mean a lot of moving around for those sports.
  • Soccer is changing from a 12-team 4A to a 14-team 4A, with everyone else in 3A.
  • Wrestling, cross country, golf and swimming don’t have any structure changes; neither do one-class sports indoor track, alpine skiing, Nordic skiing and tennis. Wrestling, cross country, golf and swimming, though, will see some schools change classes to accommodate Thunder Basin.

Based on the “average daily membership” enrollments provided by the WHSAA, here are the changes I anticipate for the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years:

For football: No changes. (The only possible change prompted strictly by enrollment comes at the 3A/2A level. Buffalo opted up to 3A this season and will have the option to do so again for the next two years as they’ll still be classified in 2A by enrollment. Riverside will continue to be ineligible for the six-man playoffs at its current enrollment level.)

For basketball, volleyball and track: Star Valley, Riverton and Cody from 3A to 4A; Burns, Lovell and Big Piney from 2A to 3A; Upton from 2A to 1A.

For soccer: Star Valley from 3A to 4A.

For wrestling, cross country and golf: Jackson from 4A to 3A; Thermopolis from 3A to 2A.

For swimming: Jackson from 4A to 3A.

Conferences and regions for each sport have yet to be established. Conferences are established by participating schools, but the WHSAA sets regions for regional tournament qualifying.

Because this is gonna get SUPER confusing, here’s a cheat sheet to estimate which schools will be classified where for each sport. Check it out. It’s handy.

+++

The ADM numbers the WHSAA provided to the schools, rounded to the nearest whole number, are as follows:

1. Kelly Walsh, 1,958
2. Natrona, 1,902
3. Rock Springs, 1,597
4. Cheyenne East, 1,522
5. Cheyenne South, 1,409
6. Cheyenne Central, 1,346
7. Thunder Basin, 1,234
8. Gillette, 1,175
9. Laramie, 1,142
10. Sheridan, 998
11. Evanston, 828
12. Green River, 817
13. Jackson, 813
14. Star Valley, 783
15. Riverton, 711
16. Cody, 615
17. Powell, 561
18. Lander, 546
19. Douglas, 505
20. Rawlins, 474
21. Worland, 428
22. Torrington, 358
23. Buffalo, 339
24. Pinedale, 321
25. Wheatland, 280
26. Mountain View, 263
27. Newcastle, 257
28. Lyman, 231
29. Burns, 224
30. Thermopolis, 216
31. Lovell, 212
32. Big Piney, 188
33. Glenrock, 184
34. Kemmerer, 177
35. Moorcroft, 170
36. Greybull, 154
37. Tongue River, 151
38. Big Horn, 140
39. Wyoming Indian, 136
40. Rocky Mountain, 132
41. Wright, 127
42. Wind River, 125
43. Sundance, 120
44. Shoshoni, 114
45. Pine Bluffs, 111
46. Southeast, 94
47. Riverside, 93
48. Lusk, 92
49. Saratoga, 84
50. Cokeville, 80
51. Lingle, 73
52. Upton, 70
53. Burlington, 69
54. Guernsey-Sunrise, 67
55. Normative Services, 65
56. St. Stephens, 65
57. Farson, 62
58. Hanna, 62
59. Kaycee, 54
60. Hulett, 51
61. Fort Washakie, 49
62. Encampment, 47
63. Snake River, 46
64. Dubois, 43
65. Meeteetse, 43
66. Midwest, 39
67. Arvada-Clearmont, 35
68. Arapaho Charter, 35
69. Ten Sleep, 35
70. Rock River, 28
71. Glendo, 20
72. Chugwater, 12

–patrick

History won’t matter much on Friday night in Big Horn.

About half the time, when a defending state champion plays a defending state champion, the matchups prove to be a year late — at least one of the two teams had its better team in its championship year. The other half of the time, though, the matchup gives us a memorable meeting between two squads eager to prove their success spans multiple seasons.

That is the history facing Week 3 combatants Pine Bluffs at Big Horn, each team a defending champion — Big Horn in 2A last year, Pine Bluffs in 1A 11-man.

Friday’s game will be the 23rd time in state history two defending Wyoming state champions face off against each other. In about half of the 22 previous defending champion showdowns, at least one of the teams went on to win another state championship.

The most memorable state champ vs. state champ series of games came right around the turn of the century, with three games involving the same two programs. In 2000, Lusk and Southeast played each other as defending 2A and 1A champs, respectively. Lusk won easily, but both teams went on to win their respective state championships. A year later, they played twice — this time as 2A rivals — and Southeast won both rematches, including the one in the state championship game.

Similarly, in both 1953 and 1954, defending Class AA champ Sheridan played defending Class A champ Worland. In 1953, Sheridan won 18-0, and both teams went on to win titles; in 1954, the Warriors beat the Broncs 14-12, later winning yet yet another Class A championship.

Southeast also played Guernsey-Sunrise twice in 2007 when both were defending champions; the second time they met was in the 1A championship game.

Oddly enough, Kemmerer played TWO defending state champions in 2008. Kemmerer, the defending 3A champ, played defending 4A champ Jackson and defending 2A champ Riverside that season. Kemmerer won both.

Nineteen of the 22 champ vs. champ games were regular-season games; the aforementioned 2A title game in 2001 and 1A title game in 2007, as well as a 1991 Class 1A 11-man semifinal between defending 1A-11 champ Cokeville and defending 1A nine-man champ Lingle, were the only times two defending state champions faced each other in the postseason.

The defending champ vs. defending champ games, with the year of the game, the winner and the score:

Worland/Sheridan 1953, Sheridan 18-0 (both went on to win state titles)
Worland/Sheridan 1954, Worland 14-12 (Worland went on to win state title)
Powell/Sheridan 1958, Sheridan 21-14 (Sheridan went on to share state title)
Cody/Laramie 1959, Cody 12-6
Cody/Green River 1977, Cody 41-20
Mountain View/Cokeville 1985, Mountain View 28-0
Big Piney/Cokeville 1989, Cokeville 36-14 (Cokeville went on to win state title)
Cokeville/Lingle 1991, Cokeville 31-6
Sheridan/Cody 1992, Sheridan 28-18 (Sheridan went on to win state title)
Big Piney/Cokeville 1999, Big Piney 22-6
Southeast/Lusk 2000, Lusk 40-0 (both went on to win state titles)
Southeast/Lusk 2001, Southeast 21-7 and Southeast 14-7 (second meeting in state title game)
Big Piney/Cokeville 2002, Cokeville 25-12 (Cokeville went on to win state title)
Glenrock/Big Horn 2004, Big Horn 49-6 (Big Horn went on to win state title)
Sundance/Upton 2006, Sundance 17-0
Southeast/Guernsey-Sunrise 2007, Southeast 30-12 and Southeast 28-12 (second meeting in state title game)
Jackson/Kemmerer 2008, Kemmerer 39-0
Kemmerer/Riverside 2008, Kemmerer 51-6
Glenrock/Burns 2009, Glenrock 49-13
Mountain View/Cokeville 2015, Mountain View 18-15

We’ll have to wait until the postseason to figure out if Friday’s Pine Bluffs-Big Horn showdown is a classic in the making or a game that came a year too late.

History aside, we already know the game is important for 2017: Both Big Horn (which moved to 1A 11-man from 2A after last season) and Pine Bluffs enter Friday’s game at 2-0. This meeting is key for playoff seeding and the East Conference championship race.

Even in this moment, though, we can appreciate the relative rarity of aligning circumstance that provides this game’s backdrop, no matter what history’s judgment ultimately is.

+++

Every game in Week 3 has my attention, but some games have my attention more than others:

The best game of a lackluster 4A slate might be Rock Springs visiting Kelly Walsh. Both teams are 2-1 and already jockeying for playoff seeding. …

It’ll be interesting to see if the first meeting between Sheridan and Thunder Basin carries with it the same intensity of an Energy Bowl game between Sheridan and Gillette. Do we have a budding new rivalry, or will the change actually take some of the life out of the Sheridan-Gillette rivalry? …

It’s nice to see the Star Valley-Evanston rivalry back on the schedule. This game will be their 90th meeting, and that much history counts for a lot. …

I think Glenrock has what it takes to knock off Riverton. The Herders, No. 1 in 2A, beat 3A foe Lander with relative ease last week. Riverton’s a step up, and the game is in Fremont County, and it’ll be close, but I like what the Herders are putting together this season. …

The second-best interclass game might be between aforementioned Lander playing 2A Thermopolis. The Bobcats have been much improved, surprising everyone but themselves in the process. They might give the 3A Tigers a fight at LeRoy Hayes Field. …

Don’t be surprised to see Big Piney give Greybull a run for its money. The Punchers almost beat Mountain View last week and should be a confident bunch heading north this week. …

Upton-Sundance is the favorite against Lusk, but the Tigers should feel good about their 2-0 start. They’ve been impressive, especially on defense. We’ll see if they can slow down a Patriot attack that’s rolling early this season, though. …

Also, this will be the first game for the U-S Patriots in Sundance since 2014, as the squad christens the new field (with lights!) in that community. A new elementary school went on top of the old football field, so it only makes sense a new football field would go on top of the old elementary school. …

The showdown between Guernsey-Sunrise and Midwest could be for a home playoff game this year. I’m going with the Vikings, but it’s a really tentative pick, especially with the Oilers at home. …

The hardest game of the week to pick was Hanna-Hulett. I have no idea what to expect. …

Oh yeah. Rawlins-Wind River. How did this game get scheduled again? …

Here are this week’s picks, with the team I think will win in bold and the team I’m ready to have surprise me in regular type:

Thursday
Interclass
Wyoming Indian at Riverton JV
Friday
Class 4A
Cheyenne East at Cheyenne South
Gillette at Cheyenne Central
Natrona at Laramie
Rock Springs at Kelly Walsh
Sheridan at Thunder Basin
Class 3A
Buffalo at Powell
Green River at Worland
Jackson at Cody
Star Valley at Evanston
Class 2A
Big Piney at Greybull
Lovell at Mountain View
Pinedale at Kemmerer
Class 1A 11-man
Lusk at Upton-Sundance
Pine Bluffs at Big Horn
Shoshoni at Tongue River
Southeast at Wright
Class 1A six-man
Guernsey-Sunrise at Midwest
Lingle at NSI
Riverside at Dubois
St. Stephens at Farson
Ten Sleep at Burlington
Interclass
Douglas at Wheatland
Glenrock at Riverton
Lyman at Cokeville
Rawlins at Wind River
Saratoga at Burns
Thermopolis at Lander
Torrington at Newcastle
Saturday
Class 1A six-man
Hanna at Hulett
Snake River at Meeteetse
Interclass
Gillette JV at Rocky Mountain
Moorcroft at Rapid City Central (S.D.) Sophs
Open: Kaycee.

For a full schedule including kickoff times, check out the 2017 schedule and results page.

I pick every game every week. And I tally how well I do. But you knew that, right?

Last week: 30-3 (91 percent). This season: 69-13 (84 percent).

So who do YOU have as a potential sleeper for Week 3? What game do you think will be the best of the bunch? Leave a comment below and let’s talk September football.

–patrick

Two of the most highly anticipated games of 2017 will be played on Friday.

One matches up the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in Class 4A, the other matches up the No. 1 and No. 3 teams in Class 3A.

Can’t get much better than that, can it?

Let’s start in 4A, where Natrona and Sheridan renew their longstanding rivalry with one of their most highly anticipated regular-season games in their long history. In addition to being the top two ranked teams at this point in the season, they’re also reprising their state title game from a year ago when Sheridan beat Natrona 56-28 in Laramie.

Sheridan’s presence in the title game wasn’t a surprise. The Broncs were the defending champs and had been the class of 4A all season in 2016.

Natrona’s was. The Mustangs lost by shutout in their first two games of 2016 — the first time the program had ever been shut out in consecutive games to start a season — but a junior-laden team improved significantly throughout the season and upset Gillette to make it to the title game.

Friday’s game could be a classic. Natrona lost little to graduation and is ready to unseat Sheridan as 4A’s top team. Sheridan lost more to graduation than Natrona did but remains 4A’s two-time defending champ and plenty loaded itself.

In the first four games of the season, Sheridan and Natrona are a combined 4-0, outscoring their foes by a combined 226-13. Yeah, 226-13.

For both teams, this is their first, and maybe biggest, test of 2017.

+++

Meanwhile, a similar scenario is unfolding in Class 3A, where Torrington makes the 1,000-mile round-trip across the state to Afton to play top-ranked Star Valley.

This will be the first time Star Valley and Torrington have played each other in the regular season. And, boy, did they pick the right year to do so.

The Braves, like Sheridan, are a two-time defending champion. Torrington, however, has been a perennial contender the past few years but has yet to survive the gauntlet of the 3A playoffs to reach a title game.

In 2014, the Trailblazers lost to conference foe Douglas in the semifinals. In 2015, the Braves beat the Trailblazers in Torrington in the semifinals to end their season. And in 2016, Green River came to Torrington and beat the Blazers at home in the quarterfinals.

But Torrington was junior-heavy last year, and only one of the Trailblazers’ seven all-state players graduated. In short, Torrington is loaded this year, and they’re ranked third in 3A (and second in my ballot).

The Trailblazers wasted no time in smoking rival Wheatland 56-6 in Week 1. Star Valley, meanwhile, has beaten a pair of stubborn out-of-state foes in diverse ways: 55-42 against Spring Creek, Nevada, and 28-14 against Preston, Idaho.

Both teams want to prove they’re the team to beat in 3A. And they both want a mental edge against the other, just in case they meet again as expected in Laramie.

Any other week, it would be the biggest game in the state.

+++

Even though there are 33 games on the schedule this week, a few of them are more intriguing than the others. These are those:

I picked both Buffalo and Worland to lose last week. They both won. Now they’re playing each other. Someone’s going to be 2-0, and whichever team wins on Friday will have established a ton of momentum. …

Thunder Basin-East could be interesting if for no other reason than East has looked much better than I anticipated while Thunder Basin has been a bit slow to warm. Even so, both teams are 2-0, and trying to keep pace with Sheridan and Natrona will be a season-long process. …

Cody-Evanston could be for a playoff spot by the time the 3A West cools down. …

Big Piney looked sharp in beating Wind River last week. Against Mountain View, we’ll see if the Punchers are for real. …

The undercard game of the week could be Newcastle playing in Upton against Upton-Sundance. Or it might be Pinedale (which looked WAY better than I expected in beating Lyman last week) heading to Cokeville. Both games pair 2A schools playing on the road against 1A 11-man schools, and I always like it when the little guys have home-field against the big guys. …

On to this week’s picks, with the teams I anticipate winning noted in bold and the teams I anticipate doing better than I think in non-bold:

Thursday
Interclass
Natrona JV at Wind River
Friday
Class 4A
Cheyenne Central at Rock Springs
Kelly Walsh at Cheyenne South
Laramie at Gillette
Natrona at Sheridan
Thunder Basin at Cheyenne East
Class 3A
Buffalo at Worland
Cody at Evanston
Powell at Jackson
Riverton at Green River
Torrington at Star Valley
Class 2A
Greybull at Thermopolis
Kemmerer at Lyman
Mountain View at Big Piney
Class 1A 11-man
Big Horn at Southeast
Tongue River at Lusk
Wright at Saratoga
Class 1A six-man
Farson at Burlington
Dubois at Meeteetse
Lingle at Guernsey-Sunrise
NSI at Midwest
Interclass
Burns at Pine Bluffs
Lander at Glenrock
Lovell at Shoshoni
Newcastle at Upton-Sundance
Pinedale at Cokeville
Wheatland at Rawlins
Interstate
Hot Springs, S.D., at Douglas
Saturday
Class 1A six-man
Hanna at Kaycee
Riverside at Snake River
St. Stephens at Ten Sleep
Interclass
Gillette JV at Moorcroft
Wind River JV at Wyoming Indian
Open: Hulett, Rock River, Rocky Mountain. Hulett gets a forfeit victory against Rock River.

For a full schedule including kickoff times, check out the 2017 schedule and results page.

My Week 1 picks went how Week 1 picks typically go — a few more surprises than usual. Nevertheless, I did OK:

Last week: 26-7 (79 percent). This season: 39-10 (80 percent).

Who are the teams you think have a chance to pull off a Week 2 upset? Who are the favorites who are ready to avoid such an upset? Leave a comment and we’ll talk about all the fun this week presents us.

–patrick

Rock River will not play its first two games of the 2017 season.

A lack of players has the Longhorns delaying the start of their six-man season.

Rock River was scheduled to play at Meeteetse in a nonconference game in Week 1 and was scheduled to host Hulett in a 1A six-man East Conference game in Week 2.

Via email, Rock River activities director Ty Vallier confirmed the first two games will not be played, but the remaining six games are scheduled.

When interviewed for the Wyoming Sports Preview Guide in July, Rock River coach Doug Spriggs said he anticipated five players to return — two seniors, one junior and two sophomores — and an incoming freshman class consisting of four to five players to help give the team depth.

Meeteetse has scheduled a game against the Riverton sophomores for this week. Hulett’s Week 2 plans have not been announced.

–patrick