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

The Wyopreps.com Coaches and Media Poll for the preseason was released today. Here was my ballot (and my preseason top fives) for each classification:

Class 4A: 1. Sheridan; 2. Kelly Walsh; 3. Natrona; 4. Cheyenne East; 5. Thunder Basin.
Class 3A: 1. Torrington; 2. Cody; 3. Star Valley; 4. Green River; 5. Douglas.
Class 2A: 1. Buffalo; 2. Mountain View; 3. Glenrock; 4. Wheatland; 5. Greybull.
Class 1A 11-man: 1. Big Horn; 2. Upton-Sundance; 3. Pine Bluffs; 4. Cokeville; 5. Wind River.
Class 1A six-man: 1. Farson; 2. Burlington; 3. Kaycee; 4. Meeteetse; 5. Snake River.

–patrick

Eleven Wyoming high school football coaches share something in common — they’re the winningest coaches at their schools.

That list could grow to 16 names by the time the 2018 season is complete.

Coaches at Newcastle, Rock River, Lyman, NSI and Kelly Walsh could move up to No. 1 on their school’s all-time coaching victories list if they get enough victories this season.

The coach closest to this milestone is Newcastle’s Matt Conzelman. He needs one victory to tie the Dogies’ current victories record-holder Erv Wentling, and two victories to break Wentling’s record of 48 victories with the program. Other coaches who could become their school’s leader in victories this season include:

Doug Spriggs, Rock River (2 to tie, 3 to break Terrance Reese’s record of 2)
Dale Anderson, Lyman (6 to tie, 7 to break Loren Huntsman’s record of 39)
Anthony Simmons, NSI (6 to tie, 7 to break Mike Gorzalka’s record of 14)
Jon Vance, Kelly Walsh (8 to tie, 9 to break Tom Staffileno’s record of 37)

The 11 coaches who are already their school’s winningest coach are Todd Dayton, Cokeville (315 wins); Steve Harshman, Natrona (190); Mark Bullington, Southeast (138); Ray Kumpula, Glenrock (127); David Trembly, Dubois (83); Larry Yeradi, Wright (80); Chad Goff, Cheyenne East (77); Andy Garland, Upton-Sundance (42 with co-op, 76 total at Upton/Upton-Sundance); Trip Applequist, Farson (35); Trent Pikula, Thunder Basin (5); and Dan Gallas, Cheyenne South (4).

–patrick

The Wind River football team will play its home games in 2018 in Ethete at Wyoming Indian High School.

County 10 reported that the Wind River football field was reseeded in the spring, and the reseeding process, as well as an incident where a fire truck drove over the newly seeded field, rendered the Cougars’ field in Pavillion unplayable for this fall.

For the full 2018 statewide schedule, including kickoff times, click here.

–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