When I wrote my way-too-early top 5s last year, I correctly picked three of the five eventual state champions, while another was ranked second and the other fourth. So who’s got the best chance to win Wyoming state titles in 2020? Well, here’s my January guesses for November successes:
Classification: For once, some parity? We finally saw some cracks in the Big Four last year, and even though East, Sheridan, Thunder Basin and Natrona will all be in the running again, it’s no guarantee those four will be the semifinalists — or that one of those four will win it all.
1. Cheyenne East: The Thunderbirds return five all-staters, more than any other team in 4A, including 4A’s offensive player of the year in QB Graedyn Buell. I’m not sure anyone will be able to match East’s offensive firepower.
2. Cheyenne Central: A program on the move up, the Indians return four all-state picks and a 4A-high seven all-conference selections. However, most of those players are on the outside, leaving a line that will need to fill a couple holes.
3. Sheridan: The defending state champs return six all-conference selections and a ton of program momentum — the kind of stuff that winning four titles in five years can bring you.
4. Thunder Basin: The ‘Bolts graduated numerous key contributors but still return five all-conference players, including RB Jaxon Pikula, who might be one of Wyoming’s best individual playmakers in 2020.
5. Natrona: The Mustangs dipped out of the playoffs earlier than they would have liked last year but still return QB Harrison Taubert, whose experience under center will be a steadying force for NC.
Dark horse: Rock Springs. The Tigers under coach Mark Lenhardt proved they can play with anyone. Now they just need a couple victories against top-tier programs to build their confidence.
Classification: The West is still the stronger conference, and it’s likely the state champ will come from there. But the East will challenge more consistently and, with several West teams needing to replace key contributors, 2020 could be more unpredictable.
1. Star Valley: As the Braves shoot for their fifth 3A title in six years, it starts up front with two returning all-state linemen, Gabe Nield and Lucas Chappel. More spots than usual need filling, but Star Valley has shown it knows how to reload.
2. Cody: The Broncs, too, have holes to fill, but they return a pair of all-staters in Nic Talich and Keaton Stone and should be a tough team to beat in the West.
3. Jackson: The Broncs will shade young, as both returning all-staters (Sadler Smith and Colter Dawson) are juniors. But Jackson’s program continues to develop and has turned from nice surprise to perennial contender.
4. Riverton: With six returning all-conference players, more than any other 3A program, the talent is there to do big things. Even with a coaching change upcoming, the Wolverines could start the season as the favorites in the East.
5. Lander: The Tigers had a nice breakthrough in 2019 and have four returning all-conference players and all-state linebacker Jack Sweeney on which to keep the momentum rolling.
Dark horse: Powell. Even with only one returning all-conference or all-state player on the roster (lineman Geordan Weimer), the Panthers did play in the title game last year, and that’ll help the program momentum grow.
Classification: Wyoming’s biggest classification (16 teams) will be instantly competitive thanks to the newbies in the ranks. As senior-heavy teams had the most success in last year’s playoffs, anything is possible.
1. Big Horn: The Rams should have no problems with the shift from 1A to 2A. With two consecutive state titles behind them and six returning all-state players — more than any other team in the state regardless of classification — the Rams will be one of the teams to beat to start 2020.
2. Mountain View: The Buffalos’ dominance from 2019 should carry over to 2020 thanks to returning all-state picks Hunter Meeks and Ashton Schofield, but the squad has a bunch of holes to fill due to graduation.
3. Upton-Sundance: The Patriots get back three all-state players from last year’s 1A-11 semifinal team and should handle the shift to 2A easily.
4. Big Piney: Don’t overlook the Punchers. They return five all-conference players, most in the West Conference, and QB Kaden Raza was an all-state pick last year.
5. Thermopolis: The Bobcats keep steadily improving and should be solid again in 2020 as all-staters Logan Cole and Remington Ferree lead a squad that will be young but will have potential.
Dark horse: Pick ’em. Class 2A should be extremely competitive this year, as Wheatland, Cokeville, Lovell, Lyman and Pinedale all return at least three all-conference players. Any one of those teams could be a surprise championship contender, as could Torrington as it moves down from 3A.
Class 1A nine-man
Classification: As three of the four semifinalists from 1A 11-man last year make the move to 2A, the new 1A nine-man is wide, wide, wide open. Even so, the classification will be competitive and even at the top.
1. Southeast: From 0-8 in 2018 to potential championship contender in 2020, Southeast could be one of the strongest teams in the new nine-man division thanks to returning all-staters Harrison Hall and Ryan Clapper and three other returning all-conference choices.
2. Rocky Mountain: Rocky has been building to this 2020 season for a long time. The Grizzlies return all six of their all-conference selections, and Tyler Banks and Trace Moss were both all-state picks.
3. Lusk: The Tigers, too, return a pair of all-staters with Drake Lamp and Dylan Molzahn and have four total all-conference players coming back — behind only to Rocky Mountain and Southeast.
4. Lingle: With — what a coincidence — two returning all-staters from six-man in Cordell Forkner and Cooper Hill, the Doggers should transition to nine-man smoothly and be immediate contenders.
5. Shoshoni: Tryston Truempler was an all-state choice last year, and with three all-conference players back, the Wranglers should be in the thick of the race in the West.
Dark horse: Riverside. The Rebels were extremely young the past couple seasons but should be ready to transition to nine-man with an experienced senior class ready to keep the program competitive.
Class 1A six-man
Classification: We could see a bit more parity in 2020 — at least in conference play. The West will once again be the stronger conference, and there’s a chance no one will emerge from that rigmarole unscathed.
1. Farson: The 2018 six-man champs could be back again in 2020 thanks to three returning all-conference players, tied for the most in six-man, and all-stater Parker Clawson leading the way.
2. Snake River: Last year’s champs lost a ton to graduation, with junior Zander Risner the only returning all-state or all-conference selection. But last year’s backups saw plenty of time on the field and should be prepared for varsity speed in 2020.
3. Hanna: The Miners return two all-state selections, more than any other team in six-man, in senior Devon Grosstick and junior Jase Smith. Plus, they’ve got the confidence that comes from playing in War Memorial.
4. Encampment: Last year’s Tiger team went 5-2 playing a patchwork schedule but proved their mettle by beating the varsities from Meeteetse and Dubois. In their first full year at the varsity level, they should be ready to compete immediately.
5. Burlington: The Huskies return three all-conference players and will have enough playmakers on offense to keep opposing defenses off-balance.
Dark horse: Kaycee. The Buckaroos return a pair of all-conference selections in Dylan Fauber and Rhys Stafford and should compete with Hanna for the top spot in the East.
Who’s being overlooked here? Leave a comment and let’s start talking 2020, because it’s never too soon to talk football.