Since the start of Wyoming high school football back in 1894, a total of 233 teams have gone undefeated — defined as playing at least four games in a season and not losing a single one of them.
But which team is the best of the bunch?
Since we can’t exactly put two teams from different eras on the same field at the same time, I think the best way to decide the answer to that question is one big bracket and a bunch of simulations.
Welcome to the Wyoming Football Ultimate Playoff: three single-elimination brackets set up to help decide which team truly was Wyoming’s best.
The three brackets are set up for each level of play — one for 11-man, one for six-man and one combined bracket for eight- and nine-man. Teams will face each other in simulation games staged on League Simulator. As the tournament progresses into later rounds, I’ll set up pre-game polls on the Wyoming-football.com Twitter account, so you can chime in with your thoughts on who you think will win the games closer to the championships.
I know you have questions. Let me try to address them before you ask them:
How did you seed the teams?
With way more time and care than I probably should have. For the 11-man bracket, I separated teams into three tiers based on the level at which they completed their undefeated season — what I called Tier 1, the big-school level (modern 4A); Tier 2, the medium-school level (modern 3A); and Tier 3, the smaller-school level (modern 2A and 1A). I subjectively ranked teams in each tier and then seeded each tier from there. That means the 64 teams in Tier 1 were seeded 1-64, then the 40 Tier 2 schools were seeded 65-104, and the remaining 75 Tier 3 schools were seeded 105-180.
Within each tier, I tried to separate the bracket so teams from the same school wouldn’t meet each other any sooner than the bracket’s quarterfinals. That means I didn’t seed the bracket 1-180 based on the rankings I would have given them; I got teams close, and then adjusted seeds to avoid same-school pairings until that quarterfinal round.
For the eight-man and six-man brackets, I didn’t have tiers — I just seeded them, also looking to avoid same-school matchups until as late as possible.
When seeding teams, I looked season records at whether the teams had any ties; any team with a tie was automatically sent to the bottom of the tier; for example, an 8-0-1 team was never going to be seeded higher than a 8-0 team from the same tier. From there, I used a combination of season scoring, an analyzation of teams’ closest victories, reputation, era, and intuition to rank them as well as I could. After seeds were in place, I started to do the math…
What effect do seeds have on the simulation?
Not a whole lot. After I was done seeding, I used a big Excel sheet to give each team’s offense and each team’s defense a single ranking from 1-9 (one being the worst, nine the best), as those are the ranking levels used for teams on League Simulator, the simulator I’m using for this project. It’s those rankings, NOT the seeds, that will have the biggest effect on the results of the simulated games.
I ran through a few dry runs on League Simulator, and I noted that the lower-ranked teams do occasionally still win — a fact I like a lot, which hopefully will make the bracket more realistic and give us a chance for a couple Cinderellas.
In determining a team’s rankings for offense and defense, I used a combination of points scored, points allowed, tier of play, and era. As I looked at the data, I noticed there were huge differences in teams that gave up, say, nine points per game in 2012 against a team that gave up the same amount of points in 1925. The 2012 team was, by all measures, a better defensive team; we can’t compare their defensive efforts head-to-head, point-to-point, without accounting for what era they played in. So I tried to “curve” scoring over each era to allow for more realistic comparisons between them. For era, I separated teams into pre-1945, 1946-1985 and 1986-present — the three eras when scoring between teams was relatively similar.
In the 11-man bracket, only two teams ended up with rankings of 9 on both offense and defense: Laramie 1964 (seeded #4 overall) and Natrona 2014 (seeded #13 overall). No teams are “perfect 18s” in either my six-man or eight/nine-man brackets.
Rankings for every team are available at the bottom of the brackets page.
I think my favorite team is seeded too low, or has rankings that I think are too low. Can I appeal the seed and/or the ranking?
Can I complain?
What if a really good team loses to a significantly lower-rated team really early in the bracket? I mean, come on, that would never happen in real life.…
Right. But I guess that’s the fun (and frustration) of a single-elimination bracket, isn’t it? If we ran this simulation 10 different times, we’d probably get 10 different champs. I hope the brackets stimulate conversation, not end it.
What inspired this?
I’ve been thinking about doing this for years. I actually drew up a preliminary bracket in 2015, but I never felt like I had the right approach until the past few weeks when I started playing around with online simulators, looking for one that would give me the closest thing to what I was looking for. That, plus a bizarre start to 2020 (a safer-at-home order from my governor, a shutdown at my employer, and some free time) made now the right time to do this. Oh, and the fact that Wyoming high school football is nearing its unofficial 100th birthday next year helps, too!
Games start Friday, April 10.
Even better, set up an office pool. We haven’t had enough of those in 2020.