Wyoming has never had four teams repeat as state champions in a single season, much less five.
The way 2022 is shaping up, though, it’s a distinct possibility that several of last year’s champs could end up as this year’s champs, too.
Most of the 2021 champions return loads of all-state choices, making them the early favorites in their respective classifications. Those numbers don’t always hold until the end of the following season — transfers, injuries and who knows what else will happen between now and November. But for now, here are the way-too-early top fives in each classification for 2022:
1. Natrona: A strong group of seniors-to-be has been waiting for this year, and a 4A-high five first-team all-conference returners will help the Mustangs cash in on their potential.
2. Cheyenne East: Like Natrona, East also has five first-team all-conference players coming back in 2022, and a 4A high three all-state players returning will put the T-Birds in the mix immediately.
3. Sheridan: Every 4A discussion has to include the defending champs, who return someone no one else has in Gatorade POY/4A offensive player of the year RB Colson Coon.
4. Thunder Basin: The ‘Bolts get back a pair of first-team all-conference picks and should be competitive thanks to their always solid depth.
5. Cheyenne Central: The Indians had an off year in 2022 but should be bolstered by the return of four first-team all-conference selections.
Wild card: Rock Springs. The Tigers’ run to the 4A title game last year was a blast to watch. But can they do it again after graduating 11 first-team all-conference players and seven all-staters?
1. Cody: Cody has six returning all-state players. The rest of Class 3A has four combined. That about sums it up… and it makes the Broncs the clear 3A favorites.
2. Douglas: The Bearcats lose a lot but get back four all-conference players, including their QB Jackson Hughes and a pair of key linebackers in Karson Ewing and Luke Skeen.
3. Star Valley: Outside of Cody, Star Valley is the only team in the 3A West to return any all-conference selections. That experience gives the Braves the early edge in chasing down Cody.
4. Buffalo: The Bison get back five all-conference players, most in the East, and WR Blake Bell is the only returning all-state receiver in 3A from 2021.
5. Lander: The Tigers return four all-conference selections and have experience returning in basically every area.
Wild cards: Jackson and Powell. Both of these programs have the ability to reload. That ability will be put to the test in a season where they combine for zero all-conference returners from 15 combined selections.
1. Lyman: Much like Cody, Lyman has a big advantage in all-state returners. The two-time defending champion Eagles have three, while the rest of 2A has four combined.
2. Torrington: The Trailblazers return three all-conference players from a conference championship team — a good place to start.
3. Wheatland: The Bulldogs should be tough again with their three all-conference picks also coming back, but most of the big offensive weapons have graduated.
4. Cokeville: The Panthers look like one of the strongest teams in the West to challenge Lyman, with four returning all-conference players. But the transition to a new coach will be an adjustment.
5. Lovell: The 2021 runners-up lose a lot but return the Nichols twins to build around on both offense and defense.
Wild cards: Newcastle and Big Horn. Both the Dogies and Rams return three all-conference players, so big things could come from either team if everything lines up.
Class 1A nine-man
1. Shoshoni: The defending champs return seven of their nine all-state players, experience that will be necessary in an absolutely stacked nine-man field in 2022.
2. Pine Bluffs: The Hornets return the bulk of their contributors and four all-state players, so they will be ready for any challenge that comes their way.
3. Rocky Mountain: The Grizzlies were runners-up last year and have five all-state players coming back — normally the recipe for a title run. But (see above) there’s a lot of competition for that.
4. Wind River: Last year’s Cinderellas return four of their five all-staters and are out to prove last year was no fluke. (Have we mentioned nine-man is gonna be crazy?)
5. Lusk: The Tigers are on the outside looking in right now, but they could be a surprise contender if their younger talent grows around the three all-conference returners.
Wild card: Lingle. The only team in nine-man to return every single one of its all-conference players, Lingle with its four key guys back should be a significantly improved team.
Class 1A six-man
1. Snake River: The defending six-man champs return four all-state players, so they’re set up well for another deep playoff run and a shot at back-to-back titles.
2. Encampment: Last year’s runners-up get back a pair of all-staters in Quade Jordan and Ryan Miller and should contend in a deep South Conference.
3. Dubois: The Rams return two all-state choices (Wyatt Trembly and Ryan Wells) and have the experience to hold up in close games.
4. Hulett: Last year’s East champs return a couple of all-conference players and benefit from the confidence built by a dominating run through that conference last year.
5. Burlington: The Huskies don’t have a ton of decorated players back but should improve on last year’s mark with Seth Wardell leading the way.
Wild card: Midwest. No team in the rejuvenated North Conference returns as many all-conference players as Midwest does with its three, but none of them will be seniors in 2022.
Who do you have pegged as the teams to beat in 2022? Leave a comment and let’s get into this discussion way earlier than anyone ever should realistically.