The new look in Class 1A six-man in 2022 has little to do with the teams in the classification and a lot to do with how they’re arranged.

For the first time since 2012, six-man teams will be organized into North and South conferences. The change, prompted in part by Guernsey’s departure to nine-man and Ten Sleep’s return, will reduce travel.

It won’t reduce the talent disparity, as the three top teams entering the season (Snake River, Dubois and Encampment) will all move together from the West to the South.

And in one final quirk to the season, conference schedules are front-loaded, with many conference games being played in Weeks 2-4 and the conference season itself ending in Week 7.

In a way, the schedule forces teams to always be on top of their game. But in six-man, where undefeated champs (like Snake River last year) are the norm, not the exception, that’s not unusual.

Four questions to answer

Is anyone catching Snake River? Probably not. Last year’s undefeated state champions return almost everyone, including four all-state players. No one in 1A six-man can come close to that. The Rattlers won’t have it easy — their conference schedule will make sure of that — but to start, everyone’s chasing Snake.

So who can give the Rattlers fits? Encampment and Dubois. The Tigers and the Rams, conveniently new South Conference rivals to Snake River, are the only two teams who return more than one all-stater (each return two). Although Snake handled each of them fairly easily last year, they’ll be competitive and potentially have the athleticism and experience to pull an upset. And Encampment draws the lucky straw on the schedule, getting to play both Snake River and Dubois at home.

What about the North Conference? Not just yet. Burlington should rebound well after a one-win season last year and is the early favorite, and Meeteetse, Midwest and Hulett all look fairly even entering the season. Kaycee could be a spoiler, and Ten Sleep is back. Of the group, Burlington is the one most likely to cause some trouble in the postseason, thanks to all-state QB Seth Wardell and a plethora of athletic players who can catch and run.

What do the coaches think about the new North-South conference setup? Meh. The coaches like that it would reduce travel for most teams, and they liked having a chance to see some new opponents in conference play. Beyond that? A lot of ambivalence in a classification where travel is long and opponents common regardless of any conference separation.

Preseason class MVP

Wyatt Trembly, Dubois. Not too many sophomores lead Class 1A six-man in rushing, but that’s exactly what Trembly did last season with 1,634 rushing yards in 10 games, notching a classification-high 30 total touchdowns. And he was also the No. 2 tackler in six-man with 143 tackles while also notching 18 tackles for loss, four sacks and 17 pass deflections. In a sport that rewards all-around players, Trembly fits that description better than anyone else in the classification.

Preseason class breakout player

Hunter Reilly, Hulett. The Red Devils’ hopes for repeating 2021’s success in 2022 rest on a trio of seniors, and Reilly will be the player Hulett turns to a lot. He is Hulett’s top returning receiver, as his 11 catches went for 313 yards (do the math, that’s more than 28 yards per catch), and he’s also the Red Devils’ top returning tackler on a defense that will need his leadership.

Other players to watch

Kannadis Peroulis, Snake River. Peroulis proved to be the Rattlers’ go-to player on the ground last year, rushing 125 times for 1,571 yards and 21 touchdowns. His 12.6 yards per carry was one of the best marks in six-man. He’s also a solid defensive contributor, notching 72 tackles, two sacks and an interception last year.

Seth Wardell, Burlington. Wardell’s return under center is a big reason why Burlington is expected to have a big turnaround this season. He topped 1A six-man with 233.3 passing yards per game last year and completed almost 62% of his passes last year in the classification’s most productive passing offense.

Quade Jordan, Encampment. As a sophomore, Jordan finished third in rushing in 1A six-man last year, carrying for 1,537 yards and 25 touchdowns. He was third in scoring with 169 points and was second with 27 touchdowns. He also carried his weight on defense, tallying 68 tackles, four sacks and four fumble recoveries.

Joseph Pina, Meeteetse. The Longhorn’s 5-foot-6 junior dynamo was a beast on defense last year, running up 135 total tackles. His coach said Pina can play basically any position on defense — and that’s a good thing, considering he’s the Longhorns’ only all-conference player to return this fall. Pina will also have an expanded role on offense in Meeteetse’s backfield.

Four key games

Snake River at Dubois, Sept. 9. Both teams have championship dreams this season, so it seems a bit weird that this game will be in Week 2 instead of, oh, Week 8. But here we are, and the Rattlers and Rams will have to be on point early in the year to stay atop the West.

Burlington at Hulett, Sept. 10. The direction of the new North Conference will take shape early, as this one is the conference opener for both teams. They staged a classic last season, and this year might bring another.

Snake River at Encampment, Oct. 8. This rematch of last year’s championship game comes right in the middle of the conference season, and if both teams can carry the 2021 momentum into 2022, this one will be a huge one.

Midwest at Meeteetse, Oct. 14. The North Conference schedule ends with three Week 7 games, and none may be bigger than this one between two teams with big desires to prove themselves capable of hanging with anyone.

Predicted order of finish

North Conference: Burlington; Meeteetse; Hulett; Midwest; Kaycee; Ten Sleep.

South Conference: Snake River; Encampment; Dubois; Farson; Hanna.

Preseason top five: 1. Snake River; 2. Encampment; 3. Dubois; 4. Burlington; 5. Farson.

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Snake River 54, Encampment 39. The South’s top three are more or less unanimous across coaches statewide; the order is the question, though. If it’s anyone other than the Rattlers, Tigers or Rams in the title game, be surprised; if it’s anyone but the Rattlers hoisting the trophy, be surprised, too.

Who’s your pick for six-man’s championship? Which teams might pull some surprises? Leave a comment, or drop a line on Twitter or Facebook.

Next Thursday: Class 1A nine-man.

–patrick

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