Trying to pick a state champion before a single down has been played sometimes feels like a fool’s errand.

That doesn’t stop people from trying.

The WyoPreps preseason football poll of coaches and media, which came out Wednesday, tabbed Sheridan, Cody, Lyman, Shoshoni and Snake River as the teams to beat in their respective classifications. (Full disclosure, I vote in this poll.)

But the historical chances of those five teams winning a championship are barely better than one-third of the time.

Since 1984 and the start of the one-poll era, only 36% of teams ranked No. 1 to start the season end up as state champions. However, 56% of state champions start the season ranked either No. 1 or No. 2. Cheyenne East, Star Valley, Lovell, Pine Bluffs, Dubois and Encampment are in the No. 2 spots in this year’s preseason poll, with the last two tying for second in the 1A six-man poll.

Historically, chances are good that more than half your 2022 state champs will come from that list of 11 teams.

However, 17% of state champs start ranked at No. 3, 7% at No. 4 and 6% at No. 5. But nearly 14% of state champions start the season unranked. Since 1984, they’ve included:

  • Lyman, Class 2A 2020
  • Cody, Class 3A 2017
  • Pine Bluffs, Class 1A 11-man 2016
  • Star Valley, Class 3A 2015
  • Snake River, Class 1A nine-man 2010
  • Thermopolis, Class 2A 2009
  • Jackson, Class 4A 2007
  • Kemmerer, Class 3A 2005
  • Rock Springs, Class 5A 2001
  • Big Piney, Class 2A 1998
  • Evanston, Class 4A 1997
  • Riverton, Class 3A 1997
  • Wind River, Class 1A Division II 1997
  • Natrona, Class 4A 1996
  • Sheridan, Class 4A 1995
  • Laramie, Class 4A 1994
  • Rocky Mountain, Class 1A 11-man 1992
  • Burlington, Class 1A nine-man 1992
  • Lingle, Class 1A nine-man 1990
  • Hanna, Class 1A 1989
  • Big Piney, Class 2A 1988
  • Lovell, Class 2A 1987
  • Lusk, Class 2A 1986
  • Laramie, Class 4A 1984
  • Mountain View, Class 2A 1984

As you may have noticed, four consecutive Class 4A champions in the mid-1990s were unranked to start the season — Evanston in 1997, Natrona in 1996, Sheridan in 1995 and Laramie in 1994. But a preseason unranked team winning a state title hasn’t happened since at Wyoming’s big-school level since 2001 and Rock Springs.

Big Piney (1998, 1988) and Laramie (1994, 1984) are the only programs since 1984 to twice win championships after starting a season unranked.

No team since 1984 has been both unranked in the preseason AND unranked at the end of the regular season, then gone on to win the state championship. Eight of the 25 teams that started a season unranked but won a state championship were ranked No. 1 by the time the postseason started.

(Note: Preseason polls were not conducted in 2000 and are excluded here.)

See each preseason poll by clicking on each year’s set of rankings here.

Watch for another breakdown of teams’ rankings at the end of the regular season and their championship chances after Week 8.

–patrick

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