Last week, five teams — Sheridan, Cody, Lovell, Pine Bluffs and Snake River — entered the playoffs as the No. 1 ranked team in their classification.
By default, that means they’re the favorites to win the state championships.
And while the chances of the top-ranked team entering the playoffs actually winning the championship is barely above half, the chances that the eventual champion will come from one of the teams ranked either first or second is extremely high.
Since 1984, the start of the “one poll” era, teams ranked No. 1 entering the playoffs have won the state championship 52% of the time.
If it’s not No. 1 winning it all, it’s usually No. 2. Together, teams ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 entering the playoffs win a title 83% of the time. (Do the math, and the No. 2 ranked team wins the state title 31% of the time.)
The No. 3 team wins the title 10% of the time; teams ranked fourth, almost 4% of the time.
The remaining 3% of championships is evenly divided between teams ranked fifth and teams not ranked at all. A team entering the playoffs ranked fifth or unranked and winning a state championship hasn’t happened since 2011.
The six teams to win championships ranked either fifth (three titles) or not at all (three titles) entering the playoffs?
First, the three teams ranked No. 5 all entered the playoffs on a low but were at some time during their championship season ranked in the top two:
- Powell, Class 3A 2011 (Highest rank during the season: No. 1)
- Cheyenne Central, Class 5A 2005 (Highest rank during the season: No. 2)
- Glenrock, Class 3A 2003 (Highest rank during the season: No. 1)
Meanwhile, of the three teams that won titles after entering the playoffs unranked, two were previously No. 1 during the season:
- Big Piney, Class 3A 2006 (Highest rank during the season: No. 1)
- Powell, Class 3A 1987 (Highest rank during the season: No. 5)
- Jackson, Class 3A 1986 (Highest rank during the season: No. 1)
The seven teams to win titles that went into the playoffs as the No. 4 ranked team are dominated by 3A teams, including Cody in 2017, Worland in 2001, Star Valley in 1995 and Riverton in 1994. Other No. 4-ranked champs are Cheyenne East (4A, 2013), Glenrock (3A, 2002) and Cokeville (1A, 1986).
Either the No. 1 or No. 2 team entering the playoffs has won every title in each of the past four seasons. It’s the longest such streak since playoffs restarted in 1975.
And it just so happens that the five No. 1 teams all won last week.
See each week’s poll by clicking on each year’s set of rankings here.