Four questions to answer
Can an East Conference team finally win in Laramie? If so, this year might be the year. The last four Class 2A titles have all been won by current West Conference teams (although, admittedly, Thermopolis was in the East Conference when it won titles in 2009 and 2010). And two West Conference teams, Lovell and Lyman, have played each other for the past two 2A titles. However, the East Conference has more depth than it has the past couple years, and the bulk of the West Conference’s best players have moved on thanks to graduation.
So who’s the favorite in 2A this year? That’s anyone’s guess. Last year’s four semifinalists — Lovell, Lyman, Newcastle and Big Horn — all lost significant numbers due to graduation. The lack of a clear-cut favorite in 2A should make it an interesting year.
No, really. Who’s the favorite? I’m serious, dude. I don’t know. And nobody else seems to know either. In a preseason survey of 2A coaches, no fewer than 10 schools were named as genuine potential heirs to the throne. Even the coaches aren’t sure how the season will play out. When that’s the case, often it’s offseason training that makes the difference. The title in November may come down to work put in during June.
What player’s departure will most affect his former team? The one not caused by graduation. Glenrock’s Jordan Millay, who led the Herders in rushing as a sophomore last year and totaled almost 1,700 yards in his freshman and sophomore years, has been forced out of the sport due to chronic injuries. While Millay should be commended for thinking of his future, his unexpected loss leaves a big hole in the Herder backfield.
Four players to watch
Merritt Crabtree, Newcastle. Crabtree was the East Conference defensive player of the year last year, and with good reason. The Dogies ranked second in 2A in yards allowed per game (216.6) and Crabtree finished third in 2A in defensive points per game (19.9). His 17 tackles for loss were the best in 2A, and he helped force five turnovers (three fumble recoveries, two interceptions).
Connor McCafferty, Big Horn. Conversely, McCafferty was the East’s offensive player of the year a year ago. Few quarterbacks in the state were as efficient as McCafferty, who completed 65 percent of his passes and had a 25-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio. And he didn’t dink and dunk his way to that: his yards-per-completion average of 13.0 ypc was best in the state last year, making his efficiency even more impressive.
Austin Houskeeper, Mountain View. Houskeeper had a huge season as a sophomore, finishing second in Class 2A in both passing yards per game (161.0) and defensive points per game (20.1). That kind of versatility will be a big boon to an improved Buffalos squad that returns three all-state selections.
Critter Ruwart, Wheatland. Is it the year of the quarterback in 2A? Possibly, especially with McCafferty, Houskeeper and Ruwart — the top three passers in 2A a year ago — back for more. Ruwart had more completions (100) and threw for more yards (1,566) than anyone in 2A last year, and his presence will help keep the Bulldogs in the hunt in a competitive East Conference.
Four key games
Big Horn at Newcastle, Sept. 13. This Week 2 game has all the preseason indications of being a big one in the East — much like it was last year, when the two teams met in the final week of the regular season, both undefeated. If nothing else, this game will help us figure out how much parity exists in the East this year.
Mountain View at Greybull, Sept. 13. Both Buffs squads came up again and again in the coaches’ lists of preseason favorites. The West Conference opener between the two programs might be the game that pushes one ahead of the other.
Lyman at Lovell, Sept. 20. Lyman beat Lovell in last year’s 2A title game; Lovell beat Lyman in the 2011 2A title game. And in both cases, the team that won the regular-season game won the rematch in Laramie.
Glenrock at Wheatland, Sept. 27. If the Herders or Bulldogs want to challenge for the conference championship, they have to win this game in Week 4. For Glenrock, this game starts a critical three-week stretch in which the Herders face Wheatland, Big Horn and Newcastle in consecutive weeks.
Predicted order of finish
East: Big Horn, Burns, Glenrock, Wheatland, Newcastle, Wright, Moorcroft, Tongue River. West: Mountain View, Lovell, Greybull, Lyman, Pinedale, Thermopolis, Kemmerer, Big Piney.
Way-too-early title-game score prediction
This is ridiculous. No fewer than 10 teams are legit threats to make it to Laramie. But put a gun to my head and I’ll say: Mountain View 12, Big Horn 8.
Lyman coach Dale Anderson won the state championship in his first year with the Eagles. Before Anderson, who was the last Wyoming coach to win a state championship in his first year as head coach at that school? (This is a trick question — it has two answers.)
Classification’s 2013 theme song
I think Class 2A has the potential to be the most even, exciting, parity-filled classification of the year. How about you? Who do you think will emerge from this group of contenders to be the favorite? Post your thoughts below.
Next Thursday: Class 3A.