The conventional wisdom in Class 4A the past few years has been counterintuitive: A loss or two in the regular season isn’t bad.
Just look at the records of the state championship winning teams since 2005: Central in 2005 (7-4), Gillette in 2006 (11-1), East in 2007 (9-2), Gillette in 2008 (10-2), Sheridan in 2009 (11-1), Natrona in 2010 (11-1), Sheridan in 2011 (11-1).
Last year’s 12-0 Natrona team was the first big-school squad to win a state championship while going undefeated since Green River did it in 2004.
Which brings us to this year’s Class 4A race.
Of the conference championships up for grabs last week, only one remains undecided — Class 4A.
The big schools’ regular-season title remains undecided because the two teams with the best records, Gillette and Cheyenne East, weren’t on each other’s schedules until the final week of the regular season.
Gillette, at 8-0 but with scares from Cheyenne Central (16-10) and Natrona (24-23 in OT), has emerged as the favorite for the big-school championship. Cheyenne East, with its only loss in a 7-1 season an inexplicable 42-21 defeat at Sheridan, remains as the Camels’ lone challenger.
The winner Friday wins the regular-season crown.
Nice, but not the ultimate goal.
Win or lose, the Camels have home-field advantage in the first two rounds of the playoffs. East can earn the same with a victory Friday, but will need some help to get the No. 2 seed if it loses.
Class 4A’s recent championship history has proven a Camel loss wouldn’t be devastating. The Camels themselves in 2006 and 2008 showed that a regular-season loss could be overcome in the playoffs. And a Gillette loss might put them on the opposite side of the bracket from the team that gave Gillette its biggest challenge this season, Natrona.
But the odd conventional wisdom falls apart in the face of this: It’s still better to be undefeated entering the playoffs than it is to enter with a loss.
Natrona in 2011 is the last big-school team since Laramie in 2000 to enter the playoffs undefeated and not win the state title — and Laramie lost the title game to an undefeated Gillette team that year.
Final summation? Nothing definitive. Both the Camels and the Thunderbirds have a great shot at winning the state title, win or lose this week for both. And while a loss or two in the regular season doesn’t hurt, an undefeated run is historically better….
And with some parity finally returning to Class 4A this year, the Camels have a fantastic chance to show such parity doesn’t really apply to them.
Now that would be some conventional wisdom everyone can understand.
Other games I’m watching: Almost all of them. Of this week’s 32 games, 23 have some kind of influence on the postseason, either in qualifying or in seeding. Only eight of the 40 playoff spots are still available, but only 12 of the 32 teams that have qualified actually know their seed. And 18 teams are going for those final eight spots. Yeah, it’s a busy week. … Both Thursday games (Riverton at Lander and Newcastle at Wheatland) are critical. Their timing is handy, though. Because of how everything else worked out, and because these two games were scheduled a day early, we’ll know the 3A East and 2A East seedings before Friday’s first snap. … I’ll be keeping a close eye on the games that help to decide who hosts in the first round and who goes on the road, especially Jackson-Star Valley, Riverton-Lander, Greybull-Lyman, Southeast-Lingle and Guernsey-Kaycee. … A lot of pride will be at stake in Moorcroft when the Wolves host Wright. Both teams are winless this year and don’t want to have that streak carry over to next year.
On to the picks. Teams I think will be winners by the time the game is done in bold:
Riverton at Lander
Newcastle at Wheatland
Cheyenne Central at Evanston
Cheyenne South at Sheridan
Gillette at Cheyenne East
Kelly Walsh at Laramie
Rock Springs at Natrona
Buffalo at Rawlins
Douglas at Torrington
Jackson at Star Valley
Powell at Green River
Worland at Cody
Glenrock at Burns
Greybull at Lyman
Lovell at Big Piney
Mountain View at Kemmerer
Thermopolis at Pinedale
Tongue River at Big Horn
Wright at Moorcroft
Class 1A 11-man
Pine Bluffs at Upton-Sundance (at Sundance)
Riverside at Burlington
Shoshoni at Cokeville
Southeast at Lingle
Wind River at Rocky Mountain
Class 1A six-man
Dubois at Wyoming Indian
Farson at Meeteetse
Hanna at Saratoga
Midwest at St. Stephens
Class 1A six-man
Guernsey-Sunrise at Kaycee
Normative Services at Hulett
Snake River at Ten Sleep
For a full schedule including kick times, check out the 2013 schedule and results page.
Last week: 27-5 (84 percent). This season: 193-43 (82 percent).
How are your school’s postseason plans shaking up? Will Week 8 influence your quarterfinal opponent? Is Week 8 your make-or-break? Or will you be ready to hang up those cleats by the end of this week’s games? Post a comment below to fill me in on what’s at stake for you in Week 8… or to make fun of my picks. Either way, it’s cool.