This is the week we want.

This is the week we won’t see again this year.

This is the week we finally find some separation in Class 4A.

Class 4A’s hierarchy the past few years has been as simple as it’s been clear: Natrona, Gillette, Cheyenne East and Sheridan play at a level that’s different from everyone else. For Week 3, the schedule says it all: Natrona at Gillette; Sheridan at Cheyenne East. This is the only time this season when the “Big Four” teams are all playing each other in the same week.

These four programs have dominated Class 4A football for almost half a decade. They were 104-8 against the other six the past four years entering the season; they’re now 114-8, as the top four are 10-0 against those other six so far this season. Every season since 2010, the final four teams in the 4A playoffs have been the same.

So, yeah, this week is big — a critical separation point in the season.

For Gillette and Sheridan, this week presents their first chances to test themselves against another top-tier team.

For Natrona, this week is a chance to take a commanding lead in the classification standings, thanks in part to a 14-7 victory against Cheyenne East two weeks ago.

And for Cheyenne East, this week represents what may be the team’s last chance to secure a home playoff game, a goal that became much more difficult to obtain after that loss to Natrona.

Both games represent continuations of competitive, repetitive showdowns. Both the Gillette-Natrona and Sheridan-East games have been played seven times in the past four years.

Of the seven Natrona-Gillette games, five have been played in Casper. This week’s game is in Gillette, but that’s little consolation to the Camels — Natrona has won both games it has played in Gillette the past four years, and the Camels haven’t beaten the Mustangs at home since 2009.

Sheridan and Cheyenne East, too, have played each other seven times the past four years. Oddly enough, only one of those games has been played in Cheyenne; five were in Sheridan and one in Laramie for a state championship. This week’s game, though, is in Cheyenne. However, Sheridan, like Natrona, doesn’t fear a road trip trip: Sheridan won its only game the past four years that it played against East in Cheyenne. Beyond that, Cheyenne East hasn’t beaten Sheridan in Cheyenne since 2002.

For several years now, we’ve known the Big Four control Class 4A. But they only play against each other six times during the regular season.

We’re lucky enough in Week 3 to have two of those games happening on the same day.

This is, after all, what we’ve been waiting to see.

Here’s a quick glance at some of the other things I’m keeping a close eye on this week:

Buffalo had a strong showing in a loss last week, falling 19-9 to Powell. I’m curious to see how the Bison play against an improved Worland squad. …

Wheatland and Newcastle will meet each other in a big 2A East game. Big Horn is clearly the pacesetter in the conference this year, but the Bulldogs and Dogies will need to win this one to keep pace with the Rams and stay in contention for a home playoff game. …

Wind River’s 74-0 victory over Wyoming Indian last week set a school record for both biggest victory and most points in a game. It also was the Cougars’ first road victory since Sept. 9, 2010, breaking the state’s longest active road losing streak at 15. Can the Cougs keep it going against Riverside? …

The most interesting six-man game on the schedule could be the one between Farson and Dubois. The Pronghorns are much better equipped to play with the Rams than they’ve ever been. …

The Saturday slate is pretty thin, but it will be interesting to see if NSI can get its second victory in a row. The Wolves earned their first victory against a varsity team since 2009 last week and could win two in a row for the first time since 2007 if they can beat Hulett on the road. …

The best game of the week could be between Riverton and Powell. Yeah, I picked Powell, but don’t be surprised if Riverton sneaks this one out. …

There’s a lot of hype for the Rawlins-Jackson game. Ignore it. Jackson is rolling. …

For the record, in the “Big Four” 4A games this week, I went with the home teams. Switch the venues, and I’d switch my picks. Both games should be great. …

I devoted a lot of time this week to the top of 4A, but for the other six teams in the classification, these are critical games, too. Playoff seeding and qualification could be on the line in a couple of those games. …

On to the picks. The projected winners, like always, are in bold type. The teams in regular type, though, are no less deserving of your admiration:

Class 4A
Cheyenne South at Kelly Walsh
Laramie at Evanston
Natrona at Gillette
Rock Springs at Cheyenne Central
Sheridan at Cheyenne East
Class 3A
Cody at Lander
Green River at Torrington
Rawlins at Jackson
Riverton at Powell
Star Valley at Douglas
Worland at Buffalo
Class 2A
Big Horn at Glenrock
Big Piney at Greybull
Lyman at Kemmerer
Mountain View at Burns (at Cheyenne South HS)
Pinedale at Lovell
Wheatland at Newcastle
Class 1A 11-man
Moorcroft at Lusk
Rocky Mountain at Saratoga
Shoshoni at Cokeville
Southeast at Pine Bluffs
Tongue River at Upton-Sundance (at Sundance)
Wind River at Riverside
Wyoming Indian at Burlington
Class 1A six-man
Farson at Dubois
Kaycee at Rock River
Midwest at Guernsey-Sunrise
St. Stephens at Hanna
Ten Sleep at Meeteetse
Mitchell, Neb., at Lingle
Class 2A
Wright at Thermopolis
Class 1A six-man
NSI at Hulett
Snake River at Natrona sophs

Last week: 27-6 (82 percent). This season: 58-22 (73 percent).

For a full season schedule, including kickoff times for this week’s games, click here.

What are YOU watching this week? What game on this week’s schedule draws your interest? Which picks do you think I got wrong? Post a comment and we can talk about it, because that’s half the fun.


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