When at least half the teams in a classification start the season with a realistic chance to win a state championship, you know you’re in for a fun year.
This is what we have in Class 3A this year.
With big losses suffered by last year’s title-game participants, the 2015 season is a big question mark. The classification has no clear favorite and no clear dividing lines between the challengers and the pretenders. That should make for a fun, unpredictable, and stressful year in 3A.
Four questions to answer
Are we seeing a changing of the guard in 3A? Possibly. Up until last year, 3A had been ruled for the past half-dozen years by Powell and Douglas, who each won three titles in a row. Then Cody won the title last year and demolished the hierarchy we all knew. And with the Broncs losing a ton of talented seniors, that means 3A is as wide open as it’s been in probably 20 years.
So who’s going to seize the open spot atop the class? Maybe Cody. Maybe Douglas. Maybe Jackson. Maybe Torrington. Maybe…. No one has a definitive answer. The bulk of last year’s best teams lost their best players; the bulk of last year’s challengers return their best players. That makes things messy, and competitive, and fun, in the top half of the class.
What position will be key to a deep playoff run? 2015 will be the year of the running back in 3A. Jackson’s Theo Dawson and Torrington’s Skyler Miller were both Casper Star-Tribune Super 25 first-team selections and were their respective conference’s offensive players of the year last year, and they’re both back for their senior campaigns in ’15. For a couple programs starved for success (Jackson has just one title in the past 28 years; Torrington hasn’t won it all since 1990), running back will be the most important position on the field.
What’s up in Worland? Good question. A program and community known for stability, the Warriors will have their sixth head coach in five years when former Douglas assistant Todd Weber takes over this fall. Stability at the top will be key for re-establishing a program that has struggled to find its identity since longtime coach Wade Sanford left after the 2011 season.
Four players to watch
Theo Dawson, Jackson. He was the offensive player of the year in the West Conference last year. He was on the Casper Star-Tribune Super 25 first team. He ran for 1,439 yards last season. He’s also the state’s most high-profile recruiting target. Everyone’s keeping their eyes on Mr. Dawson, and for good reason.
Skyler Miller, Torrington. He was the offensive player of the year in the East Conference last year. He was on the Casper Star-Tribune Super 25 first team. He ran for 1,305 yards last season. And don’t forget, Miller’s Trailblazers beat Dawson’s Broncs in the playoffs last year.
Jace Allard, Rawlins. Allard finished second in the state, regardless of classification, with his 2,238 passing yards last season. He’s the leading returning passer in the state and he fronts a rejuvenated Outlaw offense that can cause teams fits. As long as Rawlins’ running game remains strong, Allard could rack up even gaudier stats this fall, potentially leading Rawlins to its first playoff victory since 2000.
Cam Myers, Cody. Cody had nine all-state players last year and Myers is the only one who’s back this fall. He’s Cody’s leading returning rusher, receiver and tackler. With last year’s seniors gone, Myers’ responsibilities will be magnified that much more this fall.
Four key games
Riverton at Torrington, Sept. 25. The Wolverines have been quiet so far this offseason, but they’ll definitely challenge the Trailblazers in both teams’ East Conference opener. If Riverton can pull off the road victory, watch out.
Torrington at Douglas, Oct. 2. While Torrington returns a boatload of players, Douglas returns a boatload of tradition. And if the Trailblazers want to be East Conference champs, they’ll have to knock off the Bearcats in Douglas — always a tough task.
Jackson at Cody, Oct. 9. These two teams played a hard-fought game last year, one of Cody’s toughest tests on the way to a title. Both teams will need this victory; that urgency could make this one a classic.
Powell at Cody, Oct. 23. The regular-season finale between these longtime rivals could be the biggest game of the year by the time Week 8 rolls around. Or it could just be another game. Either way, Panthers-Broncs is always a can’t-miss affair.
Predicted order of finish
East: Torrington, Douglas, Rawlins, Riverton, Buffalo, Lander. West: Jackson, Cody, Star Valley, Powell, Green River, Worland.
Preseason top five: Jackson, Torrington, Cody, Douglas, Rawlins.
Way-too-early title game score prediction
Jackson 24, Torrington 20. However, picking a champion for this classification this early is an exercise in futility. With no clear favorites, 3A will be a blast to follow all season long.
I can realistically see seven or eight different programs having a real shot at a state title. Goodness. Who do YOU think is the favorite for the 3A title? Which team has some surprises ready to show the rest of the state? Post a comment and we can try to figure this classification out together — because I know, this year, I don’t think anyone has any real idea of what might happen.
Next week: Class 4A.