Football season never stops at wyoming-football.com. That’s why even though it’s snowy and cold, we can’t look forward to a time when, um, it’ll be snowy and cold again…. Anyway, here are my way-too-early predictions for the 2016 season, which certainly could change by August, and again by November, thanks to any number of factors. For now, though:
1. Gillette: The Camels are the only team in 4A returning more than one all-state selection. Lineman Lane Tucker and receiver Madden Pikula were so honored last year, and their returns give Gillette one of the stronger returning senior classes in 4A this fall. The trick will be finding ways to replace the nine all-conference selections the Camels lost to graduation.
2. Cheyenne East: The Thunderbirds return half of their 10 all-conference selections and will be a tough team to beat because of that experience. Lineman Jacob Ross is East’s only returning all-state selection, but he’ll have more help surrounding him than is immediately apparent.
3. Rock Springs: Matt Fowler might be the best returning running back in the state next fall, and he has two things going for him: He’s part of an offense that focuses on the run, and he’s surrounded by stronger and more talented players than the Tigers have had in probably a decade.
4. Sheridan: The defending champs lost a ton to graduation. It’ll be tough for the Broncs to repeat, but they’ve got the system and the coaching to stay competitive. Lineman Jacob Hallam is Sheridan’s only returning all-state — or all-conference — selection, and the Broncs will need to build around him.
5. Natrona: Inertia alone has the Mustangs here. Even though it loses all 10 of its all-conference picks to graduation, NC typically fields one of the state’s best teams. Nearly the same thing happened last year, and Natrona remained near the top of 4A. The names will be new, but the results won’t.
Dark horse: Laramie. The Plainsmen return a trio of all-conference players, and they’re all on the outside — QB Taylor Dodd, WR/DB Connor Beeston and LB Carless Looney. If the Plainsmen get some linemen to step up, they could be really dangerous.
1. Star Valley: The Braves showed how talented they were in their run to a 3A title last year. And with three all-staters back this year (Kellen Hansen, Collin McGinley and McCabe Smith), more than all but one school in the class, the Braves will be the early 3A favorites, even with a new head coach.
2. Douglas: The Bearcats had a down year last year, finishing with a losing record for the first time under Jay Rhoades. That happened in part because they had a bunch of juniors on the field who were busy gaining experience. Douglas returns six of its seven all-conference players and has all three all-state selections (Zach Hoopman, Eric Jamerman and Gage Pitt) back this fall, numbers — and maybe talent — no other 3A school can match.
3. Jackson: The Broncs will be interesting to watch. Their centerpiece, running back Theo Dawson, will be gone. But that might make Jackson more diverse, opening up opportunities for a young but talented group of returning players.
4. Green River: Last year’s breakthrough season will be difficult to repeat, but the Wolves showed they have the ability to compete with, and beat, anyone in 3A. Much like Jackson, though, Green River has to show it can overcome the loss of its offense’s centerpiece player — Tyler Vendetti — to graduation.
5. Riverton: The Wolverines have three returning all-conference players, and all-stater Teron Doebele will lead a team that will be easy to overlook this offseason but will probably start turning heads sooner rather than later.
Dark horse: Torrington. The Trailblazers lost eight all-conference selections from last year’s East Conference championship team. Will they be able to recover from that? Maybe, but young players will need to show they’re ready for the varsity level.
1. Glenrock: Last year’s state runners-up have the early edge in what will be a wild, wide-open title race in 2A. Glenrock has five all-conference and a classification-high three all-state players (Logan Downs, Cooper Fargen and Garrett Schwindt) back for 2016, and that talent has now tasted success. They’ll be raring for more.
2. Big Horn: The Rams will be one of the classification’s more talented teams, with all-staters Nolan McCafferty and Colton Williams anchoring a crew that will see five all-conference players return. Lest we forget, Big Horn was the only program last year to find a way to beat Wheatland in 2015.
3. Greybull: The Buffs won’t sneak up on anyone this fall. After all, they’ve got six all-conference players coming back, more than any other team in 2A, and returning all-staters Dawson Forcella and Gabe Keisel should provide stability to a team ready for a big breakthrough.
4. Lovell: The defending West Conference champions return more than half of their all-conference selections and should be primed for another deep playoff run. Losing three-year starter Beau Green under center won’t help, but if someone can fill his shoes, watch out.
5. Wheatland: The senior class the Bulldogs lost will be difficult if not impossible to replace. Even so, Wheatland should stay competitive thanks in part to a pair of returning all-staters (Josh Madsen and Jacob Ward) and a crew of underclassmen that knows what it takes to win it all.
Dark horse: Mountain View. The Buffalos have five returning all-conference players and should be able to hang with anyone in the state. Told you 2A was gonna be wild.
Class 1A 11-man
1. Upton-Sundance: This really isn’t fair. The Patriots had six all-state selections from their 2015 title team, and four of them — seniors Hunter Woodard, John Sullivan and Thomas Davis and junior Dawson Butts — will return for 2016. U-S will start the season at No. 1, and until someone proves otherwise, this is their spot (and title) to lose.
2. Shoshoni: The Wranglers’ disappointing end to 2015 is tempered a bit in the knowledge that they return six of their eight all-conference selections from a team that ran through the regular season undefeated. J.J. Pingetzer and Jason Thoren were all-state picks last year and front a hungry team.
3. Tongue River: Now that the Eagles know how to win, they’ll be tough to stop. They return three all-conference and a pair of all-state selections (Cody Buller and Brennan Kutterer), and now that they’ve had the experience of playing at The War, they should carry that momentum into the offseason.
4. Rocky Mountain: Of all the sleeper teams in 1A 11-man (a long list that includes Pine Bluffs, Wright, Southeast and others), the Grizzlies are at the top. That’s because they return four-fifths of their all-conference selections, meaning they have enough raw talent to play with any team in the classification.
5. Cokeville: The Panthers were young in 2015 and will be young again in 2016, but the 2016 squad will be up to the challenge. Senior Trenton King and juniors Rick Nate and Cordell Viehweig will give stability and leadership to a team that’s always tough to top.
Dark horse: Southeast. Honestly, the Cyclones could be a top-tier team by the end of the season. They’ll need some time to grow, but they proved last year they won’t be intimidated and that they can play with any team in 1A 11-man.
Class 1A six-man
1. Meeteetse: In a weird twist, the Longhorns had seven players selected to the West Conference’s all-conference team. That’s just how deep they were last year. Of those, four will be back, including all-stater and multipurpose threat Dalton Abarr. That will give the Longhorns the early edge.
2. Kaycee: The defending champs will lose some talented players to graduation, but the return of a pair of all-state selections in junior Mark Largent and senior Reed Stafford will make the Buckaroos the favorites in the East and one of the top teams statewide.
3. Lingle: Even though the Doggers aren’t going to be eligible for the playoffs, they should field one of the better six-man teams in the state. They have the talent — both Garrett Cooper and Dallen Fleenor return as 11-man all-state selections from 2015 — so the speed at which the Doggers adapt to six-man may determine how well their season goes.
4. Snake River: The Rattlers return three all-conference selections and an all-state pick in junior J.D. Corson. With only six returning all-state selections in the entire classification, simply having one back will give Snake River a centerpiece around which to build, something most teams in six-man next year won’t have the luxury of possessing.
5. Farson: The Pronghorns — along with Snake River and six-man newcomers Riverside and Burlington — will be busy chasing down Meeteetse as the early West Conference favorites. But the Pronghorns do return three all-conference selections, and their experience will give them an edge.
Dark horse: Riverside. Just like Lingle, the Rebels’ successful adaptation to six-man will depend on the speed at which the players and coaches can learn the game. The quicker that process goes, the more dangerous the Rebels will be — well, at least for the regular season.
How about you? Who do you have winning state titles in 2016? How would you break down the top five teams in your favorite classification? Who’s going to surprise us? Post a comment and let’s talk football at a time that’s way too early to be talking football.