Go ahead: Pick any team in 2A.
Chances are good that the team you’ve chosen has won a championship in the past decade.
Wheatland, Big Horn, Lyman, Lovell, Thermopolis, Big Piney, Kemmerer, Glenrock, Mountain View… they’ve all won titles in this classification since 2006. And Burns won one in a different classification in that span.
That’s 10 programs out of 14 that have tasted championship-level success in the classification this decade. It’s easier to count the programs that haven’t won titles the past 10 years than the ones that have.
No wonder it feels like basically every program in the classification has the ability to take home a championship. Within the past few years, most of them have.
Four questions to answer
Defending champion Wheatland has to be the favorite, right? Well… no. Wheatland had a great 2015, but that title season was built with seniors, more than you could count on both hands. Now, the Bulldogs are restructuring, both with personnel and with new coach Tom Waring. They’ll still be in the hunt, but they won’t be the favorites from Day 1 like they were last year.
What team WILL be the favorite on Day 1? No one knows. Really. A strong case can be made for several teams — Greybull, Big Horn, Glenrock, Wheatland, Mountain View, Lovell — but no one team has a better case than any other. Parity may be the rule of the season.
Is this surprising? No way. Not for Class 2A. As noted, nine different programs have won the Class 2A title the past 10 years. Parity atop the classification has defined 2A for a decade, and this year appears no different.
Surprise me: Which team has the best chance to come out of nowhere? Pinedale. The Wranglers have a new coach (Mitch Espeland) and a new approach. As West Conference opponents can tell you, Pinedale was a tough team to beat last fall and was nearly in position to host a playoff game, but some bad bounces left the team out of the playoffs entirely. With nine starters back on both sides of the ball, the Wranglers might just be the surprise team of the classification.
Four players to watch
Garrett Schwindt, Glenrock. Last year’s 2A East Offensive Player of the Year ran for 1,341 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2015. With the Herders’ No. 2 and 3 options in the running game lost to graduation, Schwindt will take on an even bigger role in Glenrock’s option offense. Oh, and he was the Herders’ leading tackler a year ago, too.
Dawson Forcella, Greybull. Forcella was one of the Buffs’ top players on both offense and defense. He ran for 848 yards and 11 scores on one side of the ball and notched six tackles for loss, four pass breakups and an interception on the other. His versatility will be key for Greybull’s playoff push.
Nolan McCafferty, Big Horn. McCafferty is the only returning 2A player who was on the Casper Star-Tribune’s Super 25 first team last year. And it was mostly for his work on defense, where he was the Rams’ leading tackler. That’s likely to continue — after all, he is 2A’s leading returning tackler — but look for McCafferty to also take on more responsibilities on the offensive side of the ball this year, as well.
Jaret Collins, Lovell. Collins was the 2A West Lineman of the Year last season and is back for his senior year. He led the Bulldogs in tackles for loss (6) and sacks (3) last season, but on a Lovell team that lost four of its top six tacklers to graduation, he will be called on to do even more to get the Bulldogs back to the top of the West.
Four key games
Mountain View at Lyman, Sept. 9. The Bridger Valley Bowl is now in Week 2. So, in addition to being the rivalry game, this game takes on the added dimension of being both programs’ first conference game. A victory or a loss here might dictate the course of an entire season.
Lovell at Greybull, Sept. 16. Last year, this game was a squeaker; Lovell’s 18-15 victory gave it the West Conference championship. The stakes for this year’s game could be just as high.
Glenrock at Wheatland, Sept. 23. Games won’t get much bigger than this. Rematch of last year’s title game… regional rivals… contenders for the conference crown again… Yeah, this game has just about everything going for it.
Big Horn at Wheatland, Oct. 21. People tend to forget how efficiently and completely the Rams beat the Bulldogs last year. That’s because the Bulldogs overcame the loss to win the state title, while the Rams cratered in the quarterfinals. Even so, this Week 8 matchup should again have huge postseason implications.
Predicted order of finish
East Conference: Glenrock, Big Horn, Wheatland, Newcastle, Thermopolis, Burns, Moorcroft. West Conference: Greybull, Mountain View, Lovell, Pinedale, Lyman, Big Piney, Kemmerer.
Preseason top five: Glenrock, Greybull, Big Horn, Wheatland, Mountain View.
Way-too-early title game score prediction
Glenrock 20, Greybull 18. The thing about the 2A playoffs this year? Every game could be decided by a single possession. Don’t count on anyone running away with the championship this year.
Cheesy 80s pop song that should play over the loudspeakers at War Memorial Stadium after this classification’s title game
Who Can it Be Now? by Men At Work. For obvious reasons. If you haven’t detected a trend for 2A yet, double-check those reading comprehension skills.
We can always count on 2A to be competitive at the top. So what do you think? Is this another year of dynasty-destroying parity? If so, who’s going to knock Wheatland from the catbird’s seat? Post a comment and let’s try to figure out this riddle together.
Next Thursday: Class 3A.