Two of the most highly anticipated games of 2017 will be played on Friday.
One matches up the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in Class 4A, the other matches up the No. 1 and No. 3 teams in Class 3A.
Can’t get much better than that, can it?
Let’s start in 4A, where Natrona and Sheridan renew their longstanding rivalry with one of their most highly anticipated regular-season games in their long history. In addition to being the top two ranked teams at this point in the season, they’re also reprising their state title game from a year ago when Sheridan beat Natrona 56-28 in Laramie.
Sheridan’s presence in the title game wasn’t a surprise. The Broncs were the defending champs and had been the class of 4A all season in 2016.
Natrona’s was. The Mustangs lost by shutout in their first two games of 2016 — the first time the program had ever been shut out in consecutive games to start a season — but a junior-laden team improved significantly throughout the season and upset Gillette to make it to the title game.
Friday’s game could be a classic. Natrona lost little to graduation and is ready to unseat Sheridan as 4A’s top team. Sheridan lost more to graduation than Natrona did but remains 4A’s two-time defending champ and plenty loaded itself.
In the first four games of the season, Sheridan and Natrona are a combined 4-0, outscoring their foes by a combined 226-13. Yeah, 226-13.
For both teams, this is their first, and maybe biggest, test of 2017.
Meanwhile, a similar scenario is unfolding in Class 3A, where Torrington makes the 1,000-mile round-trip across the state to Afton to play top-ranked Star Valley.
This will be the first time Star Valley and Torrington have played each other in the regular season. And, boy, did they pick the right year to do so.
The Braves, like Sheridan, are a two-time defending champion. Torrington, however, has been a perennial contender the past few years but has yet to survive the gauntlet of the 3A playoffs to reach a title game.
In 2014, the Trailblazers lost to conference foe Douglas in the semifinals. In 2015, the Braves beat the Trailblazers in Torrington in the semifinals to end their season. And in 2016, Green River came to Torrington and beat the Blazers at home in the quarterfinals.
But Torrington was junior-heavy last year, and only one of the Trailblazers’ seven all-state players graduated. In short, Torrington is loaded this year, and they’re ranked third in 3A (and second in my ballot).
The Trailblazers wasted no time in smoking rival Wheatland 56-6 in Week 1. Star Valley, meanwhile, has beaten a pair of stubborn out-of-state foes in diverse ways: 55-42 against Spring Creek, Nevada, and 28-14 against Preston, Idaho.
Both teams want to prove they’re the team to beat in 3A. And they both want a mental edge against the other, just in case they meet again as expected in Laramie.
Any other week, it would be the biggest game in the state.
Even though there are 33 games on the schedule this week, a few of them are more intriguing than the others. These are those:
I picked both Buffalo and Worland to lose last week. They both won. Now they’re playing each other. Someone’s going to be 2-0, and whichever team wins on Friday will have established a ton of momentum. …
Thunder Basin-East could be interesting if for no other reason than East has looked much better than I anticipated while Thunder Basin has been a bit slow to warm. Even so, both teams are 2-0, and trying to keep pace with Sheridan and Natrona will be a season-long process. …
Cody-Evanston could be for a playoff spot by the time the 3A West cools down. …
Big Piney looked sharp in beating Wind River last week. Against Mountain View, we’ll see if the Punchers are for real. …
The undercard game of the week could be Newcastle playing in Upton against Upton-Sundance. Or it might be Pinedale (which looked WAY better than I expected in beating Lyman last week) heading to Cokeville. Both games pair 2A schools playing on the road against 1A 11-man schools, and I always like it when the little guys have home-field against the big guys. …
On to this week’s picks, with the teams I anticipate winning noted in bold and the teams I anticipate doing better than I think in non-bold:
Natrona JV at Wind River
Cheyenne Central at Rock Springs
Kelly Walsh at Cheyenne South
Laramie at Gillette
Natrona at Sheridan
Thunder Basin at Cheyenne East
Buffalo at Worland
Cody at Evanston
Powell at Jackson
Riverton at Green River
Torrington at Star Valley
Greybull at Thermopolis
Kemmerer at Lyman
Mountain View at Big Piney
Class 1A 11-man
Big Horn at Southeast
Tongue River at Lusk
Wright at Saratoga
Class 1A six-man
Farson at Burlington
Dubois at Meeteetse
Lingle at Guernsey-Sunrise
NSI at Midwest
Burns at Pine Bluffs
Lander at Glenrock
Lovell at Shoshoni
Newcastle at Upton-Sundance
Pinedale at Cokeville
Wheatland at Rawlins
Hot Springs, S.D., at Douglas
Class 1A six-man
Hanna at Kaycee
Riverside at Snake River
St. Stephens at Ten Sleep
Gillette JV at Moorcroft
Wind River JV at Wyoming Indian
Open: Hulett, Rock River, Rocky Mountain. Hulett gets a forfeit victory against Rock River.
For a full schedule including kickoff times, check out the 2017 schedule and results page.
My Week 1 picks went how Week 1 picks typically go — a few more surprises than usual. Nevertheless, I did OK:
Last week: 26-7 (79 percent). This season: 39-10 (80 percent).
Who are the teams you think have a chance to pull off a Week 2 upset? Who are the favorites who are ready to avoid such an upset? Leave a comment and we’ll talk about all the fun this week presents us.