Class 2A football was going to be exciting in 2018, regardless.
Then along came Buffalo.
The Bison’s move from Class 3A to Class 2A this season adds another solid program to what was already a classification full of intrigue. With both returning champion Mountain View, runner-up Glenrock and a host of others looking at 2018 as “their” year, Buffalo’s entry into the equation makes this season one to watch.
Oh, and there’s five new coaches in the classification, making the classification that much more uncertain.
Four questions to answer
Will Mountain View repeat as 2A champion? Definitely maybe. The Buffalos definitely return enough talent (five all-state selections) to win another title. The problem is that Glenrock — last year’s runner-up — is also returning boatloads of talent, and Buffalo is moving from Class 3A to Class 2A right in the middle of a resurgence. Mountain View is still one of the favorites, but it’s gonna be tough.
What’s that about boatloads of talent in Glenrock? Two running backs, 3,495 combined yards — that’s what the Herders have back in seniors Ian Arnold and Tucker Bopp. There hasn’t been a more dangerous pair since Butch and Sundance. The Herders’ line is still young, but their backfield is stacked for another deep playoff run.
And what was that about Buffalo? The Bison are ready for a breakthrough. And they would have been ready for a breakthrough even without a move from 3A to 2A. With seven starters back on both offense and defense, including three returning all-state picks, the Bison will be competitive immediately at the 2A level.
How much have coaching changes affected 2A? In a word, bigly. Five Class 2A schools — Burns, Greybull, Lovell, Moorcroft and Wheatland — have new coaches. That’s more than any other classification in the state. And while all five new coaches have interesting backstories and challenging roads ahead, the most intriguing offseason hire was Jeny Gardner, the state’s first female head coach, at Lovell.
Four (OK, six) players to watch
Ian Arnold and Tucker Bopp, Glenrock. There’s not a more dynamic pair of running backs in Class 2A — heck, maybe in the state — than the Herders’ pair of Arnold and Bopp. The speedster Bopp ran for 1,949 yards and 20 touchdowns last year, while the powerful Arnold ran for 1,546 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Kimball Madsen and Braeden Walk, Mountain View. The juniors split time at quarterback and wide receiver last season, combining for 1,874 passing yards and 409 receiving yards. The Buffalos’ plan is to do more of the same this year, with each player getting his chances to run, catch and throw, a twist that may be enough to keep opposing defenses off-balance.
Colton Caves, Wheatland. Don’t overlook Wheatland this season, and don’t overlook Caves. He ran for 1,305 yards and 13 touchdowns last year and also led the Bulldogs in solo tackles last season. He may shift to quarterback this season — the Bulldogs were still figuring that out late this summer — but regardless of where he is, he’ll be the focus for opposing teams.
Colby Rees, Mountain View. If the foundation of all great teams begins with the line, then the Buffalos are in good shape with Rees leading the way. He was the Class 2A lineman of the year last year as a junior, leading the Buffalos in assisted tackles while finishing second for Mountain View in defensive points, and he should be even better this year.
Four key games
Wheatland at Newcastle, Aug. 31. Even though the bulk of the 2A focus has been elsewhere this offseason, both the Bulldogs and Dogies have talented and deep squads returning this season. They’ll need to be on their games early — they meet in Week 1 of the 2018 season, and the losing team will have to play catch-up for the remainder of 2018.
Buffalo at Glenrock, Sept. 21. Glenrock has won or shared the East Conference championship four years running, but Buffalo presents a league challenge the Herders haven’t had to face in years. The Bison’s move from 3A gives the East Conference an entirely new dynamic, and this Week 4 matchup could be huge.
Mountain View at Pinedale, Sept. 28. On paper, this showdown between the Buffalos and Wranglers could have important implications for the West Conference championship and playoff seeding. Both squads return lots of players from last year’s squads, and Pinedale gets the home-field advantage this time around.
Mountain View at Greybull, Oct. 19. In the aftermath of Mountain View’s state title, it’s easy to forget how efficiently Greybull beat Mountain View in Week 8 last season, smoking the eventual champs 41-15 in the regular season finale. It will be interesting to see if this year’s game is more competitive — and who ends up winning what could be an important game in the conference title race.
Predicted order of finish
East Conference: Buffalo; Glenrock; Wheatland; Newcastle; Thermopolis; Burns; Moorcroft.
West Conference: Mountain View; Greybull; Pinedale; Lovell; Big Piney; Kemmerer; Lyman.
Way-too-early title game score prediction
Buffalo 20, Mountain View 19. The top three spots in 2A are clear, with Buffalo, Mountain View and Glenrock. Buffalo would have been a contender in 3A; in 2A, the Bison just might be the favorites.
What do you think? Is Buffalo the team to beat? Mountain View? Glenrock? Someone else who’s overlooked but ready for a breakthrough? Put your thoughts in a comment and let’s talk 2A.