Last year, the football programs at Jackson, Burns, Kemmerer and NSI combined to finish with a win-loss record of 2-31.
This year, those same four teams are a combined 7-1. In fact, as I noted on Twitter last week, Kemmerer and Burns are the last two undefeated teams in Class 2A.
If you’re looking for early turnaround success, look here — to a pair of programs with first-year head coaches who have found early success and another pair with second-year coaches moving the needles in their programs the way they’d like.
Jackson‘s struggles have been well-documented. From 9-2 and 3A semifinalists in 2015, the Broncs crashed to 1-8 in 2016; in 2017, under new coach David Joyce, the Broncs went 0-9. Eventually, they lost 16 in a row, including this year’s season opener against across-the-mountains rival Teton, Idaho.
But their past two weeks have produced emphatic victories, as the Broncs thumped Bear Lake, Idaho, 41-13 two weeks ago and Pinedale 35-10 last week. Now, Jackson faces 1-1 Worland to gauge how well they’ll fare in 3A this fall — and it might be the toughest game of the week in the state for me to pick.
Ever since a surprising first-round playoff exit after an undefeated regular season in 2013, Burns has been struggling to find success in the win-loss column. In the four seasons after that, the Broncs went 2-6, 0-8, 2-6 and 1-7. New coach Brad Morrison didn’t inherit a program in disarray, though — most of his players this year were part of those struggles and had the edge in experience at the varsity level.
That edge has shown in the first two weeks, as Burns ripped through Wright to open the season and outscored Moorcroft in a 41-30 shootout last week. Now, the Broncs are 2-0 for the first time since that 2013 season; however, to keep the momentum going, they have to defeat 2A newcomer Buffalo, in Buffalo, on Friday. That’s a tall test for a developing program.
Kemmerer had a unorthodox start to its season, playing in two scrimmages in Weeks 0 and 1, before playing its first game against Lyman in Week 2. Obviously the approach worked, as the Rangers jumped out to a 21-0 halftime lead before beating the Eagles 28-6 in the Rangers’ first conference victory since 2012.
Second-year coach Bart Jernigan helped the Rangers start last year 1-1 before they lost seven in a row to finish the season. But this feels different. The Rangers were efficient and enthusiastic in taking out the Eagles and sent a signal that they could be ready for the postseason if the rest of the 2A West doesn’t take them seriously. This will be put to the test this week against another old conference rival, Pinedale, who’s tied atop the conference standings with Kemmerer (and Mountain View) with an early 1-0 record.
NSI has started 2-0 just two other times in program history — its first two seasons in 2000 and 2001. The Wolves have never started a season 3-0. This from a program that went 0-7 last year. With the Wolves, though, last season never matters; none of last year’s players are on this year’s roster, and even the coach, Antoine Proctor, is new.
This week, NSI hosts Midwest, a team the Wolves have beaten just once in their past five meetings since NSI moved to six-man. After that, the Wolves host Guernsey before traveling to Hanna for a Week 5 game that all of a sudden looks way more important than it did in mid-August.
All four teams could win this week.
All four could be playoff contenders.
All four are showing the past is only a small part of the future.
Some other games that look good on paper:
Thunder Basin has two huge road tests the next three weeks. This week, the ‘Bolts are at Sheridan; in Week 5, they’re at Natrona. In between is the rivalry game with Gillette. After an impressive victory against Cheyenne East last week, though, the ‘Bolts look like a team capable of anything. …
The upset special this week might be Rock Springs — off a huge boost of a double-OT victory — at home against Kelly Walsh, who struggled early last week against winless Cheyenne South. If the Trojans aren’t careful, watch out. …
The luster wore off this week’s game between Green River and Torrington, a rematch of a 3A semifinal from last year, with the Wolves’ loss to Rawlins last week. Was it a surprise that will get the Wolves refocused, or a portent of things to come? …
Here. I picked some games. Bold means projected winner, but the way things have gone for me this season, I wouldn’t get too worked up over any one pick:
Shoshoni at Riverton JV
Cheyenne Central at Gillette
Cheyenne South at Cheyenne East
Kelly Walsh at Rock Springs
Laramie at Natrona
Thunder Basin at Sheridan
Cody at Rawlins
Evanston at Lander
Green River at Torrington
Jackson at Worland
Powell at Douglas
Star Valley at Riverton
Burns at Buffalo
Glenrock at Wheatland
Greybull at Big Piney
Kemmerer at Pinedale
Mountain View at Lovell
Thermopolis at Moorcroft
Class 1A 11-man
Big Horn at Wright
Pine Bluffs at Southeast
Tongue River at Upton-Sundance (at Upton)
Wind River at Lusk
Class 1A six-man
Burlington at St. Stephens
Farson at Dubois
Kaycee at Guernsey-Sunrise
Cokeville at Lyman
Riverside at Saratoga
Class 1A six-man
Hulett vs. Hanna (at Midwest)
Meeteetse at Snake River
Midwest at NSI
Lingle is off this week thanks to Rock River’s season cancelation; Newcastle has already defeated Rocky Mountain by forfeit.
For a full schedule including kickoff times, as well as results from past weeks, click here. Click on “Week 3” on the top of the page for this week’s schedule.
Here are the results of my picks from last week and this season:
Last week: 25-9 (74 percent). This season: 62-21 (75 percent).
Through Week 2, which teams look the best to you? Who are your biggest surprises, either way? Leave a comment and add to the train of thoughts I helped start here.