Four questions to answer
Does Class 2A have a clear-cut favorite? Absolutely not. Class 2A may give us one of the most even title races in recent memory. Several teams are legitimate title contenders, among them Big Horn, Tongue River, Lovell, Lyman, Mountain View, Cokeville, Torrington… the list goes on and on. Two teams that got bumped in the quarterfinals last year (Tongue River and Mountain View) have drawn a lot of attention due to their returning talent, but they, along with Big Horn and Lyman, all have two returning all-state selections apiece.
So, quit playing, who’s it really going to be? Probably somebody from Uinta or Sheridan counties. The four teams getting the most attention from coaches this offseason are the two Uinta schools (Lyman and Mountain View) and the two Sheridan schools (Tongue River and Big Horn). Mountain View and Tongue River have the most returning talent from quarterfinal-exit finishes last year, while Lyman and Big Horn have the pedigree from recent championships, Lyman in 2020 and 2021 and Big Horn in 2022, to drive preseason respect.
And what about Lovell? Hmmm. Well, the Bulldogs — runners-up in 2A each of the past two season — present an interesting conundrum. They clearly know how to develop success, and they have a large senior class. But they also lost five all-staters to graduation, a loss that’s going to be difficult to overcome. At least the Bulldogs have a chance to prove themselves right out of the gate, by hosting defending champ Big Horn in Week 1 and 2020/2021 champ Lyman in Week 3 with a trip to Cokeville sandwiched between. If Lovell survives that, watch out.
Anyone else a threat? No, but it’s going to be fun to see how programs develop. Wheatland, Glenrock and Thermopolis all have new head coaches, while coaches in Burns, Pinedale and Cokeville are in their second years. Cokeville and Burns were playoff qualifiers last year, and it will be interesting to see if they can keep that momentum rolling.
Preseason class MVP
Colter Hanft, Tongue River. Not too many players lead their teams in both receiving and tackles, but that’s exactly what Hanft did last season — as a junior, no less. His 29 catches for 481 yards led all of Tongue River’s receivers, and his exactly 100 tackles also put him at the head of the Eagles’ lists, too. Among those tackles? Seven sacks.
Preseason class breakout player
Justus Platts, Mountain View. Never heard of him? That’s OK. Platts is a sophomore who’s never taken a snap for the Buffalos. A transfer from Texas, Platts has the potential — always a dangerous word — to take over as Mountain View’s quarterback this season. Coach Brent Walk came away impressed, though, after seeing Platts work with the returning Buffs at summer camps.
Other players to watch
Carter Bradshaw, Lyman. The Eagles’ option offense is predicated heavily on decisions made by the quarterback, and Bradshaw proved to be an effective decision-maker last season in season-long relief. He carried 241 times for 1,013 yards and scored 11 touchdowns and also chipped in 23 pass completions for 248 yards for an offense that doesn’t throw much.
Jayce Schultz, Mountain View. Schultz was the Buffalos’ top rusher and tackler in 2022, carrying for 901 yards and seven TDs while notching 87 tackles and four sacks on defense. On a defense that returns 12 of its top 14 tacklers, Schultz remains the leader of the unit ready for big strides this season.
Kiefer Dunham, Big Horn. The defending state champs have a leader on the line in Dunham. An all-state pick last year, Dunham is Big Horn’s top returning tackler, and it’s not really that close. He was a half-tackle shy of 100 last year and had 11.5 tackles for loss. He will be paramount in the Rams’ attempt at a title defense.
Ty Bennick, Torrington. Speaking of linemen, the Trailblazers have a good one in Bennick, who led the team in defensive points last season. He had 72 tackles last year, four of those sacks, and was Torrington’s only all-state selection last season. He also leads the ‘Blazers’ offensive line — no small role on a team that likes to run.
Four key games
Lovell at Cokeville, Sept. 8. The Bulldogs unceremoniously dumped the Panthers out of the playoffs last year in the semifinals, and Cokeville — in the conference opener for both teams — would love to get their revenge early in the season. A loss for either team so early in the conference schedule could be devastating to conference title hopes.
Mountain View at Lyman, Sept. 22. The Bridger Valley rivalry is always important, but in 2023 it could be the game that decides the West Conference in addition to regional bragging rights. And don’t think the fact that Lyman has won the last three in the series isn’t on the Buffalos’ minds.
Big Horn at Tongue River, Oct. 13. The Thunder Bowl, in Week 7 this year, might just lead to an attendance overflow in Walt Gray Field in Dayton. In a year where the Rams and Eagles — despite plenty of threats — could be the best two teams in the East, this rivalry game could be the game that ultimately decides it all.
Newcastle at Torrington, Oct. 20. These two bypassed each other in the East Conference standings last year — Newcastle ascending, Torrington descending. And if the rest of the conference comes together in the way that last year did, this one could be critical for postseason momentum. Or postseason access.
Predicted order of finish
East Conference: Tongue River; Big Horn; Torrington; Upton-Sundance; Newcastle; Wheatland; Burns; Glenrock.
West Conference: Lyman; Mountain View; Lovell; Cokeville; Thermopolis; Kemmerer; Pinedale.
Preseason top five: 1. Lyman; 2. Mountain View; 3. Tongue River; 4. Big Horn; 5. Lovell.
Way-too-early title game score prediction
Lyman 20, Mountain View 14. Sure, a Uinta County title showdown would be epic. But in 2A this year, any of the top six or seven teams are true contenders. Don’t be surprised if other teams emerge by November.
Who’s the team you see emerging from a muddled mix of favorites in Class 2A this year? Leave a comment, or drop a line on Twitter or Facebook.
Next Thursday: Class 3A preview.