Kansas City, Mo. Little did John Frangoulis expect his coaching contemporaries to tab Baker University to finish second in the Heart of America Conference football race this fall.
"I was kind of surprised. I really was," said Frangoulis, now preparing for his sixth season as BU head coach. "I thought we'd be in the top five, but realistically I thought third or fourth."
In their preseason poll released at Heart of America Conference Football Media Day, league coaches were nearly unanimous in picking Benedictine, with 16 starters returning from last season's 10-1 team, to finish first.
Baker was tabbed for second, two points ahead of MidAmerica Nazarene, last year's second-place team which lost quarterback Jeremy Males the league's offensive player of the year in 2000 to graduation.
Baker finished third in last year's standings. However, BU lost two NAIA All-Americans in defensive tackle Carlos Grace and free safety Mark Emry as well as starting quarterback Levi Schuck and Mackie Valentin, the league's second-leading receiver.
Moreover, none of Baker's quarterbacks has ever taken a snap in a varsity game.
"It is a little surprising to be picked that high," Frangoulis said. "On the other hand, it shows a little respect for our program."
Since the Heart of America Conference was conceived in 1971, Baker has won 12 football championships. That's three more than any other school.
Still, the Wildcats haven't won a title since 1993 and they've surrendered the mantle of league powerhouse to Benedictine. The Ravens have won or shared three of the last four conference crowns and four of the last six.
If Baker does finish second in the league or higher the Wildcats will have undoubtedly have found a quarterback. Sophomores Martin Updike and David Wolf, who saw some duty in junior varsity games last year, are the leading candidates.
Frangoulis will also have two freshmen, both Raytown, Mo., South products. Brian Marlborough was RaySouth's QB last season. Cody Buford was the school's signal-caller the year before.
Buford, a 6-foot-5, 235-pounder, red-shirted as a freshman at Missouri last season, but has told Frangoulis he plans to transfer to the Baldwin school. Buford was expected to enroll and show up for the Wildcats' first practice on Thursday.
Baker will have a little more than two weeks of preseason work before its opener against Peru, Neb., State on Aug. 25 at the Wheat Bowl in Ellinwood.
That's precious little time, especially with inexperienced quarterbacks.
"You've gotta limit what you do," Frangoulis said. "You can't expect them to do what seniors did last year."
Quite likely, Frangoulis will use both Updike and Wolf in the preseason bowl game.
"We need to keep it simple, but they're intelligent kids," the BU coach said.
"They have to be or they wouldn't be admitted to our school."
All in all, while Frangoulis may not have expected to be selected as high as second by the conference coaches, he's optimistic.
"We lost 23 seniors," he said, "but we have 24 (seniors) this year.
"We were second in the conference in scoring last year (25.1 ppg) and I'm confident we can put up some points again this season."
Baker was also second in points allowed (15.0) and, said Frangoulis, "I look for a great year from our defense."