Is Baker University's football team a contender? Or are the Wildcats merely a pretender? The answer is only hours away.
Perennial NAIA powerhouse Missouri Valley will be in Baldwin City today, and BU has an opportunity to make a statement.
"We're facing an animal that is a national-championship-like football team," Baker coach Mike Grossner said. "If we win, I think we'll prove we're one of the top 10 teams in the nation."
Kickoff will be at 1 p.m. at Liston Stadium.
Baker (6-2) is on a roll. The Wildcats have won five in a row and have climbed into the No. 24 spot in this week's NAIA poll. Missouri Valley (6-1) is ranked ninth.
During the five-game sizz, the Wildcats have averaged 42.2 points a game. Meanwhile, Mo Valley leads the league in scoring defense (15.6 points per game allowed) and in total defense (168.9 yards).
"We're second in defense," Grossner said, "so it's a case of who's going to break."
Baker boasts a balanced offense. Junior quarterback Mack Brown is coming off a school-record 433-yard passing performance in last week's 52-14 victory over Central Methodist. Meanwhile, senior tailback Richie Bryant leads the HAAC in rushing with exactly 1,000 yards.
Equally important, Bryant hasn't lost a fumble. Baker ranks No. 2 nationally in turnover margin, a stat enhanced by the Wildcats' 17 interceptions. Rodney Harris has six thefts, Herb Askew four and Eric Allen three.
Baker's defense has a strong Free State High presence, with brothers Philip and Kyle Weinmaster starting on the line and Ryder Werts and Danny Pike playing linebacker. Werts, a freshman, has started every game, but Pike will start today after Werts suffered a broken wrist bone in last week's game. Werts is expected to play, however.
Another former Firebird, Jamie Resseguie, is a stalwart on special teams and also plays some linebacker.