Like most coaches, Tony Samuel doesn't put a whole lot of stock into preseason predictions.
So Samuel is not flustered by the fact his first Southeast Missouri State football squad was picked to finish dead last in the nine-team Ohio Valley Conference.
The preseason poll, voted on by the league's head coaches and sports information directors, rates Eastern Kentucky as the favorite, with defending champion Eastern Illinois second.
"That's why it's the preseason. I don't pay much attention to that," Samuel said. "Don't forget the term 'pre.' That's what it is. The key to the whole thing is at this point it's all speculation."
Coming off a 2-9 season -- 2-6 for seventh place in the nine-team OVC -- the Redhawks lagged even behind the two squads they finished ahead of in 2005, Tennessee State and Murray State.
But Samuel doesn't see any reason why the Redhawks can't be competitive during his first season, which begins Sept. 2 at Austin Peay. The home opener is Sept. 9 against Missouri-Rolla and the first OVC game is Sept. 16 at Jacksonville State.
"We're new. Nobody knows us. They're just going on past history," said Samuel, whose squad returns 18 starters. "I think we've got a good talent base, but depth is a question. I think they've done a great job this summer, but the key for us is to have a good fall camp.
"Oh yeah, we should be able to compete with these guys. This is a very competitive league, but we can compete in this league."
Samuel believes a big key will be to shake the Redhawks' losing mentality. Another will be to establish a solid quarterback.
Senior Kevin Ballatore enters fall camp as the starting signal caller after suffering through an injury-plagued campaign last year, but Samuel plans to take a good look at junior college transfer Houston Lillard from Oakland, Calif. He was a late signee after throwing for more than 1,800 yards at Raney (Calif.) Community College last season.
The quarterback position also includes sophomore Markus Mosley, who saw some action last year, and redshirt freshman William Cowan.
"We're going in completely open," Samuel said. "He [Ballatore] ended the spring as the No. 1 quarterback, and he'll start the fall at No. 1, but there will be a lot of competition.
"We're going to take a good look at Lillard, see what he can do. We brought him in from junior college for a reason. We want competition there."
Southeast returns two players who were first-team all-OVC last year in senior punter David Simonhoff and sophomore kicker Colin Schermann.
Simonhoff was a first-team All-America pick by the American Football Coaches Association in 2005 after he led the OVC in punting with a 42.8-yard average.
In 2004, Simonhoff was a second-team All-America selection after he set Southeast and OVC records by averaging 46 yards per punt. He has been first-team all-OVC the past two years after making the second team as a freshman.
Simonhoff has already made several preseason All-America squads this year.
Schermann, a sophomore from Cape Girardeau Central High School, had a banner rookie college season last year. As a redshirt freshman he connected on 12 of 14 field-goal attempts.
Also back for the Redhawks are two second-team all-conference picks from last season, junior tight end Joseph Tuineau and senior defensive end Edgar Jones.