The Indians may fare better without target on their backs

Sunday, August 1, 2004

Last year, Southeast Missouri State University's football team was coming off its best record since 1969 and garnered the role of Ohio Valley Conference favorite according to the league's preseason poll.

But the Indians did not live up to expectations, as they finished deadlocked for third, although a win in their final game would have lifted them into a tie for the title and given them their first-ever berth in the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs.

As the Indians prepare to report for fall camp in a few days -- they begin practice next weekend -- they won't carry the big target on their back of being the preseason favorite, as the OVC's head coaches and sports information directors voted them fourth among nine teams.

Southeast coaches believe that not being the OVC's top preseason pick -- last year's distinction marked the first time the Indians were so highly regarded since joining the conference in 1991 --will work to their advantage. They think that the burden of being the hunted instead of the hunter ultimately took its toll in 2003.

Whether the Indians can finally get over the hump and capture their first OVC championship remains to be seen, but with 16 starters returning, you've got to figure they'll at least be in the mix among the league's upper division.

Eastern Kentucky, last year's second-place finisher, and defending champion Jacksonville State return many of their key players and were rated a solid one-two in the preseason poll as they shared all 18 of the first-place votes. That's probably deserving.

Samford, which surprised everybody last year by tying for third after being the preseason No. 8 pick, was tabbed for third, followed by Southeast, Murray State, Tennessee State, Eastern Illinois, Tennessee Tech and Tennessee-Martin. Most if not all of those squads could make some noise.

The OVC has not exactly proven to be one of the nation's better I-AA conferences in recent years -- no current league member has won a playoff game since 1996 and lately the postseason contests have been blowouts --but that doesn't mean the chase of the title won't be close and exciting.

The Indians simply hope they'll be part of the action. Time will tell about that.

The Sports Network, which covers Division I-AA football more extensively than any other media outlet, recently released its national position-by-position breakdown.

Two Southeast players made the list, with returning All-Americans Ray Goodson rated the No. 2 tight end and Dan Bieg ranked the No. 5 offensive guard.

A pair of Southern Illinois University stars -- center Elmer McDaniel and safety Alexis Moreland -- were rated No. 1 at their positions. The Salukis are ranked in the top 10 in most preseason publications, with Athlon putting them at No. 1 and The Sports Network having them at No. 2.

Oh, by the way, Southeast visits SIU on Sept. 2 to begin the season, the start of a brutal opening three-game road stretch for the Indians that also sends them to Division I-A teams Bowling Green and Central Michigan.

You've got to feel for head coach Tim Billings and his staff because -- and I'm not making any predictions here -- the Indians will surely be heavily favored to begin the season 0-3.

Southeast fans, who saw a rugged schedule lead to last year's 0-5 start, can only hope the Indians pull off at least one major upset so that doesn't happen.

One of Southeast's women's basketball recruits for the upcoming season won't be playing for the Otahkians after all --at least not right away.

Recent Charleston High School graduate Missy Whitney, a 6-foot-1 all-state forward, did not qualify academically and will instead attend Three Rivers Community College in Poplar Bluff, Mo.

For the 23rd straight year, the Plaza Tire Capahas will be part of the prestigious National Baseball Congress World Series when they face the Oklahoma Red River League champion just after midnight tonight in Wichita, Kan.

The Capahas have had another solid season -- their record is 29-10 -- but their postseason again failed to meet expectations, as they finished second in their own NBC Mid-South Regional for the third year in a row. And they followed that up with a so-so 2-2 showing during this past week's American Baseball Congress Tournament in Indiana.

Still, with a loaded pitching staff that is by far the strength of the team, Plaza Tire has the potential to fare well against the nation's elite amateur squads during the NBC World Series.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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