First two games to offer little proof of Southeast's mettle

Monday, August 25, 2008

During Tony Samuel's third season as New Mexico State's football coach, in 1999, he led that struggling Division I-A program to a 6-5 record for only its third winning mark in 32 years.

Samuel hopes to pull off a similar feat as he enters his third season at Southeast Missouri State, a struggling Division I-AA program.

Samuel's first two years at Southeast haven't shown many tangible results — his record is 7-15, including 3-12 in Ohio Valley Conference play — but he believes he has the Redhawks headed in the right direction.

The proof of that will begin to reveal itself Thursday night when the Redhawks open the 2008 season at home against Division II Southwest Baptist.

In reality, the kind of headway Samuel and his staff are making — or not making — won't have anything to do with what transpires at Houck Stadium against what figures to be an overmatched foe.

That is, unless the Redhawks should suffer the unthinkable and lose to the Bearcats, who actually gave Southeast a battle last year before the Redhawks pulled away late for a 38-17 victory.

Whatever progress Samuel and company are making also likely won't manifest itself the following week, when the Redhawks visit top-10 Division I-A Missouri.

Everybody expects the Redhawks to beat Southwest Baptist and take their lumps against MU. If either of those things doesn't happen, it will be a major surprise.

That leaves the final 10 games of the season for the Redhawks to define themselves and try to give their fans some decent football, something that rarely has been seen in these parts since Southeast moved up from Division II in 1991.

In 17 seasons on the Division I-AA level, Southeast is a collective 65-125, which spans three coaches. The program has gone 44-82 in the OVC.

Southeast has produced just two winning records in I-AA: 8-4 in 2002 and 7-5 in 1994.

Samuel is the latest person to try and buck Southeast football's tradition of futility.

It is impressive where Samuel and his staff gained their experience, both as players and coaches. I firmly believe they know what they're doing in important areas like organization, discipline, teaching and game management.

I just wonder if Southeast football is such a black hole that nobody will be able to dig the Redhawks out of the mess, at least not on a consistent basis.

Samuel seems to think he is the person to do it. He thinks his third year at the helm will show the progress his program has been making, but has not been apparent to the average fan.

We'll find out soon enough.

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If you're a Southeast football fan who believes in history repeating itself, here's something to ponder.

Tim Billings, Southeast's coach immediately before Samuel, went 7-15 overall and 2-11 in the OVC during his first two seasons — almost identical to what Samuel has done.

Really no surprise on both counts, because most times when a coach takes over a struggling program, the first couple of years are rough.

But by year three, when the majority of the players were recruited by that coach and his staff and they become more comfortable with the system, significant progress often is made.

That's exactly what happened with Billings, whose third Southeast team went 8-4, 4-2 in the OVC, in 2002 for the program's most wins since 1969.

And the 2003 Southeast squad, while only 5-7 overall because of a brutal nonconference schedule, went 5-3 in the OVC and needed only a victory in the season finale to win the conference title and earn the program's first playoff berth on any level. Unfortunately the team fell short.

Of course, the bottom fell out for Billings after that, which is what brought Samuel to Cape Girardeau.

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For college football fans getting ready to enjoy the season, here are a few notable rules changes to be aware of.

* The NCAA has banned the horse-collar tackle. A 15-yard penalty will be assessed when a runner is yanked to the ground from the inside collar of his shoulder pads or jersey. This does not apply to a runner who is inside the tackle box or to a quarterback who is in the pocket.

* There is no longer a 5-yard facemask penalty, which had been assessed when a player grabbed an opponent's facemask without pulling, twisting or turning. There is now only a 15-yard facemask penalty for pulling, twisting or turning.

* There is now a 40-second play clock that will start as soon as the ball is ruled dead, instead of the previous 25-second clock that began on the referee's signal. The 25-second clock will remain in circumstances when the officials stop the game clock for administrative and other reasons.

* When a runner has gone out of bounds, the game clock now will start on the referee's signal when the ball is ready for play, not when the ball is snapped. But in the last two minutes of each half, the clock will continue to start only when the ball is snapped, thus allowing the offensive team to maximize the clock.

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Southeast product Edgar Jones, who made the Baltimore Ravens' roster as a rookie free agent last season, is listed on that NFL team's Web site as No. 2 on the depth chart at outside linebacker.

But Jones played tight end during Saturday's preseason game at the St. Louis Rams. He caught two passes for 12 yards.

I don't know if Jones has been moved permanently to tight end or the Ravens just need him there for a while because of injuries, but that could be an interesting development to follow.

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Former Southeast assistant women's basketball coach Lisa Pace has joined the staff at Georgia State University.

Pace was an assistant at Eastern Kentucky — her alma mater — last season after spending the previous seven years at Southeast.

Georgia State, a Division I program in Atlanta, was 8-22 last season, including 5-13 in the Colonial Athletic Association.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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