Southeast moves up to 7th in preseason OVC poll

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Jacksonville State is the favorite in the eyes of the conference coaches and SIDs

The Southeast Missouri State football team is expected to be better this season but not by a considerable amount.

That's according to the Ohio Valley Conference's coaches and sports information directors, who have voted the Redhawks tied for seventh in the nine-team league.

Southeast went 2-9 overall and a last-place 1-7 in the OVC during coach Tony Samuel's fourth season at the helm a year ago.

The OVC preseason poll released Monday has Southeast tied for seventh with Austin Peay and ahead of only Murray State.

Samuel, who said he never pays much attention to preseason polls, likes the Redhawks' prospects for 2010.

"We've got quite a bit of returners. We've got more depth, I think that's important. I see us as a faster team, a more physical team," Samuel said. "I think we're going to be pretty good."

The Redhawks were picked tied for last in the OVC's 2009 preseason poll and finished that way, their lone conference win being a 49-13 rout of Murray State in their final league game.

Samuel enters his fifth year at Southeast still seeking the type of breakthrough season that has been rare since the program moved up to Division I-AA in 1991.

Southeast has not won more than four games in any year since 2003, and the Redhawks' last winning record came in 2002, one of only two winning seasons the school has on the Division I-AA level.

Samuel, 13-32 overall and 6-25 in the OVC during his Southeast tenure, said he likes his team entering fall camp. Players report Aug. 3 with the first practice set for Aug. 5.

"We had a good group stick around and train. They had a good summer," Samuel said.

The Redhawks, who return seven starters on each side of the ball, open the season Sept. 2 at Division I-A Ball State.

"I'm looking forward to it," Samuel said.

Southeast placed two players on the preseason all-OVC team, junior quarterback Matt Scheible and senior defensive lineman J.J. Sanchez.

Scheible is among the OVC's most experienced quarterbacks after the majority of last year's top signal callers were seniors.

Last season Scheible completed 49.6 percent of his passes for 1,596 yards, with 11 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He also was Southeast's second-leading rusher with 487 yards and scored four touchdowns.

"We're expecting big things from him as far as his control of the offense," Samuel said. "He's only going to be more mature."

Scheible came on strong late a year ago. In the last two games, he rushed for 103 yards while completing 53.3 percent of his passes for 343 yards, with four touchdowns and no interceptions.

"Very excited," Scheible said of his outlook for the season. "I feel like we let a lot of games slip away [in 2009]. We want to prove ourselves this year."

Sanchez recorded 46 tackles in eight starts last season. He ranked fourth on the team in sacks (1.5) and fifth in tackles for loss (4.5).

Tight race expected

The race for the OVC championship is predicted to be tight.

For the second straight season, five teams received at least one first-place vote, with Jacksonville State emerging as the favorite. The Gamecocks nabbed 11 of the 18 first-place votes.

Defending champion Eastern Illinois received four first-place votes and was picked second.

Eastern Kentucky, Tennessee Tech and Tennessee State were picked third through five as each squad received one first-place vote. Tennessee-Martin was tabbed sixth.

Jacksonville State finished with the best record in the OVC last season (8-3 overall, 6-1 OVC) but was ineligible for the conference title because of a NCAA postseason ban due to an APR penalty.

The Gamecocks' biggest challenge figures to be replacing All-American quarterback Ryan Perrilloux.

After a rare losing season in 2008, Eastern Illinois (8-4, 6-2) rebounded with its fifth OVC championship and 13th playoff appearance.

Eastern Kentucky (5-6, 5-3) won the previous two OVC titles but struggled down the stretch last year to finish with its first losing season since 1972. The Colonels feature the league's top returning passer in sophomore quarterback T.J. Pryor, who threw for 2,153 yards to earn freshman of the year honors.

Tennessee Tech (6-5, 5-3) was a surprise last year by finishing tied for second with Eastern Kentucky.

Tennessee State (4-7, 3-4) is one of two OVC teams with a new coach this season as former Tigers player Rod Reed takes over.

Tennessee-Martin (5-6, 4-4), Austin Peay (4-7, 3-5) and Murray State (3-8, 2-6) will try to join Southeast in breaking through despite being picked in the bottom half.

Murray State features the OVC's other new coach in Chris Hatcher.

Holt, Bey at top

Austin Peay senior running back/return specialist Terrence Holt and Tennessee-Martin senior linebacker Josh Bey were voted the OVC preseason offensive and defensive players of the year.

Holt earned first-team all-OVC honors last year as both a running back and return specialist. He led Division I-AA in all-purpose yards (215.73 per game). He rushed for 793 yards and 13 touchdowns while adding a TD on both kick and punt returns.

Bey ranked 10th nationally in tackles for loss in 2009 (16.5) while recording 107 total tackles and 6.5 sacks.

Eastern Illinois, Jacksonville State and Tennessee Tech tied for the most individual selections on the all-OVC preseason team with four each. Eastern Kentucky followed with three.

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