Southeast Missouri State football team picked to finish fourth in the OVC

Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Southeast Missouri State quarterback Matt Scheible passes during a spring scrimmage at Houck Stadium. Scheible, who was all-OVC first team as a junior, is among three Redhawks to receive all-OVC preseason recognition. (Fred Lynch)

Southeast Missouri State football coach Tony Samuel never has put much stock in preseason polls, making him no different than most others in the profession.

Samuel didn't pay much attention when the Redhawks were picked to finish toward the bottom of the Ohio Valley Conference during his first five years on the job.

He's not paying much attention now that the defending OVC champion Redhawks have been tabbed for their highest preseason ranking since 2004 but not picked to repeat.

Southeast, after its historic 2010 campaign, was selected fourth in the nine-team OVC's preseason poll released Monday.

Voting was done by the league's coaches and sports information directors. Southeast, selected behind Jacksonville State, Murray State and Eastern Kentucky, was among three squads to receive at least one first-place vote.

"I've never really paid much attention to those kinds of things," Samuel said. "From a prediction standpoint, it doesn't do much for you. There's no way you can predict what's going to happen in the preseason."

Most other preseason publications also have tabbed Southeast for the OVC's upper division, which is a far cry from where the Redhawks have been projected in previous years. The Redhawks even have been ranked nationally in the preseason by at least two organizations.

"It's pretty much really for the excitement, to get people ready for the season," Samuel said about preseason polls.

Southeast's 2010 campaign provided plenty of excitement. The Redhawks had arguably the best season in the program's 104-year history. They went 9-3 overall and 7-1 in league play to win the program's first OVC title and earn the program's first playoff berth on any level.

The Redhawks, who received the program's highest national ranking of No. 7 and wound up 13th, lost in the second round of the FCS playoffs at Eastern Washington after receiving an opening-round bye.

"It was a great season. We accomplished a lot and hopefully we can build off that," said Samuel, whose players report to fall camp Aug. 4 with the first practice set for Aug. 6. The Redhawks play their season opener Sept. 3 at home against regional rival Southern Illinois.

The Redhawks must replace 15 starters, including several All-Americans, and have four new coaches. But Southeast does welcome back key pieces among 40 returning lettermen.

"We lost some very good players. We have some key people coming back. A lot of guys are showing promise," said Samuel, the 2010 Eddie Robinson Award winner as national coach of the year. "I know they're working hard. We still have to put it all together.

"We've got four new coaches. I think they're all very good coaches. We won't change a whole lot of what we do. ... It's a whole combination of things we have to put together."

But Samuel emphasized that every season brings new challenges, which is a big part of what he enjoys about coaching.

"I'm excited, anxious, the whole nine," he said.

Three of Southeast's key returning players were voted all-OVC preseason selections, including senior quarterback Matt Scheible. He was one of two quarterbacks on the squad, along with Murray State's Casey Brockman, the league's preseason offensive player of the year.

Scheible became the first Southeast quarterback to earn first-team all-OVC honors last season. He passed for 1,246 yards and eight touchdowns against just three interceptions. He also finished second on the Redhawks in rushing with 887 yards and seven touchdowns and has made 24 consecutive starts behind center.

"We still have Matt back. It's always good to have a senior quarterback," Samuel said. "He did a lot of great things for us last year."

Other all-conference preseason picks for the Redhawks are junior offensive tackle Evan Conrad and junior safety Tylor Brock.

Conrad and Brock joined Scheible in earning first-team all-OVC honors last season, with Brock making one All-American squad. Brock and Conrad have been selected to various preseason All-American lists.

Conrad, Southeast's lone returning offensive line starter, was responsible for only two sacks a year ago.

Brock led the OVC and tied the school record last season with six interceptions.

Jacksonville State, which handed Southeast its only conference loss in 2010 and also earned a playoff berth while going 9-3, is the OVC preseason favorite for the third time in the last four years. The Gamecocks earned 13 of 18 first-place votes.

Murray State was picked second and nabbed four first-place votes. The Racers went 6-5 in their first season under coach Chris Hatcher for their first winning record since 2004

Eastern Kentucky was selected third, while Southeast got the remaining first-place vote.

Tennessee Tech was picked fifth, followed by Tennessee-Martin, Eastern Illinois, Tennessee State and Austin Peay.

"This league is so tight. ... The majority of our games the last two, three years were decided in the last few minutes," Samuel said. "This year I wouldn't be surprised if anybody won it. It's that tight."

Eastern Kentucky led the way with seven all-OVC preseason picks. Jacksonville State and Murray State each had five selections.

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