The Southeast Missouri State football team should feel comfortable with the Ohio Valley Conference's preseason poll released last week.
Southeast was picked to finish seventh among nine squads based on voting by the league's coaches and sports information directors.
Seventh roughly has been the average preseason selection for the Redhawks during coach Tony Samuel's previous six years as their coach.
And seventh -- technically a tie for seventh -- is where the Redhawks were picked in 2010 when they had their record-setting, history-making season that featured the program's only OVC title and playoff berth on any level.
The one time the Redhawks have been tabbed for an upper-division OVC finish under Samuel came last year, when they were selected fourth following their breakthrough campaign.
But the Redhawks couldn't overcome the loss of 20 key seniors and went just 3-8 overall and 2-6 in the OVC to tie for seventh.
Among the biggest differences between the 2010 and 2011 teams was that the 2010 squad won most of its close games while the 2011 group largely fell short in those situations.
Four of Southeast's six OVC losses last year were by eight points or fewer, including consecutive one-point defeats to end the season. Turn those results around and the season looks a whole lot better.
This year's Redhawks hope a much more experienced lineup leads to a bounce-back season. Southeast returns nine offensive starters, seven defensive starters and both specialists.
One of Southeast's most inexperienced positions is at quarterback, which usually is not a good place to be green.
But the Redhawks believe Ohio University transfer Kyle Snyder will be a strong replacement for record-setting Matt Scheible.
Snyder, who saw limited action as a redshirt freshman at FBS program Ohio of the Mid-American Conference last year, went through spring practice and seemed to have a good grasp of the offense.
Snyder appears to have the necessary skill level with both his arm and his feet to run Southeast's offense well and to succeed in the OVC.
Time will tell if that translates into helping the 2012 Redhawks succeed as a unit.
Southeast senior linebacker Blake Peiffer garnered plenty of respect from the OVC by being named the league's preseason defensive player of the year.
It would have been a stunner if Peiffer had not received the honor because he is by far the conference's top returning defensive player.
Peiffer, who was named to the Sports Network preseason All-America first team and is on the preseason watch list for the nation's top defensive player, landed a spot on four All-American squads in 2011 after leading the OVC in tackles with a school-record 151.
The Jackson High School graduate ranked third in the nation with an average of 13.7 tackles per game and was the Redhawks' only first-team all-OVC honoree a year ago.
Knowing the type of team-first player Peiffer is, he would trade in all his individual awards for a big season by the Redhawks.
Most people expect a strong season for the OVC because many of the teams return a large group of starters and eight of the nine squads return their starting quarterback. Southeast is the lone exception.
The majority of the league's veteran signal callers put up prolific numbers in 2011, led by Murray State All-American Casey Brockman, the OVC preseason offensive player of the year.
Preseason OVC favorite Eastern Kentucky received 12 of 18 first-place votes after tying Jacksonville State and Tennessee Tech for the title last year.
The Colonels, who return 17 starters, won their 21st league championship in 2011. That's the most conference titles by one team in FCS history.
Jacksonville State nabbed the remaining six first-place votes and was picked second, followed by Murray State, Tennessee Tech, Tennessee State, Tennessee-Martin, Southeast, Eastern Illinois and Austin Peay.
Southeast will have a notable local roster addition when players report for fall camp Wednesday, followed by conditioning tests Thursday and the first practice Friday.
Tyson Estes, a running back who graduated from Chaffee High School this year, is slated to join the Redhawks as a walk-on. He joins several other walk-ons from the immediate area who have been on the roster.
Marty Mishow is a sports reporter for the Southeast Missourian.