Whether Southeast Missouri State University's football team will be a legitimate Ohio Valley Conference contender this season is yet to be determined.
But, entering this Saturday's league opener at Tennessee State, Southeast Missouri State University coach Tim Billings doesn't see why the Indians can't compete with the OVC's best in 2001.
"I think we can contend. I think we can play with anyone," said Billings during his weekly media conference Monday. "I don't know how many games we'll win but I think we can be in the game with anyone because of our big-play potential.
"It's the start of a new season and we want to compete for the OVC championship. That's what I came here for. That's what our coaches and players are here for."
Southeast will certainly be bucking recent history if it contends for the conference crown. The Indians have not finished higher than sixth in the OVC since 1995 and they have won a total of six league games over the last four years.
But, based on the first four games of the season, Billings' second Southeast squad certainly appears to be considerably better than anything the school has fielded over the past five or six years.
The Indians, who have gone 3-8 in each of the past three seasons, are 2-2 after Saturday's 38-33 comeback victory at Illinois State. And Southeast could very well be 4-0 because it held late leads against both Eastern Michigan and Southwest Missouri before those opponents rallied in the closing minutes.
"We're going in the right direction. We still have a long way to go, but as long as we keep improving each week, I'll be happy," Billings said. "Hopefully we won't be a doormat for anyone anymore, but we'll see."
Billings figures the Indians will find out in a hurry just how legitimate their OVC title hopes are because Tennessee State -- despite slumping to 3-8 last year -- appears to be back to the form it displayed in capturing conference crowns in 1998 and 1999.
The 2-0 Tigers broke into the national Division I-AA poll Monday at No. 25 after rolling past previous No. 9 Florida A&M 27-7.
"We'll find out where we're at," said Billings of Saturday's game at Adelphia Coliseum in Nashville, Tenn.
No word on McDowell
Starting quarterback Jeromy McDowell, who injured his left knee late in the first quarter at Illinois State and did not return, was scheduled to have an MRI Monday, but Billings said the results will not be known until today.
The only other injury of note Southeast suffered against Illinois State was to linebacker Michael Irving, who hurt a shoulder and is questionable for Tennessee State.