The Redhawks fell well short as they continued what largely has been a futile proposition in the program's 22 seasons on the level formerly known as Division I-AA.
Southeast, for the second consecutive season, went 3-8 overall and a seventh-place 2-6 in the nine-team Ohio Valley Conference under seventh-year coach Tony Samuel. Those identical campaigns came after Samuel guided the 2010 Redhawks to the program's first OVC title and first playoff berth on any level.
"This was an interesting year for us," said Samuel, whose squad lost six of its final seven games after a 2-2 start. "We started fall camp, I thought we had a real good nucleus of people. ... We lost some key people early.
"I thought we came on and played some good football ... lost a few close games. We were in just about every game we played. We just didn't close it out."
Southeast has had just three winning seasons -- all under different coaches -- during 22 years in the FCS. In only two of the 19 losing seasons has Southeast even posted more than four victories.
But Samuel, whose seven-year Southeast record is 28-51 overall and 17-38 in conference play, believes the Redhawks are close to turning the corner as far as being a consistent program.
"When we first came here we thought that it was going to take four or five years, and it took us five," Samuel said about the Redhawks accomplishing what they did in 2010. "The second level to developing consistency is a two to three, sometimes four-year process, and I thought we were going to have a great opportunity to develop that consistency this year.
"Obviously we weren't able to pull it off. We stayed close, but wins and losses is still the name of the game. I think we're right around the corner. I think we're right on the edge."
The 2012 Redhawks, featuring 23 seniors, were hit with adversity before even playing a game. Sophomore quarterback Kyle Snyder, a transfer from Football Bowl Subdivision Ohio University, suffered a season-ending knee injury nine days into fall camp.
But Snyder's replacement, redshirt freshman Scott Lathrop, was Southeast's most pleasant surprise this year as he earned OVC freshman of the year honors.
Lathrop, who previously had not taken a collegiate snap, rushed for 824 yards and a team-high seven touchdowns. He completed 91 of 158 passes (57.6 percent) for 1,025 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions.
"I thought Scotty did a great job. If you were going to tell me he was going to put those kind of numbers up, I probably would have questioned you," Samuel said.
While Snyder was Southeast's clear-cut starter before his injury, Samuel said he won't simply be given the job back. Not only will Lathrop be in the mix, but also true freshman Blake Jackson, who displayed plenty of potential in limited action.
"It's an open competition. Everybody'll get a look," Samuel said. "Obviously this year we gained depth at quarterback. [Jackson] showed some signs of making progress."
The Redhawks suffered several other injuries, including to a pair of starting offensive linemen prior to the season. They never returned to the field.
"I thought that was a factor as well," Samuel said. "This is a game of depth after a while. You really need to stay healthy."
Southeast, for the second straight year, failed to win its share of the close games that are prevalent around the OVC. That wasn't the case during the Redhawks' historic 2010 season.
Southeast was blown out in conference play once, 31-7 by Eastern Kentucky. In the Redhawks' other five league losses, they were within one score or closer at some point in the fourth quarter.
"We had an awful lot of opportunities in a lot of games," Samuel said.
Unlike last season, when Southeast returned most of its key players other than record-setting quarterback Matt Scheible, many of this year's top players were seniors. Seniors filled 13 of 22 starting positions, along with kicker Drew Geldbach and valuable long snapper Brandon Gabbard.
Southeast will have to replace, among many others, its top two players in senior tailback Levi Terrell and All-American senior linebacker Blake Peiffer from Jackson High School.
Terrell was among the national leaders with 1,349 yards rushing. Peiffer, the OVC defensive player of the year, ranked high nationally with 117 tackles as he recorded over 100 tackles for the second straight year.
Other senior starters were three offensive linemen, the tight end, all four defensive linemen, another linebacker and both safeties.
Southeast, in addition to losing Terrell's production and its second-leading rusher among running backs (Renard Celestin, 252 yards), loses its top four tacklers and players who accounted for eight of the squad's 13 interceptions.
But Samuel said he likes the pieces Southeast has returning. That includes a larger group of freshmen that Southeast was able to redshirt compared to years past.
"I think we've got the right amount of people coming back," Samuel said. "We were able to get a fair amount of redshirting done, and there's a lot of interest in us now too from a recruiting standpoint."
Samuel believes Southeast has some talented young tailbacks waiting in the wings, including sophomore Lennies McFerren, true freshman DeMichael Jackson and redshirt freshman Lewis Washington.
McFerren, stuck behind Terrell and Celestin, received just one carry this year after a solid season in 2011. Jackson and Washington, who also plays fullback, combined for 11 carries.
Having sophomore fullback Ron Coleman healthy for the entire season would aid next year's backfield. Coleman (158 yards) missed several games this year with a knee injury that slowed him in a few other contests.
The Redhawks' top three receivers will be back, led by junior D.J. Foster (37 receptions) and sophomore Spencer Davis (20).
True freshman Paul McRoberts, who caught 11 passes, showed glimpses of being a potential future star.
Southeast's defense will have to be rebuilt. Eight of this year's starters were seniors, although quite a few underclassmen backed up at those positions.
The top tackler among underclassmen was sophomore linebacker Daniel Siehndel with 51.
Junior punter Joe Vucic had another strong season, averaging 41.9 yards per attempt.
"I think we're going to be in good shape," said Samuel, who added that Southeast's top recruiting priority is to replenish the offensive and defensive lines, including bringing in several mid-semester junior college transfers. "By [next] fall, my prediction is there's going to be some kids stand out that are not household names, and that's a good sign that we were able to redshirt some people. In the past we've had to take a lot of true freshmen and throw them to the wolves."