So with a fifth-place projection for the 2012 Demons unveiled at Tuesday's Southland Conference Football Media Day, Peveto -- beginning his fourth season as head coach, after being defensive coordinator at NSU from 1996-98 -- probably feels he has the Demons in just the right spot before the gates open.
“We're picked fifth, that's probably where we deserve to start. We haven't done enough to this point," said Peveto, whose last two Demon teams made runs at the league title but finished 5-6 both times and out of the championship picture. "Polls are interesting but not binding. You look at the history of the polls and how our championship and playoff teams fared in preseason polls, we exceeded those expectations."
In 1997, 1998 and 2004, when the Demons won the Southland championship, the league coaches picked them to finish no better than third and fifth in 1997. In additional FCS playoff years (2001, 2002), NSU was projected fifth and third, respectively.
With only one new head coach (Ron Roberts at Southeastern Louisiana) voting on the 2012 poll, the coaches all picked defending champ and FCS finalist Sam Houston State, with 19 returning starters, to repeat atop the league. A year ago, the Bearkats roared out of the pack, the same flight plan Peveto hopes the Demons follow in 2012.
"Sam Houston was picked fourth in the league last year and played for the national championship. We are excited about the chance to move up the ladder this fall," he said. "This conference is so competitive, and I believe we're ready to be in the thick of it and hopefully finish strong.”
Signs heading into the opening of preseason camp next Wednesday have him beaming.
“We've had a great offseason, we had a fantastic spring, and our senior leadership is really good. We have 13 starters back, seven on offense, six on defense. Any time your starting quarterback returns, it's good, and when it's a guy who is a dual threat, who has the leadership qualities that Brad Henderson gives us, your team has a great chance," said Peveto.
For Henderson, who set a school record by completing 61.5 percent of his passes last fall in his first season at NSU, the approach to the season is 180 degrees different.
“Confidence. I have a year under my belt, and I'm more confident as a quarterback. I am minimizing mistakes that I made last year and I'm growing as a quarterback," he said. "Last year I won over my teammates, and this year I'm going out there to play with confidence.”
Two-time All-America linebacker Derek Rose said the frustrating finishes in the past two seasons have lingered since last November, spurring the Demons forward.
“We've worked so hard. Everyone has come in with a chip on our shoulder and is ready to win. We are ready to compete against the best teams," he said. "I think the effort will show once the season starts.”
Climbing up the SLC ladder is a three-step process, said Peveto.
“We have to run the ball better. We have a great plan, we've made some adjustments, we've added four transfers on the offensive line, and we have a great addition to our coaching staff with our offensive line coach, Allen Rudolph” he said. "We have seven returning starters and a lot of experience on our offensive unit. We have a great nucleus returning. You look at the games we won in 2011, we ran the ball well. When we lost, we didn't.
“Two other key areas are discipline and the ability to finish. I thought we could take the little things, coach them better and improve on and off the field, and we've done that. I didn't think we were not disciplined last year, but we needed to take it to a higher level and we have. We've really emphasized finishing strong. We've been in position to win this conference entering November but we haven't gotten it done. We have to be better down the stretch."