Since Murray State's 2002 Ohio Valley Conference football co-championship, six different league programs have come away with a title:

• Jacksonville State (2003, 2004, 2011, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018)

• Eastern Illinois (2005, 2006, 2009, 2012, 2013)

• Eastern Kentucky (2007, 2008, 2011)

• UT Martin (2006)

• Tennessee Tech (2011)

• Southeast Missouri State (2010)

Only the Racers, Austin Peay -- on the brink of its first title since 1977 (and second ever) -- and Tennessee State have missed the mark.

Certainly, the Gamecocks' move from the Gulf South to the OVC in 2003 changed the trajectory of the league, in general. It's almost always had good football teams, and as of 2017, JSU's football budget ($6.22 million) was most in the league by more than $2 million (Eastern Kentucky: $4.14 million).

The Governors, who toted the lowest football budget in the OVC in 2012, were the third-biggest spenders by 2017, courtesy of a 97% spending increase of close to $2 million over a five-year span.

But in Monday's final regular-season press conference, fifth-year Murray State football coach Mitch Stewart didn't talk about how his team is partially bolstered on what was the second-lowest football budget in 2017 ($2.9 million). Or how his staff (again, in 2017) was the third-lowest paid group in the conference ($736,661 in salaries, bonuses and compensation). Or how MSU football staff spending had only increased 6.06% from 2012-17 -- the second-slowest rate only to Eastern Illinois' 0.93%.

While the rest of the league has been busy bolstering in a number of different football avenues, the Racers' football budget has tread water with a mere 10.55% increase during this five-year window (FCS average: 24% increase), from $2.6 million in 2012 to $2.9 million in 2017.

It was the third-slowest growth in the OVC, just above Eastern Illinois and Tennessee State, which both took football budget cuts.

Stewart will never say that money impacts winning, but the fact remains that it does. It's his job to coach and go, and do with what he can. And there have been some improvements made to the program over the last two years. Some in-state and regional scholarships have been flipped for some out-of-state talent, while this past season's home attendance records were a direct result of new MSU Athletic Director Kevin Saal and his staff's focus to sharpen the Stewart Stadium experience.

But instead, Stewart pointed to two things he first notices in a championship program: "effort" and "team."

"The one thing that's always going to be there is 'effort,'" Stewart said. "When you watch a championship team, the first thing that's ever going to pop out to you is the effort level at which they play. When you turn on the tape, do guys play hard, right?

"And the second thing is, and sometimes this is very easy to see on tape ... do they have a championship football team? Do they have a 'team'?"

In Stewart's position rooms, there's a rule on how to gauge what "effort" and "team" look like, especially on film.

"Palms to the sky," he said, showing a shrugging motion. "How many times do you see receivers do this to the quarterback? How many times do you see the O-linemen do this to the running back? How many times do you see one of your DBs get beat on a big play, and him and the safety are going (shrugging) ... and all of that stuff.

"The more that you put that on film, the more chinks you have in your armor. And as soon as you see that on film, as an opponent, you start to say to the boys, 'Hey, let's use this. Get on 'em. Stay on 'em. Let's get on 'em fast and start making them play one another.'"

Editor's note: All budget data for this article came from knightcommission.org.

SEMO finale

Murray State's final test in a season full of them? No. 13 Southeast Missouri State at 1 p.m. Saturday in Cape Girardeau's Houck Stadium.

It's already a tough situation for the Racers, based on two very specific reasons:

• The Redhawks are a lock for the FCS playoffs, and need a convincing victory -- likely two touchdowns or more -- in order to boost seeding heading into Selection Sunday.

• And SEMO will undoubtedly be sharp, as most of these Redhawks were on hand for last season's "Miracle in Murray," in which the Racers scratched away a 31-point deficit to defeat SEMO 40-38 on a last-second 79-yard kick-return touchdown from Malik Honeycutt.

Sixth-year coach Tom Matukewicz and SEMO (8-3, 6-1 OVC) have eight wins for a second-straight season -- a first in school history, and for just the ninth time since 1904 (when the football team was founded).

And the wins have come from a strong offense (29.2 ppg, second in the OVC), a ballhawking defense (13 interceptions, second in the OVC), a punting unit ranked first in the league, a strong turnover differential (plus-6), and the gamebreaking ability of senior wideout Kristian Wilkerson, who has 1,141 yards receiving and nine touchdowns on just 55 catches -- good for 20.75 yards per catch.

"Offensively, they're just such a power football team," Stewart said. "They run the buck sweep, and they're able to get O-linemen out to your corners, which is never any good. And especially into the boundary, they're going to pin and pull ... so those corners need to be ready to defend that. Got to be ready to take that on, defeat that and beat those blocks. They'll try to wear you down in the run game.

"It's kind of anomaly in this conference, but they're built more like a Missouri Valley team, in my mind. Have a lot of fourth-down players. A lot of bodies that you use for special teams. The bigger linebacker bodies and fullback-type bodies. Built like that a lot more."

Hall vs. Koclanakis

One of the more interesting storylines heading into Saturday will be the stat-stuffing of MSU's junior linebacker Anthony Koclanakis and SEMO's senior linebacker Zach Hall.

The former leads the OVC with 113 tackles, and is 18 takedowns away from cracking into the MSU single-season top 10 at 134 (Sam Tandy, 1969; Alfred Caldwell, 1974; Danny Amato, 1988; Jonathan Jackson, 2014).

The latter is third in the OVC with 103 tackles, and is the defending FCS Buck Buchanan Defensive Player of the Year.

Koclanakis also has 3.0 sacks on the season, while Hall has 3.5.

"You look at A.K. from last year to this year, and that maturity shows up in the effort that he plays with every day," Stewart said. "That motor that he has this year, as opposed to last year. That's probably the biggest thing. His motor just runs so much more hot this year than it did last year. I credit that to strength and conditioning. A.K.'s always been one very in shape. Looks like one of those mannequins from Dick's Sporting Goods. Loves to curl and bench.

"But I think he did a nice job of just getting in shape. Running more. Getting that play capacity up, where he could take more snaps and play at a higher RPM for longer. And think that's shown up in his play."

Murray State at No. 13 Southeast Missouri State

Time: 1 p.m. Saturday

Location: Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Venue: Houck Field (10,000)

MSU Head Coach: Mitch Stewart (19-36, 5th year)

SEMO Head Coach: Tom Matukewicz (32-37, 6th year)

All-Time Series: MSU leads 40-12-1

Last Met: Nov. 10, 2018 (MSU won 40-38)

Listen Live: Froggy 103.7 FM (PxP: Jeff Waters, Color: Aaron Clayton)

Follow Live: ESPN+, @RacersFootball, @PgriffithMSU, @dreamarlowe85

By the Numbers

(OVC rank in parenthesis)

MSU SEMO

PPG 22.7 (8th) 29.2 (2nd)

PA 28.7 (6th) 25.1 (4th)

YPG 382.9 (4th) 369.5 (6th)

RYPG 123.8 (7th) 167.7 (3rd)

PYPG 259.1 (3rd) 201.7 (7th)

DYPG 395.1 (7th) 376.5 (5th)

RYA 155.6 (7th) 142.1 (4th)

PYA 239.5 (6th) 234.4 (5th)

TO Diff. plus-3 (5th) plus-6 (2nd)

Murray State at No. 13 Southeast Missouri State

Time: 1 p.m. Saturday

Location: Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Venue: Houck Field (10,000)

MSU Head Coach: Mitch Stewart (19-36, 5th year)

SEMO Head Coach: Tom Matukewicz (32-37, 6th year)

All-Time Series: MSU leads 40-12-1

Last Met: Nov. 10, 2018 (MSU won 40-38)

Listen Live: Froggy 103.7 FM (PxP: Jeff Waters, Color: Aaron Clayton)

Follow Live: ESPN+, @RacersFootball, @PgriffithMSU, @dreamarlowe85

By the Numbers

(OVC rank in parenthesis)

MSU SEMO

PPG 22.7 (8th) 29.2 (2nd)

PA 28.7 (6th) 25.1 (4th)

YPG 382.9 (4th) 369.5 (6th)

RYPG 123.8 (7th) 167.7 (3rd)

PYPG 259.1 (3rd) 201.7 (7th)

DYPG 395.1 (7th) 376.5 (5th)

RYA 155.6 (7th) 142.1 (4th)

PYA 239.5 (6th) 234.4 (5th)

TO Diff. plus-3 (5th) plus-6 (2nd)

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