Schu Strings: Spring football beginnings

Spring has that sort of metaphorical new-beginning quality. In regards to spring football at Arizona, the metaphor plays out. This is a new beginning, but it may also act as John Mackovic's last stand.

We don't need to rehash the morass of controversy that imbedded the Arizona football program down the stretch. And Arizona's head football coach would much rather move on as well. Two years removed from replacing Dick Tomey, the Mackovic tenure has been filled with more than its share of hard times. But as he enters season three, Mackovic finally has the guys in place he wants. The transition is all but complete. And it has shown in regards to Arizona's new look in spring football.

The UA's most dramatic change has come on the defensive side of the football. Once Larry Mac Duff departed for Dennis Erickson's staff in San Francisco, Desert Swarm was a chalk outline. For a decade, that defense was the cornerstone of what little legacy Arizona football had, but its effectiveness either as a scheme or in regards to the personnel able to play it had run its course. Mac Duff may have done the UA a favor.

In its place, new defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz has installed the 3-4. Hankwitz is one of a number of new coaches with intriguing credentials. Mackovic also added Craig Bray, who was Oregon State's defensive coordinator last season. And on offense, he snagged a guy from BYU, just as the tip of the iceberg.

With so many changes at the top, it's not surprising that Arizona has its work cut out for it, and the remainder of spring ball will instill that learn-on-the-fly approach. But Mackovic and his staff had better be excellent teachers, because the UA won't have much time to work out the kinks. It is faced with one of the more daunting schedules in the modernhistory of the program.

And it's faced with that schedule at a difficult time, when the rebuilding process continues. For Mackovic and his staff, the 15 practices on the docket must be a spring-board to quick improvement. It doesn't take a genius to see he's a man on the hotseat. If Arizona goes another campaign without a bowl bid, that hotseat might feel more like an electric chair.

Mackovic is in a difficult situation, to say the least. You can cut it anyway you like, but Tucson, at this stage of the game, is bottomline apathetic about Wildcat football, which means ticket sales will be sluggish yet again, which means Arizona's already tenuous athletic budget will not be particularly benefited, yet again, from one of the program's two major moneymaking sources.

To suggest Arizona fans will take advantage of watching good football-this year's amazing home schedule features LSU, Oregon, UCLA, Washington and USC-is just folly. This is pretty simple. Mackovic has to win, and then win again, before fans will make any real concerted effort to back the team. If he misses out on a bowl game again, the number crunchers might call for changes.

Spring football is often little more than an afterthought. For Mackovic, this series of 15 practices could define the future of his livelihood.

.Moving on.

.If you're one of the few troubled souls who reads this portion of Schu Strings, you know I have a tendency to bag on television. Well, no bagging this time. 24 is the best show on TV. Period. End of story.

If someone had said there's this real-time concept where we follow a character throughout a day in his life, and stretch it out over 24 episodes, I would have loved that idea. And if they had told me it would star Kiefer Sutherland, I would have cringed.

But Sutherland has been outstanding in two seasons as Counter Terrorist operative Jack Bauer. And 24 has set a high standard for anthology television, a concept that rarely works in the American market.

The story has been consistently riveting, which is a tall order in that this program must fill what amounts to 20 hours of programming on a particular vein of stories, and do so within the constructs of real time. It's well written, it's well acted, it's well plotted and directed, and even when it gets ridiculous, which generally occurs when Bauer's daughter Kim is involved, she still makes for yummy eye candy, so even that's acceptable.

Fox is an amazing network. It has a history of putting out a seemingly endless line of stunning crap, but when it hits, as is the case with say, The Simpsons, it hits big. Now 24 is in that class.

24 isn't the highest rated show on Fox. But it is the best drama on TV.

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