Schu Strings: Closing the gap, football style

Arizona State is getting a taste of the big-time this week as ESPN's Game Day will endure a triple-digit October weekend and conduct programming from Tempe for the USC/ASU clash on ABC. Now entrenched in his fifth year at the Sun Devil helm, the Dirk Koetter approach appears to be paying dividends.

Koetter and John Mackovic began their on-field tenures the same season, and both suffered their share of difficulties. Certainly, the Mackovic situation in Tucson was rock bottom by comparison, but Koetter didn't exactly wow the faithful during the initial stages of his rebuilding campaign.

Indeed, there were rumblings about making changes in his third season after ASU overachieved with an 8-6 record in year two and then returned to earth the following season. Last year, however, Arizona State was the third best team in the conference, and despite starting a new quarterback it's clearly a top-half conference entry in 2005. Meanwhile, Arizona remains in the midst of a monumental rebuilding effort, and it can be largely traced to the different results accrued by Koetter and Mackovic. Mike Stoops continues to build from scratch, whereas with four complete seasons under his belt, Koetter's system is in place.

The best example of this can probably be attributed to the success enjoyed at the quarterback position. Koetter has said with regularity starting QB Sam Keller has picked up his system faster than any signal-caller he's ever had. The results bear that out. ASU hasn't missed a beat without Andrew Walter. When a team loses its career-passing leader and still puts up gaudy offensive numbers, things are going well.

USC has the same luxury. Matt Leinart exceeds Carson Palmer, and once Leinart leaves no problem, for here comes all everything quarterback John David Booty.

In Tucson, Richard Kovalcheck, just a redshirt sophomore, has made significant improvements, and one anticipates the learning curve will continue to get better once the skill players around him develop to the level many anticipate. But right now, even though the offense has made undeniable steps, Arizona isn't at the level of confidence displayed by the more seasoned teams in this league.

USC and ASU simply exude confidence at this stage. Against the respective Oregon schools over the weekend, both institutions ran into some difficulties early, but acted as if it was no big deal, knowing they'd score eventually, and when they did the floodgates would open. Southern Cal spotted Oregon 13 first-half points on the road, yet while playing about as terrible a first half as a team can, still trailed by just three at the break. In the second half, USC scored at will, and ultimately rolled to a comfortable win against a good Duck team.

Oregon State stifled ASU nicely in the first half, but two Beaver turnovers in the third quarter spearheaded a four-minute, 21-point Sun Devil outburst that blew the game open. When these offenses take the field, they know they're going to score. That said, I don't expect ASU to win this weekend because USC is ultimately better defensively, but the Sun Devils could very well score 35 in a loss.

Even if ASU gets handled, it still appears well on its way to placing in the Pac-10's upper echelon for the third time in Koetter's five seasons at the helm, and for the second year running. ESPN knows this could be a good one.

In the years ahead, perhaps the Game Day crew will make its way to Tucson. When that happens, you know the program has come a long way…

…Moving on…

…I made a rare jaunt into the new Wildcat Insider office digs the other day, and got embroiled in a conversation with Brad's wife about entertainment related issues. I blame Brad's wife personally for this verbal interaction, although WI writer Matt Messina just left the old Schu apartment digs after a 45-minute dissertation on how to fix the new Cameron Crowe movie. We should be consultants for this stuff.

Anyway, the new Wildcat Insider digs are a bit more fancy than the old location, which we pretty much shared with the resident mice, who seemed kind enough, all things considered, other than the little late-night calling cards they'd leave on the desk from time to time. It's not like I spend much time in the office anyway, but at the new location Brad's wife happens to work next door.

OK, so enough unnecessary back-story. In the context of said-Brad's-wife's-fault-entertainment-related conversation, movies that made us cry became a highlight. Stacey, Brad's wife, was inflicted with many of the familiar fare: Steel Magnolias, Beaches.

Brad, of course, is far too macho to ever shed tears, not even for Guns of the Navarone or the John Wayne western where The Duke is offed by Ron Howard. But I'm comfortable with my occasional cinema wimpiness, and admitted to the occasional tear-duct dam burst, even at the expense of great embarrassment. Oh yes, I've wept, and oh yes, on occasion, it's been pretty pitiful. That said, I guess it could be worse. I know a guy who cries every time he sees Shawshank Redemption, which by my count would be three times a week on TNT, because they know drama.

The first movie that came to mind is Bridges of Madison County, which is absolutely relentless. Now most Hollywood tearjerker fare will allow you to compose yourself with a sort of tag-on scene before the credits actually roll, this way you can leave the theater with some semblance of all-important dignity. Not Bridges of Madison County, which stacked something like six relentless eye-waterers in succession. Vicious. Absolutely vicious. I think Brad's wife said she cried in the book, but since I never read I couldn't sympathize with her plight.

The one that I truly hate to admit is Little Women. No, not the classic, nor the aforementioned book, which of course, I've never read, but the Winona Rider version. I have an excuse, however. You see, I was sick and battling the flu that day, so my immune system was down.

A couple other tear-jerker classics get me every time. First is Rodan, and this dates back to my youth. Yeah, Rodan. You know, the Japanese monster movie about the prehistoric pterodactyls that lay waste to the Pacific Rim. One of the four greatest Japanese monster movies of all time, and the one with an ending that gets me without fail.

OK, so here's a spoiler for those who don't want to know how the original 1957 version of Rodan ends. If you plan on renting this in the near future, then by all means pass by the next paragraph.

There are actually two Rodans, and they live in an active volcano. Anyway, the humans attempt to launch projectiles at said volcano in an effort to set off an explosion that will trap the monsters in a fiery grave. It half works. The first Rodan actually escapes, but when it realizes the second Rodan can't get away, it flies back into the lava and flames and sacrifices itself to be with its mate. I'm getting the keyboard damp just typing this. As an impressionable adolescent this scene made me grovel like well, an impressionable adolescent. This has not changed with time.

The final example from the tears-are-flowing list: John Woo's Bullet in the Head. For those of you who know Woo through his terrible American endeavors, I would recommend a sampling of his Hong Kong fare. The Killer and Hard Boiled rank as two of the great modern action films while A Better Tomorrow is not far behind. This was during the time when directors still choreographed action scenes, as opposed to letting editing tricks and computer effects do the work for them. But in the midst of those is a harder-to-find film entitled Bullet in the Head. It's sort of Woo's Platoon, his war movie, and unlike Windtalkers, it's actually good. In it three friends return to Vietnam in an effort to find some treasure, but bad things happen along the way and they have to overcome countless obstacles just to escape the country alive. The title actually references a key moment in the story, and it's that key moment that causes the floodgates to go.

I want to write the review on the back of the rental: "Bullet in the Head: There won't be a dry eye in the house." --John Schuster, Wildcat Insider Magazine.

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