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Spring football opens Tuesday at San Diego State under second-year coach Chuck Long. Meanwhile, the University of San Diego is halfway through its spring drills under new coach Ron Caragher.

What do they have to do with each other? Not much. But Caragher said something about his past four years as an assistant helping Kentucky coach Rich Brooks turn around a losing program that made me think about Long and the Aztecs.

“If you believe in a system, you have to stay the course,” Caragher said. “The wins weren’t coming at Kentucky and people were upset. But we had assessed the situation, and we were down 20-some scholarships from being on probation. We said, let’s be realistic about this. We’ll bring it back in time, but it’s not going to happen overnight.”

 Well, this time a year ago, Kentucky fans were calling for Brooks’ head after a three-year record of 9-25, including 2-9 in 2004 and 3-8 in 2005. But Kentucky’s administration — in a rare show of patience in college athletics these days — stuck with Brooks for a fourth season.

The Wildcats responded with an 8-5 record and a win over Clemson in the Music City Bowl. The eight wins were the most in 22 years and the bowl win was the first in the same time frame.

Long’s mantra is the Aztecs will win once the system he and the staff have installed takes hold with the players.

Six wins and a Poinsettia Bowl game against Navy won’t come easily with the schedule the Aztecs face. But I expect the players to respond better after a year of transition to Long, and if Kevin O’Connell stays healthy, I like a team with a fifth-year quarterback.

— TOM SHANAHAN

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