In a word: Yes.
A lot of Washington State football faithful are still reeling today, unable to come to grips with at 35-34 loss to Colorado that — given the game circumstances alone — was almost unfathomable. WSU had a 31-14 lead with about eight minutes left and was inside the Colorado 20, and yet it lost to an 0-3 team that had dropped a game to an FCS team and then a 69-14 laugher to a non-BCS-league team, Fresno State, that would itself lose the next week.
First of all, let me say this: The comparisons to Colorado after three weeks to the WSU team of 2008 — the one that gave up 58 points or more six times and was compared to college football’s worst in history — are far off the mark. The Colorado team I saw Saturday — forget the first three weeks — would have beaten that WSU team by four or five touchdowns. I’d have to agree with Colorado coach Jon Embree in his stated belief that the Buffs were significantly better than they had shown. (Though I admit the 0-3 start was damning evidence otherwise.)
But as for WSU: Its fan base has been slapped back to reality, and that reality is, unless the Cougars can extend their spurts of competence and minimize the brain-lock moments, they’re going another year in a bowl-less streak that began in 2004.
Did that fan base get its hopes too high? It appears so. Yes, the hoopla over the arrival of Mike Leach, and the possibility that his brilliance in the passing game could put WSU over the top right away, was a delicious prospect for fans.
But it was a proposition based more on hope than reason. As I pointed out just before WSU opened at BYU, there was alarming inexperience. If you took away Travis Long from the defensive front seven listed as starters that night, you had six players with a combined eight career starts — hardly a recipe for success. As fall camp developed, players would pop up into starting or backup roles that caused you to raise eyebrows — either they had made quantum progress or there just wasn’t much else at that spot.
Meanwhile, the offensive line was a questionmark at the start, and now it’s become a thinner questionmark.
Leach’s management late in games is a prime topic for examination, but I’m setting that aside for now and focusing on personnel, which is surely the bigger issue. A few months ago, I thought this might be, could be, a six-win team. Then when Leach booted C.J. Mizell, Sekope Kaufusi and Anthony Laurenzi — three of probably the best six or seven defenders on the team — I dropped that expectation to five wins.
That projection figured on a win over Colorado. The guess here is that the Cougars are still potent enough to knock off a couple of Pac-12 teams, although the league is better than popularly seen in the preseason.
This is still a team that was on the very brink of blowouts of Eastern Washington, UNLV and Colorado. But when it was over, the first two were throwing Hail Marys to threaten victory, and the Buffs were stealing one at the wire. The two extremes suggest there’s a wide variance in the possible landing spot for this first season under Leach — with the logical destination somewhere in the middle.
Update, Monday, 1 p.m.: Just listened to WSU quarterback Connor Halliday on a conference call, and he was candid on a couple of matters.
“This team is desperate for somebody to lead ’em,” Halliday said, adding that he feels he could step up in that regard. “This offense is dying for somebody to lead ’em.”
Halliday made it clear he isn’t a fan of WSU’s annual game in Seattle — Saturday night at CenturyLink Field against Oregon.
“It’s exciting for the west side of the state,” he conceded. “We’ve got a lot of Cougars over there. (But) it’s not a true home game. It’s kind of frustrating that we don’t get to play the game in Martin Stadium. It’s kind of a 50-50 deal. I wish all our (home) games were over here. I don’t see why we need to go” to Seattle.