There’s a long article on Grantland about the relationship between Mike Leach (potentially the most interesting college football coach of the past 15 years) and QB Connor Halliday up at Washington State, in Pullman. The article is great and laden with anecdotes — you should read it, because it does far more justice to the topic of Leach, Halliday, Air Raid offenses, personal dynamics, and the like than I ever will. Still, though, a few thoughts:
1. The history of Washington State football is a fairly checkered one. I used to work with a kid at ESPN who was a diehard Cougs fan (this kid, FYI) and predominantly, we worked together during the Paul Wulff era in Pullman. (Not the best time to classify yourself as a Cougs fan, especially 3K miles away in NYC.) The team has been around since about 1894, lost more than they’ve won (500-526 or so all-time), and been to bowl games a scant 11 times. By contrast, cross-state rival University of Washington has appeared in 34 bowl games. (Their rivalry, The Apple Cup, is essentially the best way possible to explain class divides in America.)
2. The theory when Leach was hired is that Lubbock — home of Texas Tech — was an outpost as far as CFB goes, and Pullman is an outpost as far as CFB goes, and you can probably argue that the Pac-12 is worse than the Big 12 (or was at that time), so maybe Leach could turn the corner with the Cougs. After all, they had been to the Rose Bowl in 1997 and 2002; this wasn’t a situation like Indiana football or anything. It hasn’t necessarily happened in Year 2: they’re 2-6, with the only wins coming against Portland State and Utah. They did get within a touchdown of Oregon (38-31) and lost to Cal by a mere point (60-59), so you can argue the program is trending in the right direction. It’s just not there yet. USC, Oregon State, Arizona State, and Washington remain. That’s one ranked team (ASU) and potentially two (Washington might be in the 20s when that game happens). You could see them finish 3-9 or something.
3. All that said, what Halliday is doing — albeit in mostly losing efforts — is staggering. These are his passing yards, by game, this season:
Did you catch that 734 in there? That was a single-game passing record. David Klinger threw for 716 yards in a game in 1990, meaning Halliday broke a record that had lasted since the first Bush administration.
All told, that’s 348 completions, 517 attempts, and 3,833 yards. The next-highest passer, Brandon Doughty of Western Kentucky, has 2,871 yards. Halliday has 1,000 more yards passing than the No. 2 guy in America.
Across 12 games, he would be on pace for 5,750 yards passing. If he hits that, it would be second all-time in an NCAA season — right between two other Mike Leach QBs.
4. There’s the rub. You can call Halliday a “system QB” pretty easily. He basically runs a “chuck and duck,” and they’re not winning. 2-6 isn’t good. It is only Leach’s second season, but it’s Rich Rod’s second season in Arizona and they could be a 10-win team. People will eventually get impatient, even with QBs slinging for 5,700 yards in a season.
5. In college, I briefly had this Kenyan roommate (one semester). He didn’t really understand American football. At age 20-21, one of my great joys was going out, getting drunk, and coming back for the second half of Pac-10 football games. Once the Kenyan asked me “Why do you like that conference so much?” I was not sober. I said, “Because they throw a lot of long booooombs.” He then used to say “boooooooombs” to me for the rest of the semester. It got old. Long story short, Connor Halliday would have been the absolute hero of 20 year-old me — much as Jason Gesser, who QB’ed the Cougars 2002 Rose Bowl team, kinda was anyway. (I also loved Joey Harrington in that period.)