And then the Cougars got down to business – and the dust began to settle.
When Washington State faltered against a strong BYU, no one batted an eyelash. They weren't expected to find success in Provo – and this was the first game of the season; Leach's first opportunity to get his feet wet. Then came back-to-back wins against Eastern Washington and UNLV. They were ugly wins, but they were wins.
Then came Saturday, and things just got ugly.
THE COUGARS WERE unable to execute anything except their chances at winning the game, and they lost – by a point – to what some people had pegged as the worst team in conference history. Never mind that they came into Martin Stadium as 20-point favorites.
"I don't get it," senior cornerback Daniel Simmons said after the game. "In my opinion, we lost to a team we're far better than."
He's not the only one who didn't get it.
Before the clock had even run out, CF.c's message boards were blowing up with indignant fans wondering how, on God's crimson earth, this had happened to Mike Leach's Cougars?!
Among the choice phrases: Historical choke. Epic failure. Horrible.
There were discussions of egos dictating the play clock. Of fear of what Oregon will do to this hapless crew next week.
Welcome to reality: Leach isn't going to resurrect this program overnight.
And he knows it.
"Physically, we can run, we can hit people," he was quoted as saying during a 10-minute tirade in The Seattle Times. "It's gotta look like Tuesday's and Wednesday's practices. We haven't had a game yet that looks like Tuesday's and Wednesday's practices. If we can do it (then), why the hell can't you do it on Saturday?"
BUT IF THE PLAYERS' comments after the game are indicative of what's to come, it won't be another ugly loss if they can help it. They're hurt – not only because they had the game in their hands, leading 21-7 going into halftime, but also because it's very likely that in this new dawn of Cougar football, they flat-out didn't expect to be extinguished faster than the university's homecoming bonfire.
"It's always going to hurt to lose like this," said junior wide reciver Marquess Wilson. "When everything is going so well and it turns on the flick of the hand … it hurts."
Added sophomore center Elliott Bosch: "It's a pretty sour feeling. It hurts pretty bad."
And quarterback Connor Halliday didn't mince words.
"We've got to quit playing stupid in the second half," he said in reference to the Buffaloes scoring three touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
As for Leach, he admitted that his team is not near where it needs to be.
"There were plenty of squandered opportunities," he said.
In order to win, his team is going to have to dredge up some courage.
"I'm not sure as a team we're not afraid of doing what it takes to be successful," he said.