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The line had worked before. So, when Mike Leach was looking to convince an Orange County-bred kid -- a Stanford graduate of all things! -- to come to Starkville, Mississippi, it wasn't bluster.

Come to Mississippi State, and you can lead the nation in passing.

For a Southern Californian who had become Stanford's ninth-leading passer while playing in a sometimes-plodding offense, the offer was liberation.

"It wasn't really just that," K.J. Costello told CBS Sports this week. "It was more the idea I'd already been in a pro-style system. … We were trying to control the game -- control the ball and play really good defense. We put a ton on the quarterback but didn't necessarily open it up, get five guys out in the pattern almost 80% of the time. … I wanted to experience some of the Air Raid."

Costello has more than experienced Leach's signature offense. He is the latest in a long line of Leach's ball-chucking disciples who have been dunk-tanked in the offense. You might have heard about it.

In his first Mississippi State start, Costello threw the ball 60 times for 623 yards … against LSU. Those 623 yards were the most in a single game in SEC history and 11th-most ever at the FBS level. He also tossed five touchdowns, though there were two pesky interceptions.

More than that, Costello might have changed his career and his life with the decision to play in the SEC as a graduate transfer. This season is becoming the football equivalent of a summer spent studying aboard, a gap year back-packing across the country.

He won't say it, but it looks for the world like he is finding himself a little bit and certainly finding football a lot more fun. It seems that way when he's quoting that great philosopher, wide receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr.

"I think he enjoys that football is No. 1 in the South and it might not have been at Stanford," said Kyle Sweet, Costello's high school teammate and former Washington State WR under Leach. "He's getting the small-town, everybody-on-board feeling down there."

For Leach, that offer to lead the country in passing has become a routine pitch.

After the 2017 season, he convinced ECU's Gardner Minshew and his mustache to ignore interest from Alabama and transfer 2,700 miles across the country to Wazzu. Minshew threw 662 times for the Cougars in 2018 and indeed led the country in passing with 4,776 yards.

"I told Gardner the same thing," Leach said. "It worked the time before, so I figured I'd do it again. Even if it turns out we fall short, K.J.'s chances are probably good or better than anywhere else."

The performance undoubtedly boosted Minshew's NFL prospects.  He is currently starting for the Jacksonville Jaguars. That possibility led Costello to Starkville after a stop in the transfer portal.

"I was just kind of looking for another opportunity to be honest," he said. "It's kind of interesting how it happened. I was thinking about going to the draft, but that wasn't able to happen in time. Leach kind of took the job. It was kind of a perfect storm."

In the process, the Bulldogs have become more than an SEC West talking point. The SEC is going to have the solve the Air Raid the way it had to figure out Steve Spurrier's Fun 'n' Gun when Florida's coach revolutionized the league with the modern forward pass. That process took years with the Gators winning a national championship on the way.

Leach and Mississippi State smacked LSU in the face and sent a message to the league in their first game together.

Kylin Hill was the SEC's No. 3 rusher last season. He has been transformed under Leach. Hill's career-high 158 receiving yards vs. LSU represented 29% of career total.

"I think he might progress 3-4 times faster than any other running back in terms of ball-catching skills because he's getting five times the reps," Costello said.

Leach will remind you a lot of this has been done before. The last time an SEC team led the nation in passing was Spurrier's last Florida team in 2001. Leach's teams have done it 10 times.

Kentucky led the SEC in passing from 1997-2000. From 1997-98, Leach was Hal Mumme's offensive coordinator.

Dan Mullen did what may never be accomplished again in Starkville. He had the Bulldogs ranked No. 1 for five straight weeks in 2014. This is different. Mississippi State was Mullen's first head coaching job after winning championships at Florida where he ran an innovative form of the spread under coach Urban Meyer.

This is Leach testing his philosophy in the best football lab in the country. It's one thing tossing it around Pullman, Washington, or Lubbock, Texas. It's another whipping the defending national champions, even in the midst of a rebuild.

"We just beat the defending national champs," Costello said. "Can we beat Georgia and Alabama? I don't know. I'm focused on Arkansas right now."

Yeah, but the country is focused on you and Mississippi State, young man.

Leach's quarterbacks long ago dispelled the perception that they were products of the system. Minshew is guiding an NFL team. Kliff Kingsbury is coaching one (Arizona Cardinals). Graham Harrell is USC's offensive coordinator.

Sweet gives himself a ton of credit for it all. In their last year together at Santa Margarita Catholic in Orange County, new coach Rick Curtis opened up the offense.

"I feel like I owe him a little something for my success," Sweet said. "It wouldn't be possible if K.J. wasn't throwing me 60 balls a game."

Costello went to Stanford to study political science. Sweet went North to catch balls in Leach's offense at Washington State. Leach was more than familiar with each. He had recruited offensive lineman Riley Sorenson and WR River Cracraft to Wazzu out of Santa Margarita Catholic.

"It was kind of funny because all those families at Santa Margarita all knew one another and were all intertwined like 'Friday Night Lights.' It literally was kind of like that," Leach said. "They had some cash. They had 'Real Housewives of Orange County' going on down there as their neighbors."

Costello and Sweet became fast friends. They competed at everything -- poker, golf, ping pong. It kept them engaged during quarantine. When the time came for Costello to consider another chapter in his career, Sweet was in his ear.

"He was trying to figure out if he should go back to Stanford or not," Sweet said. "Me being me, I said, 'Go to Washington State and throw for 600 yards a game.' I was the mediator between our coaching staff and K.J. Then Leach ended up leaving. All I was trying to do was convince him for my own selfish reasons where I wanted him to play. It ended up great."

This convergence comes at the perfect time for almost everyone involved. David Shaw's Stanford program runs a version of the West Coast offense that was an NFL staple. Then the NFL changed, maybe because of Leach himself. Dual-threat quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson have been the last two NFL MVPs. Two Heisman Trophy winners from Oklahoma with similar skill sets are starting for the Cleveland Browns (Baker Mayfield) and Arizona Cardinals (Kyler Murray), the latter under Kingsbury.

With Leach, the revolution is distilled down to a conversation about his play-calling simplicity.

"We have about five or six basic plays," Sweet said.

"It's more than that. He doesn't like to give away his secrets," Costello said. 

Costello started 25 games at Stanford. His final season was cut short by injury. He eventually lost the starting job to David Mills. Two years ago, the past and future branches of Leach's quarterback tree hooked up. Costello threw four touchdown passes in a 38-35 loss to Washington State and Minshew.

Before Costello went on his run Saturday, there were exchange issues. Center Cole Smith rocketed a couple of snaps off target. A third became a turnover when the snap bounced off Costello's chest in the shotgun. Smith, himself was a transfer, was playing his first game since departing … LSU.

Halfway into the second quarter, Costello had thrown a pick six, and the Bulldogs trailed 7-3. Then he deftly dropped a ball into the arms of Alabama transfer Tyrell Shavers, and it was on.

It was Costello's 50th career touchdown pass. This is what the grad transfer experience is supposed to be about. Costello is pursuing a Master's in business. He's also pursuing some kind of cherry on top of his career.

Part of this experience is a test for both coach and quarterback -- how their games measure up in the SEC.

"You see the way they train. You see the way people treat you in town. You see the way people care. You see how much it means," Costello said. "There's a million different ways to describe how it means more [in the SEC]. You see it in the way the dudes work out. You can see it in how many dudes stay after [practice]. You can see it in the way every dude on the team thinks they're going to play. Half the guys think they're going on the ride elsewhere [to the NFL]."

"It's hard to say no to that kind of football, where you know it's basically a religion and you're going to get every opportunity you'd possibly want," Sweet said.

Yeah, but 600 passing yards in the opener? The SEC is reeling, and LSU has to pick its ego up off the ground. Is that sustainable?

"I don't think so," Leach said. "I hope so, but I don't think so."