Big 12 notebook: Title drought getting hairy for Longhorns senior

FRISCO, Texas — Breckyn Hager didn’t set out to become a football Fabio. Yet there he was July 17, goldilocks draping down past the buttons on his burnt-orange polo.

After pledging in 2015 not to cut his hair until Texas captured a conference championship, the linebacker enters his senior season with only one more chance.

“I wanted something tangible, visible, that could always remind me to go after what I thought was a simple goal at the time. But now I’m realizing, ‘Wait, it’s not that simple,’ ” he said. “Now to see my hair, it’s getting longer — like ‘Oh my goodness. Oh my gosh.’ ”

He twirled his hair and added, “I hate it. You know how many tears have soaked up in this after all the games I’ve lost? C’mon. I’m ready to get this off.”

A preseason all-Big 12 selection, Hager earned Most Valuable Quote honors at Big 12 media days. He began by taking blame for “being a little rebel” during 2017’s early run-ins with head coach Tom Herman and defensive coordinator Todd Orlando.

“Dude, I’m sitting on the best coach in college football, and I’ve been highly critical for no reason. Stubborn, foolish young man,” he said.

His Nov. 18 ejection at WVU for targeting wasn’t Hager’s proudest moment, but he stuck around long enough to appreciate the passion of Mountaineers fans on a cold, rainy afternoon.

“There’s a lot of interesting things that happened to me that game that I’m not going to discuss until I’m no longer relevant to college football,” he said. “I love West Virginia fans. They’re hilarious.”

GUNDY RESPONDS TO AD

Athletics director Mike Holder caused a stir by saying Oklahoma State should recruit better, but football coach Mike Gundy wasn’t irked by it.

“I knew what he was trying to say — he just didn’t do a good job of getting the information out clearly,” Gundy said.

What about the coach tweeting a puzzled-looking emoji as fans discussed Holder’s comments?

“I try to get hits on social media. I’m not worried about what he did, I’m trying to get hits. He lobbed me a pitch for a great Twitter hit.”

PROMOTING AN 8-TEAM PLAYOFF

Count Gundy among the proponents of expanding the college football playoff from four to eight teams.

In four seasons, no Group of 5 team has cracked the field.

“If you’re at a smaller school, you essentially have no chance to win a national championship because you’ll never get in,” he said. “And I don’t think that’s fair.”

HOLGORSEN ON INJURY REPORTS

With sports betting forcing conferences to consider standardizing injury reports in the NFL model, WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen doesn’t sound excited. Keeping injury revelations mostly under wraps during recent seasons, he joked that coaches should embrace Bill Snyder’s hardline approach to not discussing injuries at all.

“For an 18-, 19- or 20-year-old kid, they don’t know how hurt they are,” Holgorsen said. “If it’s a long-term deal where he’s going to get cut on or he’s got a broken bone, I’ll say it — he’s not playing. If it’s a sore calf, some of the kids are soft and they’re going to be out three weeks, and some of them are tough and they’re not going to miss a game.”

ARE GAMES TOO LONG?

The new Big 12 coordinator of officials said college football administrators and TV execs are aiming to keep games under 3 1/2 hours.

“And we want to do that without taking plays out of the game,” Greg Burks said Tuesday. To that end, officials will continue strict enforcement of 20-minute halftimes and start the PAT play-clock immediately after touchdowns.

Asked about fan frustration over replay delays, Burks cautioned that the Big 12 averaged only 2.2 stoppages during 2017. Momentum-sucking television timeouts remain a necessary evil as millions of network dollars drive athletics budgets.

“There’s a cost,” Burks said, “but I don’t think any of us would want football not to be on TV.

“I get that we need a window for TV. It’s frustrating when you’re in the western United States and you’re the third game on the network and you miss your first half because they’re still playing.”

TARGETING CLARIFICATION

Officiating crews will continue to lean toward player safety on 50-50 targeting calls, Burks said, noting that “player behavior has changed” under the threat of ejection.

In hopes of making replay rulings more consistent, in-game reviews will be forwarded to “The Rock,” an operations hub in Irving.

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