Colorful and victorious, Texas has boosted excitement in the Big 12 and college football
Just ask the Longhorns' star defensive end who has seen all of this coming
DALLAS -- Texas defensive end Breckyn Hager has often been told he resembles Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews. Same flowing blond hair, same side of the ball, same dashing flair.
"Different positions," Hager corrected.
Well, yeah, but the similarity persisted especially when Hager added that is father had somehow accessed Matthews' NFL Combine numbers from 2009.
"Mine are better," Hager said.
Never mind all this came in the moments following Texas' 48-45 Red River Showdown win Saturday at the Cotton Bowl. It's safe to say Hager's head is all over the place. The self-proclaimed "young prophet" is currently working on what he calls "a Nobel Peach Prize to prove God's existence."
Hager's head is all over the place, but contrary to his remarks, one of those places is not the NFL. For now, it's wise just to take this Type A, wild-man personality for he what he is -- a window into the Big 12 world.
Thanks to the likes of Hager, the Big 12 is the most exciting place to be in college football at the moment. Not the best, necessarily, but the most exciting.
The conference easily mocked for its lack of defense has always been fun. Now it's suddenly relevant with three teams ranked in the top 11, one of them undefeated West Virginia.
Oklahoma's Tyler Murray is the best player this side of Tua Tagovailoa. Will Grier is throwing missiles for the Mountaineers. Former Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes is undefeated in the NFL. Baker Mayfield -- the living of embodiment of Big 12 swag -- just won his first NFL start.
No surprise the conference leads FBS averaging almost 36 points per team.
But the conference is nothing without Oklahoma and Texas being good at the same time. For the first time in about a decade, that is the case. And it could get a whole lot better.
"We just did something historical," Hager said. "I'd love to play them again."
In the immediate afterglow of Red River, an OU-Texas rematch a delicious prospect. If the Longhorns and Sooners do indeed finish (in some order) 1-2 in the Big 12, they would meet again Dec. 1 in the conference's championship game.
Based on results to date, the winner would have a tremendous push into the College Football Playoff. That also would mark the first same-reason rematch in the rivalry that counts itself right up there with Alabama-Auburn and Michigan-Ohio State.
"You know what, that's a good question. I haven't thought about it," said Texas Gov. Greg Abbott while congratulating the Longhorns in the Cotton Bowl's south end zone Saturday. "There really could be a rematch. You know what? Yeah."
It's been quite a drought for the Large Dozen. The last national championship was Texas' in 2005. Only the Pac-12 (2004) has a longer streak among Power Five leagues without a national title.
This week, Texas moved into the top 10 for the first time since 2010. No. 11 Oklahoma, which has two playoff appearances during a run of three straight Big 12 titles, dropped four spots after losing by a field goal with 9 seconds left.
That's about the best result the Big 12 could have hoped to see -- close outcome, two football factories (plus West Virginia) alive for the playoff headed toward the halfway point of the season.
Afterward, Hager greeted reporters like he greets the world. Everything is on the table. Every answer is unfiltered.
"These coaches are the best coaches in the country," said Hager, a senior from Austin, Texas. "… To slowly see us embrace the most difficult things in the world, I'm talking about the earliest mornings, things I don't even know if they're legal.
"But we did. We kept buying in."
Not since Colt McCoy was leading Texas to the 2009 BCS Championship Game have the Longhorns been this relevant. Not since Oklahoma's Brian Bosworth has there been a mouth in the conference to describe it in such colorful terms.
"I do things that normal people wouldn't do," Hager said. "That's why I am so confident. My confidence can be linked to results."
He makes no secret of being dissatisfied when Tom Herman replaced Charlie Strong in 2017. Early on, Hager showed up at the office of new defensive coordinator Todd Orlando.
"I quit. I'm quitting," Hager recalled saying. "I got moved to second on the depth chart. They were destroying me. I was destroying them back. [Orlando] goes, 'You're not quitting. Go eat, go put your clothes on, and go to practice. I'm sitting there crying."
It says a lot about Hager's character that Herman allows him to speak to the media. Then again, if he was silenced, Hager would still find a way.
How's this character: The family of legendary linebacker Tommy Nobis -- the first Longhorn selected No. 1 overall in the draft -- allowed Hager to wear Nobis' retired No. 60. First in last year's Texas Bowl and then again Saturday against Oklahoma.
"I thought early when we got here two years ago, maybe that's just a show or an act of some sort," Herman said. "That's him. We love him. We embrace him, voted him a captain."
This is a glimpse behind Mack Brown's assertion that Texas is the New York Yankees of college football. You either love 'em or hate 'em.
"I would say, all my followers on social media, 90 percent of them, want me to lose and fail," Hager said. "I'm fine with that."
Hager has an inside look at this turnaround as quarterback Sam Ehlinger's roommate. Ehlinger has been the target of much criticism at a position that hasn't much thrived at Texas since McCoy was knocked out with a bum shoulder after the fifth snap of that Rose Bowl title game.
Texas and its quarterback position were never the same -- until now. Ehlinger emerged against Oklahoma has a dual-threat weapon who hasn't been intercepted since the opening-day Maryland loss.
"If I'm going to confess to you I'm a young prophet, Sam's destined for greatness," Hager said. "These things just don't happen. He's an angry lion. He beat Kyler Murray today. Kyler Murray is one of the great athletes in college football. We saw what people said after Maryland. We saw how toxic our fans were. We looked at each other and laughed."
Something has happened to the Longhorns in the 37 days since that loss to the Terps, now a respectable 3-2. Hager and the defense have been effective enough to be No. 2 in the Big 12, getting 10 turnovers. They are tied for the conference lead in forced fumbles (six).
The game-winning field goal was accomplished by an all-true freshman trio -- long-snapper Justin Mader, holder Ryan Bucjevski and kicker Cameron Dicker
"We're not done; we're not even close to being done," Hager said. "God told me we were going to win this this game. And God told me I was going to get my hair cut."
That will happen, the young prophet has already said, when the Horns win a Big 12 title.
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