There are teams for whom anyone only needs a second-long look to know who they are. Their uniforms are simple and timeless and remind you of their all-time great players and thrilling games they’ve been involved in. Here’s our list for the Top 10 Most Iconic College Football Uniforms.
Plenty of schools with animal mascots put a rendering of them on the sides of their helmets. Texas is the only one of those programs we deemed worthy of being on this list. There is something quietly dignified about the Longhorn silhouette decal that's over half a century old: Perfectly symmetrical, no need to add eyes or a snout or anything along those lines and the basis for one of the most iconic hand gestures in college sports, "Hook ‘Em Horns." And had you ever heard of the hue "burnt orange" before you became aware of Longhorns football? We certainly hadn’t. Combined with white, UT uses a minimalist-yet-resonating color scheme. Appropriately enough, burnt orange is the same color you might see on a well-tanned piece of leather.
Michigan fans and other Ohio State haters are quick to point out that the team is named after a type of nut. It’s a "distinction" you forget all about whenever you see their football team take the field in their traditional scarlet and gray. Similar to a lot of the uniforms on this list, there is old-timey striping running along the sides of the pants and around the upper arms -- a palindromic, five-stripe pattern running black-white-red-white-black. The "three yards and a cloud of dust" game plan of legendary former head coach Woody Hayes is long gone, but the uniforms first worn under him are more or less unchanged. We haven’t even gotten to the best part: The helmets worn since 1968, especially the buckeye leaf helmet stickers that festoon the lids of the Buckeyes’ star players year after year.
There were noticeable cries of horror last October when a pair of alleged USC student assistants posted Instagram photos of what looked like new helmet prototypes. It was as if King Priam of Troy had rolled over in his grave at the sight of these — which makes sense, considering the Trojans’ helmets seemingly go as far back as King Priam (1972 to be exact). How USC looks today is how they appeared in the golden years of head coach John McKay. There was a period in the 1980s and 1990s when the jerseys had a three-stripe pattern just above the tops of the sleeves and red facemasks instead of the traditional gray ones. Perhaps not coincidentally, right around the time that the older look was adopted was when the Trojans climbed back to the top of the college football mountaintop. Consider it stylistic karma.
The Nittany Lions have always been a no-frills, win-with-defense and a mistake-free offense kind of program. That identity is reflected in a long-celebrated (even with the Jerry Sandusky scandal), uber-simple uniform that would look like it’d be used for practices at any other school. Home jerseys are a simple navy blue with white numbers, while road jerseys have that color combination inverted. For a time there was a white “collar” for the home unis and a blue one for the away threads, but that was done away with prior to the start of the 2011 season. Both jerseys are worn with simple white pants and a simple, predominantly white helmet with just a navy blue stripe running down the middle. While there has been talk about the Nittany Lions updating their look, we cringe at the thought of changing these simplistic beauties.
Two words: Winged helmet. The iconic lid, arguably the best-looking one in college football, wasn’t a stylistic choice by then head coach Fritz Crisler in 1938, either. It actually served a practical use: As a means of helping halfbacks find receivers downfield — back when, you know, halfbacks consistently threw passes. The rest of the uniform isn’t half bad either: Bright maize pants and jersey numbers pop in concert with a deep blue. It's virtually unchanged from what the team wore during the 21 seasons (1969–1989) that head coach Bo Schembechler roamed the sidelines of the Big House.
Alabama is back on college football's mountaintop playing a style of football that Bear Bryant would have loved -- and in almost the same type of threads the Tide wore under him. You'll find nothing but crimson and white -- with a little gray for the facemask -- on these uniforms, home or away. The functional improvements to the jerseys prior to January's BCS title game might be the only time we ever write about "new" Alabama uniforms. The crimson helmets are what really do it for us (and likely most people). Having the player's number on the side of the lid is something that transports you back to the days of H-style goalposts and non-soccer style placekickers. While plenty of other colleges and countless high schools use the same helmet style, Alabama is always the first team that comes to mind when you see it.
It’s more than appropriate that the program which, historically, sets the college football gold standard spends Saturdays in the fall with their heavily gold uniforms shining in the sun. (Yes, we know this is sappy. Aw, the hell with it, cue the theme song from Rudy, now!) If there was to be a single college football uniform that would be identifiable to the citizen of a country that doesn’t watch the sport, it would be Notre Dame’s. It is literally rooted in the school’s identity; the golden helmets - much shinier in the past two seasons than they used to be - are painted so as to take after the famed “Golden Dome” atop the university’s Main Administration Building. The jerseys have oscillated over the years between different shades of blue, white and green. Throughout, the Fighting Irish have more or less abstained from putting nameplates on the back (save for bowl games in recent years). It's an old-time touch to the uniforms of the most high-profile program in America.
For the complete slideshow of the Most Iconic College Football Uniforms, including the Nebraska Cornhuskers, go to Lost Lettermen.
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