College football teams can be defined by their choice of helmet. Following in ESPN’s footsteps of ranking the best NFL helmets, we rank the college game’s top 20 lids.
Note: Rankings based on aesthetics, tradition, meaning, originality, and place in college football history, among other factors. FBS teams only.
The Bulldogs’ helmet is a perfect example of putting your own spin on something and making it better. The block ‘G’ also is on the helmet of the historic Green Bay Packers. Yes, they just
stole copied the decal. But Georgia’s red and black, though, gives it a different feel. If you look at Georgia’s helmet history (and who hasn’t?), the helmet has stayed pretty much the same throughout the years. The newest version has a white stripe on the top, not exactly a drastic difference from anything before it. Between the hedges, with Uga on the sideline, it wouldn’t seem like Georgia football without that regal lid.
The ‘Y’ on the helmets represents one of BYU’s landmarks, “Y Mountain,” which has the large letter looming over the campus. More than anything, though, it’s a representation of BYU football past and present; that’s why the school went back to future in 2005, scrapping their disastrous new uniforms for a taste of the past. Head coach Bronco Mendenhall said it best: “This is about honoring tradition. This is about respect for and accountability to the coaches and players who have made BYU one of the national pillars of college football.” If they went back to the lighter shade of blue and got rid of the ugly helmet stickers, these lids would be even higher.
Let’s be honest, there are certain helmets that fit certain schools. When you see that maniacal boar coming at you off Arkansas’ helmet, it just feels right for the Razorbacks. You think down south, old-time
football. The school enlarged the decal on the helmet in 1995, no doubt to emphasis what already was awesome. From 1958-63, the Razorbacks did not have the ferocious pig, and the helmets looked like a low-rent version of the Alabama lid with the players’ numbers on the side. The change was for the better.
17. Penn State
If you aren’t a college football fan, you simply don’t get it. Yes, that’s right. We are helmet snobs. The Penn State helmet is straightforward and clean. To anyone else, it’s the most boring thing you’ve ever seen. That’s why art is in the eye of the beholder. Think about a soldout crowd in Happy Valley waving those white towels as Penn State takes the field with their plain white helmets. Though, it wasn’t always that way. Prior to 1974, Penn State had numbers on the side of the hats. We like it much better this way.
This is the beauty of college football in “Good Old Rocky Top.” The classic orange ‘T’ fits the program perfectly. It’s not as omnipresent as the “The U” in Miami but, for generations of Tennessee fans, it’s a source of pride. Of course, the helmet is nothing more than an orange and white popsicle stick . And only in college football could a host of high school athletes hope to one day wear a creamsicle on their heads.
This isn’t New York City or Los Angeles, it’s the nation’s heartland. And the definition of Nebraska is its proud football program, and that’s how the red, simplistic ‘N’ sits on this white background – prominent and proud. The Cornhuskers is an appropriate nickname, but how would you depict that on a football helmet? Prior to 1970, a ‘U’ accompanied the ‘N’ on the helmet, but it was removed from all helmets because there weren’t enough of the letters to go around. And that’s how the lone ‘N’ emerged as the symbol of Nebraska football, which is also a perfect symbol of life in the heartland: Plain and simple. Some of the greatest works of art come about by accident.
When June Jones arrived in 1999, he decided to makeover an already great helmet and it ended in disaster. But a year later, Hawaii got it right. The school did a great redesign, making the green helmet a staple for both home and away contests. To be honest, we prefer the silver version. But the green version – the green-on-green, to be more exact – gives you the impression you are on the lush Hawaiian landscape. And really, what’s better than that?
13. West Virginia
West Virginia has done a good job of putting a twist on a simple helmet. Not to be confused with the “Flying V” of Mighty Ducks fame, this helmet has a “Flying WV” introduced by Don Nehlen making each Mountaineer look like he’s motoring around the field. It’s a classic in West Virginia, a state in which WVU athletics is king. Of course, Mountaineers fans are known for their rowdiness, but nothing says controlled frenzy like the accentuated WV in a bold yellow against a dark background. It almost makes us want to head to Morgantown and burn some couches. Quietly.
Maybe it’s us, but the Arizona football team always looks strange out there. It’s a basketball school, and their uniforms aren’t as identifiable in the college football world. The school did a good thing, though, by switching up the helmets last season. It went back to the white ones with a blue stripe on one side and a red stripe on the other like the “Desert Swarm” days. It gave the Wildcats a unique look, one which includes the school’s colors and its classic block ‘A.’ We’re starting to come around on the Wildcats of the gridiron; we’re already sold on their helmets.
As we discussed during our uniform rankings, only certain teams can pull off orange. But Clemson is literally the only team who can have the famous paw print, the one which is placed prominently on its helmets. The school had to trademark the paw so that other schools could not copy it. Of course, tigers are perhaps the nation’s most popular mascot. Clemson’s white paw has a hook at its bottom so you can tell it’s exclusive to the South Carolina school that introduced it in 1970. Aesthetically, it’s beautiful – looking as if a tiger softly dipped its paw in the helmet’s orange paint.
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