Top 10 Most Iconic College Football Uniforms
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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.
They like things simple in the heartland, as exemplified by the Cornhuskers’ capital “N” helmet. The plain uniforms contain two stripes on the jerseys and the pants. If they were introduced today, they would be completely forgettable. Because of their history and tradition, they instead scream “Greatness.”
Even with Nebraska now sampling new, alternate uniforms, no one would dare mess with Nebraska’s iconic helmet design for fear of getting run out of Lincoln.
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The same red helmet, red jerseys and silver pants that Herschel Walker wore when he ran wild between the hedges during the early 1980s is almost the exact same thing his Bulldogs successors wear now.
It’s true that Georgia’s iconic oval “G” is modeled after that of the Green Bay Packers, who legendary head coach Vince Dooley asked for permission (in 1964) to redesign for the Bulldogs’ purposes. Georgia’s redesign was so well done that when the Packers updated their own “G” helmet logo, they modeled it after the Bulldogs’.
An underrated part of the Bulldogs’ threads are their “silver britches,” now entering their 34th year. The red, white and black stripes running parallel to one another on either side of the pants are another timeless aspect to this uniform.
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8. Florida State
If you’re a college football novice who’s watching a Florida State game and want to know which players you should pay attention to them, keep an eye out for the Seminoles whose lids are primarily covered in mini tomahawks.
Combined with the intricately detailed, garnet-and-white arrow decal, it is responsible for arguably the fiercest looking helmet in either college or professional football — one that dates back to 1976.
It’s not the only homage to FSU’s “Seminoles” nickname, which is officially sanctioned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida. A Native American feather design lines both the jersey’s collar and the bottom of its sleeves. Any team looking to capture “old and new” with a jersey would be wise to use FSU’s as a template.
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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.
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6. Ohio State
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.
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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.
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4. Penn State
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.
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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.
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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.
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1. Notre Dame
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.
Photo Credit: Matt Cashore/USA Today Sports