Thanks to the Oregon Ducks, the college football season has turned into part-athletic competition, part-fashion show as FBS teams across the country unveil new uniforms on a weekly basis to pander to players and recruits. The number of alternate uniforms in college football has gotten so plentiful that we decided to rank the top 20 alt unis of the 2016 season.
[Note: Uniforms considered part of a rotating set, i.e. UCF, not included.]
— Written by Jim Weber, a veteran college sports journalist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. Weber has written for CBS Sports Network, NBCSports.com, ESPN the Magazine and the college sports website he founded and sold, LostLettermen.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JimMWeber.
20. Marshall 1970 Throwback Helmets
If you’ve seen the movie “We Are Marshall,” you are already familiar with the horrific story of Marshall football’s 1970 plane crash that killed 75 people on board. The school announced it would honor those killed in the plane crash by wearing the same helmet from the 1971 season chronicled in the movie with a giant “75” on the back. The helmet isn’t just touching, it’s way better looking than Marshall’s current lid.
19. Texas A&M 1956 Throwback Uniforms
We’ll be the first to admit that A&M’s 1956 throwbacks are pretty, well, minimalist. But that’s OK. Throwbacks are supposed to be crisp and clean, and this uni is definitely both. The Aggies and adidas get bonus points for that shade of maroon that looks rust-like.
18. Arizona U.S.S. Arizona Tribute Uniforms
Arizona deserves a strong tip of the cap for honoring the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor by wearing uniforms remembering the sunken U.S.S. Arizona and more than 1,000 people that lost their lives on it on Dec. 7, 1941. The school also did a great job of making the uniforms look sharp and have great attention to detail.
17. Louisville Matte Black, Old English “L” Helmets
Louisville and adidas have teamed together this fall for some glorious alternate helmets, including the matte black Old English “L” look the Cardinals sported against Duke on Oct. 14. It’s sure a hell of a lot better than the "Angry Bird” look from a year ago.
16. Arkansas State Red Helmets
Arkansas State’s base helmet with the word “STATE” on the side is a colossal bore. Thankfully, the Red Wolves have introduced a new helmet logo in the last couple years of a wolf head, and none have looked better than the red version Arkansas State introduced for the 2016 season.
15. Arizona State “Desert Chrome” Uniforms
While archrival Arizona was the first to don copper uniforms as a tribute to the metal’s bond with the state, ASU’s “Desert Chrome” – a.k.a. copper – look on Oct. 29 was pretty spiffy. Now if ASU would only bring Sparky back...
14. NC State 1980s & ‘90s Throwback Uniforms
They say “absence makes the heart grow fonder” and that’s certainly true of NC State’s 1980s and ‘90s throwbacks. We didn’t feel any particular affinity for them decades ago but when the Wolfpack busted the diamond-logo look back out for the Oct. 8 game against Notre Dame, we realized just what we’ve missed since the look was done away with in 2000.
(Photo courtesy of www.gopack.com)
13. LSU “Gridiron Gold” Uniforms
LSU is one of the many sports team that lists one of its colors as “gold” but actually wears yellow. The Tigers changed that on Sept. 13 with “Gridiron Gold” uniforms that were actually, well, gold — like the team wore in the 1940s. The only misstep with this uniform was ditching the usual helmet logo for Alabama-style player numbers.
12. SMU Dallas Skyline Helmets
When SMU wore matte blue helmets featuring the Dallas skyline inside the Mustang logo in September, the lids didn’t just look great. More importantly, it was meant to honor the area’s first-responders and those killed in the July shooting of city police officers.
11. BYU Royal Blue Throwback Uniforms
BYU made a horrendous decision to abandon its classic uniform in 1999 for unis that can only be described as a traveshamockery. Fortunately, the Cougars pulled the plug on the failed experiment in 2004. But BYU has continued to use navy blue instead of the royal blue worn by the likes of the 1984 national title team and ‘90 Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer except on occasion. Why BYU doesn’t let the royal shade of blue reign over Provo once again is beyond us.
10. UNLV Matte Black Helmets
UNLV’s usual helmet is tremendously uninspiring but the matte black lid with the Yosemite Sam-like Hey Reb! mascot on the side is masterfully done and brings back memories of Jerry Tarkanian, Larry Johnson and Co. on the basketball court.
9. West Virginia 1970s Throwback Uniforms
We love West Virginia’s “flying WV” helmets but the Mountaineers’ white lid from the 1970s featuring a football and outline of the state is just too good to lie in mothballs. We applaud West Virginia for breaking the throwbacks out again this season to celebrate the team’s 125-year anniversary.
8. Oregon Mascot Uniforms
Only the Oregon Ducks would try something as audacious and absurd as a uniform that looks like the team’s mascot. But somehow when the Ducks ran out of the tunnel with white pants and bright orange socks and shoes, something about it worked. Unfortunately, the Ducks’ play this fall hasn’t been nearly as pretty.
7. Tulane “Angry Wave” Helmets
You have to have a sense of humor to love this helmet because the “Angry Wave” logo is admittedly ridiculous. But there’s something so unique, loveable and charming about it at the same time. And while it looks like something that belongs on the Cartoon Network, “Angry Wave” already has quite the fan club.
6. Rutgers “Dark Knight” Uniforms
Pretty much everything about Rutgers’ 2016 season has been an unmitigated disaster, highlighted by losing back-to-back games to Ohio State and Michigan by a combined score of 136-0. The lone ray of light this fall has been Rutgers’ beautiful “Dark Knight” uniforms that features a logo far superior to the regular block “R” that normally adorns the helmet.
5. Old Dominion “Back in Black” Uniforms
A lot of people still don’t even realize Old Dominion is part of the FBS but the Monarchs are one of the best-dressed teams in the country. The most recent example of that came this past August when the Monarchs unveiled their “Back in Black” uniforms featuring an enlarged version of the school’s roaring lion logo on the side of the helmet.
4. Louisville Red Chrome Helmets
It’s no coincidence that when Louisville’s red chrome lids made their debut against Florida State on Sept. 17, the Cardinals won by a score of 63-20. That cherry red hue just really pops and transforms what’s normally a very average-looking helmet into one of the best in college football.
3. Pitt Throwback Uniforms
Pitt has finally gone back to wearing its “Script Pitt” logo for good this season but the uniforms still don’t look quite right with the gold and navy blue color scheme. There’s just something about the yellow mustard and royal blue unis that the Panthers wore during the 1990s that’s so much cleaner and crisper than the current look.
2. Utah “Handcrafted” Helmets
We love Utah’s feather and drum logo but the current helmet looks a little dated. The handcrafted helmets the team debuted in September brings the team’s look into the 21st century with amazing detail that looks staggeringly authentic, as if the Native-American tribe itself designed it.
1. Air Force “Airpower Legacy Series” Uniforms
Was there any doubt about what the best alternate uniforms of the 2016 season would be? When Air Force unveiled its World War II-inspired uniform in August, the internet lost its collective mind. This uni hit the trifecta of being nostalgic, crisp and totally badass. We proudly salute arguably the greatest alternate uniform in college football history.