From the earliest days of football, uniforms existed primarily as a means of teams distinguishing between one another. As college football nears its 150th anniversary, however, uniforms have evolved into something much different.
A team’s jersey is a way for fans to show their allegiance. The entire uniform can even be a recruiting tool.
The importance of stylish uniforms cannot be overstated, which is why programs introduce updated variations every few years – sometimes, every few weeks.
The roots of the uniform revolution formed in the Pac-12, with Oregon’s emphasis on appearance beginning in the early 2000s. It’s no surprise, then, that the conference that gave rise to this phenomenon features some of the most unique and some of the best-looking uniforms in college football.
12. Arizona State
In the last game of its 2016 season — a blowout loss to rival Arizona — Arizona State took the field in white jerseys with slate-colored pants and helmets. It’s probably no coincidence that just a few weeks later, the university athletic department announced the Sun Devils will primarily wear their standard maroon-and-gold in 2017.
It’s a step back toward normalcy for Arizona State, which ditched its iconic Sparky logo helmet in 2011 for a new pitchfork logo reminiscent of a USB input sign. The Sun Devils may not return to their original look any time soon, but they should.
Since introducing a plethora of color options and changing the logo in 2011, then switching to Adidas and donning a strange, new font in ‘15, Arizona State took a step back in the fashion department.
(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
Utah unveiled new uniforms in May, and the result is a decided downgrade from last year’s look.
During its latter days in the Mountain West Conference, Utah sported uniforms that managed to be both bland and somewhat outlandish. Under Armour seemingly refined the Utes’ look over the years, in particular with a great all-white uniform.
The Utes’ 2017 uniforms look more akin to what the program was wearing in the late 2000s and early 2010s, but with a twist – an actual twist, which wraps around the bottom of the pant legs. This gives Utah’s uniform a quality reminiscent of basketball shorts.
Some programs could pull that off – North Carolina football sporting argyle would be amazing – but it’s a downgrade for Utah.
10. Oregon State
Oregon State boasts a great logo to represent a unique and iconic mascot. It’s unfortunate, then, that the Oregon State uniforms don’t make more use of that logo, redesigned in 2013.
That same year, the Beavers debuted new uniforms. The helmet option that most prominently features the Beaver logo goes with the all-orange uniform – the least subtle of Oregon State’s wardrobe choices, to be sure.
The black matte helmet is great – especially the white stripes on the facemask that represent beaver teeth – but it doesn’t use that great logo.
Cal is one of two Pac-12 programs to change to Under Armour in 2017 after wearing another company’s gear the previous year. Both benefited initially from the move.
Despite featuring a great color scheme, Cal’s worn some bewilderingly bad uniforms in recent years. The 2017 home uniform is an improvement, particularly if the Golden Bears remain committed to gold pants with navy tops.
That’s up in the air, and Cal’s ranking could be docked once alternate looks are revealed. An all-gold eyesore hinders some of the goodwill Under Armour’s improved design engenders.
Arizona football’s in a bit of a tenuous spot. Basketball is woven into the identity of the university, and the program has had some iconic looks over the years. Football’s struggled to cultivate its own identity, though efforts have been made in recent years through the Wildcats’ Nike uniforms.
The latest attempt features big, bold numbers with a new font. Both features are improvements over the last two number styles Arizona uniforms have employed, one of which made use of a difficult-to-read gradient. The stripes on the shoulder will take some getting used to for Wildcat followers.
It’s difficult to whiff with a color scheme as solid as Arizona’s red-white-navy, but it feels like Arizona could have done more to maximize potential. Still, it’s better than sage-and-silver, the school’s original color scheme.
7. Washington State
Another Pac-12 program sporting some new threads in 2017, Washington State made some significant upgrades. First and foremost: the alternate grays abandoned a crimson font for white, making for a much more readable jersey.
Washington State’s new road uniforms are terrific, pairing an all-crimson helmet with crimson pants and a white jersey.
It’s a clean, classic appearance comparable to that of Stanford. And speaking of...
Think of the great moments in Stanford football history since the latter half of the 20th century: From Jim Plunkett to John Elway; Troy Walters to Andrew Luck; Christian McCaffrey and now Quenton Meeks and Co.
The unifying theme is that these Stanford teams have all worn similar uniforms. When Stanford gets too meddlesome with its look, like it did in the mid-2000s, on-field results have been disastrous.
Coincidence, you say? Maybe. But when Stanford looks good, it seems to play well. And the classic white helmet with cardinal facemask, and cardinal-on-white is a good look. So, too, is the all-black Stanford wears from time-to-time — usually for big games.
Washington’s Friday night visit may be a good occasion in 2017.
When Colorado locked up its Pac-12 South championship in 2016, the Buffaloes wore black jerseys and pants with their iconic gold helmets. It was the perfect, old-school look on a night that recaptured the glory days of Colorado football.
That helmet made its way into college football consciousness over the 1990s, and remains one of the best looks in the game, owed to a great logo. But as Colorado’s black-and-silver combination the week prior against Washington State demonstrated, and even the all-white for a less memorable Pac-12 Championship Game appearance, Ralphie adds value to any uniform.
It’s a chore to not look great with a color scheme like Washington’s. And indeed, the Huskies have dressed the part on the way to becoming national title contenders.
The best of Washington’s uniform combinations is the classic home pairing: gold helmets and pants, purple jersey and that big, block purple W on the side of the lid.
However, the alternate black uniform has stood out as one of the fiercest-looking combinations in college football.
For years, self-appointed college football fashion critics lamented Adidas’ tinkering with the wholly unique UCLA look. From odd alternate choices, to unnecessary stripes and bizarre fonts, the amazing blue-and-gold symbolic with Bruins football just felt off.
It’s off no longer.
In a recently released reveal video, Under Armour showed off new-look UCLA uniforms that give a nod to program’s past with an eye to the future.
College football’s originator of the uniform-as-identity has always stayed ahead of the trends. As the wins piled up in Eugene, so too did the uniform combinations. The two things went hand-in-hand.
Coming off a 4-8 season, some of the hype around Oregon’s closet has dissipated. Still, the Ducks will sport some of the sharpest gear in college football in 2017.
The latest trend for Oregon will be trending backwards. Willie Taggart’s new coaching regime will see the Ducks wear more traditional looks — which are really some of Oregon’s best.
Like Yankees pinstripes in MLB or the Lakers’ purple-and-gold for the NBA, USC’s uniform is embedded in the fabric of college football.
The classic look that has reigned throughout the decades at USC is one of the best in all of sports. Only slight tweaks are made, like the introduction of a cardinal collar for the road white jersey last season.
Otherwise, it’s a tried-and-true formula: cardinal helmet with cardinal jerseys and gold pants at home; white jersey and gold pants on the road. Even the slightest tampering, like a cardinal facemask as was worn in the late 1980s, or the chrome version of the helmet introduced earlier this decade, can cause unrest among die-hards.