Big Ten Football: Power Ranking the Best Uniforms in the Big Ten
Get ready, Big Ten fans. Those beautiful Hoosier uniforms will be crossing your country this season, trying to pull an Oregon and steal some kids more interested in pizazz than actual football capability.
And then Maryland comes in 2014. Oh my, here comes the ugly.
Every year brings a few new tweaks to uniforms and usually a handful of alternate uniform designs normally used for a single game only. A good college football uniform must both appeal to older fans by having a traditional feel while also (and more importantly) appealing to the next generation of fans and boosters. And these younger folks like extra flair for the most part.
A good uniform must also include a good mix of colors, as well as a unique appearance. These teams should look just as good as professional teams, considering the high budgets and interest in the sport. But the most important part of a uniform is the helmet, the icing on the top of the cake, as it were.
So let's take a look at how the uniforms in the Big Ten stack up. These rankings are subjective, but each of the four factors (appeal to tradition and pizazz, good colors, uniqueness, great helmet) were considered to come up with the following list.
Thanks to the Helmet Project for tracking historical records of football helmets, a huge help in putting together this list. Check them out here.
Illinois has the color scheme of orange and blue, which actually makes a pretty ugly contrast. However, the real crime against humanity and eyesight is the all-orange uniform that the Illini will sometimes break out on the home field.
Neon-looking orange is just not a good look for anyone of any race or gender, let alone 300-plus-pound linemen who fill out a swath of that jersey fabric.
When Illinois goes with the blue tops and the white pants, the uniforms look much better, but the blandness of the road whites (shown above) also do not help the cause.
Illinois may have a little tradition in the orange helmets with the state name on them, but that ends up making for one of the most bland designs in the conference. If the team switches to the matte blue helmets from 2012 again, then perhaps there is potential to move up this list.
Until then, Illinois brings up the rear, just like in the real game of football.
11. Penn State
Nothing screams tradition like the Penn State blue-and-white uniforms, but unfortunately, sometimes tradition gets in the way of moving forward to make a great uniform. Even with some minor changes put in by coach Bill O'Brien (including the addition of names to the back of the jerseys in 2012), these are still highly bland and not unique.
In addition, the all-white uniform on the road is just asking for trouble. When not surviving a mud monsoon, these uniforms look like something straight out of a store catering to high school sports teams.
That's simply not good enough in the modern era of Twitter and impressing players with pizazz. Although Bill O'Brien's coaching will bring a lot of talent to Happy Valley, the uniforms likely will not change until a massive overhaul occurs, if ever.
Not all plain jerseys are bad, but Penn State falls this low for having nothing but the plainest uniforms possible.
Gold is a great color that goes well with many dark colors, including black, navy blue and purple.
However, make that dark accompanying the color maroon, and you end up with a strange clash. That's what Minnesota fans have to tolerate.
Although the all-golden uniforms are a rare occurrence, they have happened often enough in the past decade to merit consideration. As shown above, these things are a train wreck on the eyes and have few redeeming qualities.
That's actually sad, because just switching the pants to maroon to give some contrast makes for a much better uniform. Still, Minnesota insists on the all-maroon or mostly white road uniforms these days. These solid blocks of the same-color pants and shirt simply do not look good enough to rank higher on this list.
Of course, they do sell beer in TCF Bank Stadium up in Minneapolis. It's the small blessings that help those poor fans survive the color swaths.
The Hoosiers provide an interesting conundrum when putting together a list like this. Do we judge the program based on the uniform that basically has not changed significantly for a couple decades, or by the set of uniforms to be worn in the 2013 season?
Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, I've chosen to judge them based on those uniforms from the first page of this slideshow.
Indiana apparently believes that it needs to become the flashy Oregon or Maryland of the Big Ten (before Maryland actually arrives with the atrocious uniforms in 2014) to lure young athletes of today's era to Bloomington.
However, this will lead to growing pains while Indiana figures out what an acceptable alternative uniform looks like.
Although the crimson solid top and cream-colored pants with the triple stripe are not flashy, the traditional look is a good one in this case. Especially when topped by what I consider to be one of the Big Ten's best helmets, the Hoosiers would have ranked much higher had they stayed the same.
That's not the nature of college football, though, so we will have to suffer with the Indiana Terrapins for now. I cannot wait to see the Indiana state flag helmet design...not really.
Purdue falls into the same trap as Illinois and Minnesota in that the team is far too willing to bust out the monochrome look with the same-colored pants and jerseys. When your jersey colors are white and black, that makes for a very dull look outside of some interesting trim or numbering.
Purdue does have a stylized numbering that is distinctive in the conference, but that is about all there is to save these uniforms. Purdue has a nice helmet, but it would be better if some old gold could be worked into the uniform without going to a cheesy look (like gold jerseys and gold pants, for example).
The only reason Purdue ranks this highly on the list is that the combination of black pants and white jersey does make for a much better look. All three colors of the school are shown in relatively equal display, but Purdue wears the single-color look more often than not.
It will be interesting to see if Darrell Hazell brings some new wrinkles to the uniforms. Most new coaches do, including the recent minor changes by Bill O'Brien and Urban Meyer at their respective schools.
At least Purdue is smart enough to avoid the Maryland craze on the other half of the state, I think.
There's a clear dividing line in most conferences between very good uniforms and mediocre or bad-looking uniforms.
That dividing line is crossed right here for the Big Ten, as all of the teams at this point and above have good uniforms that are difficult to rank.
Wisconsin has some things working in its favor, including the notable stylized W on the helmets and the avoidance of single-color disaster uniforms. Of course, when Wisconsin went with alternate uniforms against Nebraska this past season, the result with the big W on the chest was something to never forget (and never repeat again, hopefully).
However, the Wisconsin uniform is highly plain underneath the unique helmet.
Wisconsin chooses not to bring in black or another contrasting color to accentuate the red and white, and this is likely a mistake. It is tough to make really interesting designs using only two colors of fabric considering the need for things like numbers to stand out clearly on jerseys.
As a result, Wisconsin ranks just slightly behind the top six. However, with some minor changes, Wisconsin could vault to the top of the list, especially if those great helmets continue to be distinctive.
Nebraska and Wisconsin are so similar that the difference between the uniforms on this list are virtually nonexistent. Both wear white helmets with a red letter and stripe, and both have the classic look of stripes on the shoulder and pants.
Nebraska also avoids the cardinal sin of wearing red on red, or white on white, which would look terrible.
What makes Nebraska edge ahead of the Badgers is the long history and tradition behind the N helmets, while Wisconsin has more recently (meaning, within the last 30 years) moved to the stylized W on its helmets.
Even when Wisconsin decided to do something crazy and debut the "Big W" uniforms last year against Nebraska, the Cornhuskers did something even crazier and went with a black helmet and a "Big N" jersey. Assuming that Nebraska does not revisit that look anytime soon, this spot in the top half of the uniform power rankings is a solid one.
If you must be relatively plain, having a strong football history associated with the uniform helps. New recruits still want to wear these uniforms because they know these are similar to greats of Cornhusker past, which is still a big draw for some top athletes today.
5. Michigan State
Michigan State may arguably have the best mascot in the conference if we ignore vehicles, but the uniforms will fall a bit short of some other schools on this list.
Still, a dark forest green is not something seen out of most college football programs, so that makes Michigan State unique despite being in a conference with 11, and soon to be 13, other teams.
The best part of the Spartans uniform is the helmets, which have featured the current Spartan logo for most of the last 40 years. Michigan State did change to a big S on the helmets for a few seasons towards the Nick Saban era, but these were thankfully replaced again by the spartan logo.
Michigan State is also one of the only teams in the conference to go with the large front stripe that narrows to a point in the back, which is a good look on two-color helmets.
The Spartans also have an interesting jersey number font that stands out among the crowd in the Big Ten.
Add to that one of the more awesome alternative uniforms worn against Michigan in 2011 (love love love the inclusion of gold and black), and Michigan State has a good thing going with the green uniforms.
If Michigan State ever goes away from the Spartan logo again, expect a huge drop in the rankings. That mascot is what makes East Lansing cool, so it has to be featured prominently.
The Hawkeyes come into the top four thanks to some good-looking home and road uniforms.
Both when wearing the black shirts at home and the white uniforms on the road, Iowa complements the jersey well with the black helmets and the yellow pants with the massive black stripe down the sides. The big triple stripe across the arms looks a lot like a certain professional team that also wears black and yellow well.
Much like the other teams this high up on the list, Iowa wears a great helmet. The tiger hawk was formulated during the successful Hayden Fry era in Iowa City, and that has stood as the symbol for the team ever since. The logo and helmet are unique; nobody else in college football mimics this appearance.
Most teams that wear these two colors end up with more of a gold hue to the yellow, but Iowa looks much more bold with the brighter yellow contrast to black.
The Hawkeyes have it all together with this jersey, and the only thing that keeps this program out of the top three are unique factors presented by the top three schools.
That's not to say Iowa should add these features, but the Hawkeyes are the best of teams with normal or standard uniform setups.
3. Ohio State
The heavy hitters in the top three of these power rankings are kicked off by the Ohio State Buckeyes. Although E. Gordon Gee may be gone, the Buckeyes remain a powerhouse atop the Big Ten conference and have the traditional look that makes old-time fans swoon.
Since the Woody Hayes era, Ohio State has worn the plain gray helmets with the scarlet stripe trimmed with white and black. This same pattern for a stripe is used on the pants, making for a unique look that others do not and cannot copy.
Although the gray/silver helmets look good initially during a season, what really puts Ohio State over the top is the inclusion of Buckeye leaves on the helmet.
Buckeye leaves are collected for making big impact plays, and you can always tell the players like Braxton Miller because they always have the most leaves affixed to the helmet. Plus, as this tree's leaves share the same name as the team itself, the theme coherence of this uniform is incredible.
The emphasis on the unique gray color is also a good choice, as there are plenty of red/scarlet-and-white teams out there.
The only nitpick is with the sleeves of the home uniforms, which have eschewed the gray stripe for a white-and-black stripe for the past few seasons. This looks sleek, but it also loses the good theme established by the gray in the jersey and helmet.
But that is a minor quibble for a team with overall excellent uniforms.
Last season, Northwestern kept the same helmets but made a drastic change in the home and road uniform jerseys. This change was lambasted a bit at first, including by yours truly, because it just looked so awkward on the models.
However, once football season began, the real beauty of the jerseys was proven on the field of play.
The Wildcats have a helmet with a big N, but the stylized edging of that letter kind of reminds you of tall buildings or skyscrapers. Northwestern does not include any stripes beyond the ones on the jersey, but that adds emphasis to the new and perhaps appeals to young recruits more.
Granted, I have a soft spot for purple as a favorite color, and Northwestern is able to proudly distinguish itself from Big Ten peers and most Division I schools based on the prominent use of this color.
Although the rugby-like stripe across the middle of the jersey is much more noticeable when it is a purple stripe on a white jersey, this just brings another opportunity to bring connection and community to the school as well as more purple, the school color.
It also helps that Northwestern has good-looking home and road uniforms. The Wildcats do not seem to match colors of jerseys and pants, so that trap or cardinal sin is avoided. Make no mistake about it: The stripe moved Northwestern up from a middling spot on this ranking to within the top two.
Not bad for a nerd school.
The top spot on the uniform power rankings in the Big Ten goes to the oldest football program in the Big Ten: the Michigan Wolverines.
The players in Ann Arbor get to suit up in the great combination of maize and blue. The home look is totally intimidating and regal, while the road uniforms are respectable.
From the block M on the pants to the winged-tip helmets, Michigan is a distinctive brand and owns one of the best college football helmets out there. Although Adidas has messed with much of the rest of the uniform over the past few seasons, one thing that always stays the same is that helmet.
Michigan, much like the other teams near the top of this list, always wears a color of pants that does not match the shirt, thereby avoiding the monochrome disease. Michigan looks as traditional as ever while still throwing in some pizazz to lure new kids away from their families to live with Brady Hoke over the next four seasons.
That's a perfect balance.
Incoming Ohio State and Michigan State hate mail in 5...4...3... (just kidding Wolverines fans). Don't look for a massive overhaul of this uniform, but continued tweaks will keep this program at the top of the list. For now, Northwestern and Ohio State will just have to snap at Michigan's toes
Thanks for reading! Please follow me on Twitter, and let me know if you'd rank these uniforms any differently in the comments. Have a great week!