One does not simply wear a college football helmet. At least not in 2014. Uniforms and their accompanying headgear have become a marketing tool just as much as they are a safety measure and/or a way to discern between teams.
Take Oregon, for example. Under the leadership of Nike CEO Phil Knight, the Ducks have pioneered innovation and become the "coolest" place for high school kids to play. All five of the youngsters polled in this piece by Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer agreed that Oregon has the best uniforms in America.
But this piece isn't looking for the teams that have the best helmet and face mask designs. Instead, it is looking for the best helmet and face mask categories. Some of the best individual helmets in the country were left off if their designs did not fit.
For example, teams such as Air Force, Auburn, Georgia, Miami, Oklahoma, Texas and USC have some of the most iconic and well-structured helmets in college football. But their designs do not fit into any of the listed categories.
The UT Longhorn is cool because of all it connotes, but having an established logo is difficult to define. It's more of an exception than a rule. The following trends stick out as rules instead of exceptions.
Honorable-ish Mention: Chrome Helmets
Chrome helmets do not evoke gray reactions. You either love them or hate them. Obviously, enough people love them that they continue to get made—that more new designs come out each season.
Personally, I hate them.
I do like some better than others. Typically, those outliers fall outside the category of "chrome for chrome's sake." An example of this would be Houston's silver-chrome helmets (as opposed to something like Ohio State's).
So, yeah. That's about all there is to say on the matter. It didn't feel right not listing chrome, since it's such a pervasive trend.
It's just not one I'm particularly fond of.
4. Multicolored Face Masks
This is still a novel concept of sorts, championed primarily by two schools in the Beaver State, Oregon and Oregon State:
Georgia also experimented with it against Boise State in 2011:
To date, this is a trend that hasn't been abused—i.e., misused—for the sake of its own use, which is why it cracks this list. Every bicolored or tricolored face mask I can remember has added a nice flair to a helmet, taking advantage of a spot that is often taken for granted.
If it continues in that direction, the trend could climb even higher on these rankings. If it starts becoming tacky, it could drop off entirely.
3. Unbalanced Logos
Many new helmet and uniform trends annoy me (see: chrome helmets). For the most part, I think tradition wins.
One of the newer fads that has always seemed cool, though, is the incorporation of unbalanced logos. That is, a helmet with a logo or a decal on one side but a blank(er) canvas on the other.
Great examples of this trend include Arizona State:
And Boise State (from that same Georgia game):
Surprisingly, the asymmetrical composition makes the helmet feel more balanced. It's a corresponding principle, I suppose, to triangle composition in photography or art. Things need not be clean and symmetrical and centered to feel stable.
Oftentimes, a slight push to the side makes it work.
2. Minimalist Classics (The "No Logo" Club)
There is one uniform trend Oregon—even with all Phil Knight's horses and all Phil Knight's men—will never be able to recreate.
The mad scientists in the Nike uniform laboratories can do many things, but they cannot (at least for the time being) wrinkle the fabric of time. The Ducks might have the coolest, hippest helmets in college football—defining "cool" and "hip" as things that resonate with high school prospects—but they will never have the best.
Why? Because the best uniforms in college football don't need pomp or circumstance. They are harmonious and understated, minimalist classics that have endured (with good reason) the test of time.
Who needs a logo? In some cases, who even needs a letter? There's a quiet confidence in trotting onto the field with a nearly bare helmet.
Some standouts of the "no logo" club include Alabama:
Unlike the Oregons of the world, these schools do not need gimmicks to make their helmets stand out. Their helmets stand out, in fact, for their lack of gimmicks—or at least for their longevity. The same stripped-down designs have been used over the years, and they haven't felt the slightest need to upgrade their stylings.
You know that saying about how money can buy everything except happiness? The uniform pioneers are sort of the same way.
They can make a new helmet look like anything except a classic.
1. The Best Helmet in College Football
The best helmet in college football is the only member of the "classical" canon that also has a unique design.
Because it has been around for so long, it is neither understated nor tacky. It molds tradition with distinction.
I'm talking, of course, about the Maize and Blue of Michigan:
Before you accuse: No, I am not a Michigan fan or homer. In fact, if I may break the fourth wall of journalism, I grew up rooting for UM's second-biggest rival, loathing being called its "little brother."
But no matter how I felt about the team—or, really, just Mike Hart—I could never deny the beauty of those helmets. There's a reason teams such as Delaware have taken to adopting them.
There is no better look in the sport.