Top 15 Athletic Nicknames in College Sports

Michael Cline@mclinedSenior Analyst ISeptember 20, 2008

The athletic nickname, or moniker, of a college or university is more than just a name. It's an identity. It gives the school character and pride.

In 1907, a senior at Penn State wrote these words in favor of his college taking on a nickname:

"Every college the world over of any consequence has a college emblem of some kind, all but The Pennsylvania State College...Why not select for ours the king of beasts: the Lion! Dignified, courageous, magnificent, the lion allegorically represents all that our College Spirit should be, so why not the 'Nittany Mountain Lion'? Why cannot State have a kingly, all conquering Lion as the eternal sentinel?"

That is the spirit of college nicknames.

In an effort to recognize these great names and traditions, I've compiled a list of the top monikers in Division 1A.

There was a method to this madness. First, to be eligible for the top 15, the nickname couldn't be shared with another school. So even though I love the name "Aggies," it was excluded because there are three teams in Division 1A with that name.

Other factors when scoring the list were based on tradition, creativity, and relevance of the name to the school's history.

Ladies and Gentlemen, without further ado, I give you the Top 15 Athletic Nicknames in College Sports:

15. Arkansas Razorbacks

Named for the feral pig that is known in the area, Arkansas is the only major sports team with a porcine name. Plus, "Razorbacks" just sounds ferocious.

14. Tulane Green Wave

Name was adopted during the 1920 season, after a song titled "The Rolling Green Wave" was published in Tulane's student newspaper. Fitting that the name comes from a song, the college being located in music-rich New Orleans.

13. Tennessee Volunteers

Tennessee is the "Volunteer" state and got the name during the war of 1812, because of the prominent role played by volunteer soldiers from that state. 

12. Penn State Nittany Lions

Refers to the mountain lions that once roamed near the campus, see quote in introduction for further reasoning. What great spirit behind this name.

11. Florida Gators

With the state of Florida being home to an estimated 1 million alligators, the American Alligator was chosen as the mascot to represent the University in 1911. But if they were called the Florida Alligators, I don't think they would have made this list.

10.  Indiana Hoosiers

There isn't much certainty about where this name came from. Indiana is recognized as the "Hoosier State," and so the university took it as its athletic nickname.

9. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Notre Dame's nickname is inherited from Irish immigrant soldiers who fought in the Civil War with the Union's Irish Brigade. Hey, who hasn't known an Irishman not ready to fight?

8. Nebraska Cornhuskers

Originally the Iowa University nickname, Nebraska applied the name to its athletic program to honor one of the state's biggest industries around 1900. Some would say that "Cornhuskers" is a wimpy name. But if you've never shucked corn before, you have no voice.

7. Purdue Boilermakers

Engineering education in the 1890's at Purdue meant hands-on work in the forge room, where students heated and molded metal. They were called the "blacksmiths" and "boilermakers" after defeating their opponents.

Over the years, Purdue's football teams were called "grangers," "pumpkin-shuckers," and "foundry hands" among others, luckily "Boilermakers" finally stuck.

6. Texas Longhorns

Taking their name from the Longhorn cattle that were an important part of the development of Texas, and are now the official "large animal" of the state of Texas.

5. Ohio State Buckeyes

The Buckeye tree is the state tree of Ohio and produces small brown nuts called Buckeyes. I know, it's just a nut, BUT THEY'RE POISONOUS NUTS!

4. Oklahoma Sooners

A nickname given to individuals who participated in the land rushes which initially opened the Oklahoma Indian Territory to non-native settlement by entering early and hiding out until the legal time of entry, in order to lay quick (and illegal) claim to some of the most choice homesteads.

Sooners were sometimes called "Moonshiners", which would have made this list too.

3. Miami Hurricanes

It's obvious why the university chose this nickname. There isn't a lengthy legend or heroic move to make this the official name. It's just original, unique, and definitely deserving of the Top 3.

2. Alabama Crimson Tide

Hugh Roberts, former sports editor of the Birmingham Age-Herald, is credited with coining the phrase "Crimson Tide" in an article describing the 1907 Iron Bowl. The game was played in a sea of red mud with the Auburn Tigers heavily favored to win.

Alabama held Auburn to a 6-6 tie, and graduating to their newfound nickname. Not to mention it sounds like a Tom Clancy novel.

1. North Carolina Tar Heels

The exact etymology of the word is unknown, but most believe its roots come from the fact that tar, pitch, and turpentine created from the vast pine forests were one of North Carolina's most important exports early in the state's history.

Sounds like a bad case of 'grocery store feet', but definitely the best nickname in college sports.


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