10 College Football Brands That Won't Ever Need a Redesign
In college football, change is a constant. The players change. The coaches change. Your team’s conference changes, shifts and grows. And, often, the uniforms change. In an effort to reach a younger generation, programs are constantly tweaking their uniforms, rolling out new colors, new jerseys and new combinations.
It’s all about capturing young recruits’ attention, and the success rate varies. Think about Oregon and Maryland. They’ve generated conversation with myriad fans and recruits, which is, of course, the goal. Other programs have had less success with redesigns. And others, frankly, don’t need it. Some program uniforms and brands are so iconic, so classic that they really are not in need of a redesign. These programs have their brands etched in fans’ hearts and minds, and a new look really isn’t necessary.
These are the college football programs that will never need a redesign. Some have tried alternate, one-off uniforms, but their primary colors are so recognizable that it really isn’t necessary. Here’s a look at programs that can tell image consultants: “Buzz off. We’re good.”
When you think of iconic college football brands, Alabama is at or near the top of the list. Even before Nick Saban’s recent run of four national championships in nine seasons, the Crimson Tide boasted an exceptional, tradition-rich past full of memorable coaches and players. Legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant’s houndstooth hat? Lynyrd Skynyrd's “Sweet Home Alabama?” The script "A" ? They’re all inextricably connected with Alabama football, for one reason or another.
Alabama has a classic football uniform. Crimson helmets with the player’s number on the side. Solid crimson tops and white pants with white numbers, or all-white uniforms with crimson numbers, depending on home or road. They’re simple, understated, and Saban knows that there’s no need to change them up for variety’s sake, as he told AL.com's Michael Casagrande.
"Everybody has an idea of what Alabama football players are supposed to look like when they come out of the tunnel in terms of the uniform that they wore and the uniform that we wear," Saban said. "That's not a tradition that I think anybody has a right to mess with."
Under Dabo Swinney’s watch, a lot has changed at Clemson. The Tigers have completed construction of the sparkling WestZone addition to Memorial Stadium, constructed a new indoor football practice facility across the street from the stadium and began construction of a new football operations facility right next to it. The Tigers’ fortunes have changed, too. Clemson has had five consecutive seasons with at least 10 victories, including a national runner-up finish and 14-1 record this fall.
Know what hasn’t changed? Clemson’s uniforms. The Tigers sport several uniform combinations, including all white, all orange, orange and white, and even the rare all-purple jerseys, but Swinney has resisted using alternate one-off uniforms. And Clemson’s orange helmet, with the instantly recognizable Tiger paw, never changes.
Clemson has built a brand of high-powered, exciting football under Swinney’s watch. Its uniforms and the Paw make it easy for fans to pick the Tigers out of the college football heap. Why would they change now?
Tradition is everything in the SEC, and Georgia has a very impressive set of traditions. The Bulldogs play “between the hedges” at Sanford Stadium, with the UGA lineage of live bulldogs roaming the sidelines and relaxing in a custom doghouse. The uniforms are tradition-rich, too. Former coach Wally Butts introduced the “silver britches” that have been worn for decades by Georgia players, and while they were discontinued by legendary coach Vince Dooley, they were brought back following his departure.
Georgia wears red jerseys at home and boasts an all-white (or silver) look on the road with a familiar “G” on its helmets. The Bulldogs have used their share of alternate uniforms, but their familiar look is their best look. Keeping it would be very smart.
Iowa is a model for college football stability. Since 1979, the Hawkeyes have had exactly two head coaches: Hayden Fry and Kirk Ferentz. Iowa projects an image rooted in Midwestern values. The Hawks are about hard-nosed football and hard work, and they preach those principles to recruits often overlooked by more traditional powers. That’s all by design.
When Fry took over in 1979, he found a program mired in mediocrity. Fry wanted a program that was associated with winning. So he modeled Iowa’s black-and-gold uniforms after the Pittsburgh Steelers, winners of multiple Super Bowls during the decade. Fry also commissioned the Tigerhawk logo that adorns Iowa’s helmets and has also become an instantly recognizable symbol of the program.
Iowa has tinkered with its uniforms over the years but has found success with the classic black-and-gold combination. Under Ferentz, the team still “swarms” onto the field as one at Kinnick Stadium while AC/DC’s “Back In Black” blares from the stadium speakers. The look hasn’t changed much in 37 years, but it’s working for Iowa.
Since taking over as Michigan’s head coach in early 2015, Jim Harbaugh has done plenty to attract attention to the Wolverines’ program, from taking on SEC coaches by holding “satellite” recruiting camps to holding a portion of Michigan’s spring practice in Florida and holding Netflix-watching sleepovers with recruits.
But the only significant change Harbaugh has made to Michigan’s uniforms was using an all-white road uniform look last used in 1974. Harbaugh is smart enough to know that Michigan’s image, especially the winged maize-and-blue helmet, carries weight in college football circles. And while Michigan has experimented with alternate uniforms recently, the program’s best look is its classic maize-and-blue home uniform. Harbaugh would be wise to keep that.
Notre Dame is perhaps the most tradition-rich program in college football. When you think of Notre Dame, you think of Touchdown Jesus. “Win one for the Gipper.” Gold helmets. And so much more.
The Fighting Irish are the only football program in America with their own exclusive national television deal, as NBC broadcasts all of their home games to a national audience. And along with Army and BYU, they’re one of only three FBS independents and the only one that can consistently attract a wide national audience whenever they play.
The Irish have experimented with one-off “Shamrock Series” uniforms, but their best look is the gold helmet along with the classic blue or white jerseys and gold pants. When your brand is as well-known as Notre Dame’s, there’s no reason to even think about changing it long term.
When you think of Oklahoma, you think of crimson and cream. You think of the Sooner Schooner and “Boomer Sooner,” OU’s official fight song. Those are pillars of the Sooner program, known across the nation by all college football fans.
The Sooners sport crimson tops with white pants, as well as all-white uniforms, and crimson helmets with an interlocking "OU." They have experimented with all-crimson uniforms, white tops and crimson pants, and even white helmets, occasionally. But their best look is the classic crimson tops with white bottoms. It’s clean, it’s recognizable and it’s the kind of thing Oklahoma should stick with.
Penn State’s uniforms are as simple and classic as they come. White pants. Blue or white jerseys. A white helmet with no adornment, logos or decals, save a stripe running down the middle of the crown. It’s the Nittany Lion look, and everyone in college football knows it.
This look is associated with legendary longtime coach Joe Paterno, and while the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal rocked Penn State to its core and left behind penalties the program is only now recovering from, it is recognized universally as a classic image.
The style is simple, understated and carries an image of toughness and hard-nosed football. Changing it would be a mistake for Franklin or anyone who follows. It is part of Penn State’s brand and worth keeping around.
Southern California is one of the most tradition-rich programs in America, and that includes its uniforms. While some programs embrace alternate uniforms, the Trojans have a classic, clean brand that has been very successful for them.
They have gold pants with stripes down the side and boast cardinal uniforms at home and white uniforms on the road. Their helmets feature a Trojan logo on the side with cardinal colors. Southern California has a look that its fans love, so why change now?
Charlie Strong enters his third season at Texas on the hot seat. Strong is 11-14 in two seasons running the Longhorns’ program, and that just isn’t good enough at Texas, one of the nation’s most storied college football teams.
Longhorn fans love traditions, and they love winning most of all. For decades, Texas has done so in instantly recognizable uniforms. The Longhorns boast burnt orange as their primary color, wearing burnt orange tops with white bottoms, as well. They use a white helmet with a Longhorn logo on the side. While Texas has experimented with alternate uniforms, this is a look the Horns should stick with, even if they don’t stick with Strong.