College Football Uniform Trends to Watch for in 2016

Brian Pedersen@realBJPFeatured ColumnistJune 2, 2016

Pittsburgh quarterback Nate Peterman (4) and teammates Jordan Whitehead (33) and Adam Bisnowaty (69) are photographed as they model new uniforms that also feature the
Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

New York City's renowned Fashion Week extravaganza came and went back in February without a single mention of some of the hottest fads sweeping the world. The college football world, that is.

Uniform changes and updates remain all the rage in college football, and each year when these tweaks happen, we look for new trends.

In the past, this has included the move toward thinner, tighter and more breathable materials as well as the push to include black or gray into the color palette regardless of whether it was part of a school's colors.

One of the most anticipated changes won't happen until August. That's when Michigan shifts from Adidas to Jordan Brand, the first football team to do so. We have no idea what the Wolverines' uniforms will look like—though assistant coach Jay Harbaugh previewed a possible look last summer in a since-deleted tweet—but they could usher in a new era of football gear from a line previously known for only basketball.

Until the official unveiling happens, though, we can only speculate. But several other teams have released new uniforms for 2016, so take a stroll with us down the runway for the latest styles and trends.

Past and Present

The millennial generation gets picked on for its overall sense of entitlement and narcissism, so it makes sense that college football teams want to stay as relevant as possible on the uniform front. But there are also the fans to consider, particularly those who have been around for quite some time and fondly remember a program's past glories.

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Now more teams are looking to combine past and present with their gear in hopes of pleasing all factions.

Clemson is coming off one of its best seasons in school history, winning its first 14 games and reaching the national championship. Had the Tigers managed to beat Alabama, it would have marked their first title since 1981.

Now their quest to win it all in 2016 will be in gear that harkens back to that championship squad of 35 years ago.

"Who says you can't go back?" the above video's narrator asks. "Who says you can't recreate history?"

Instead of a major overhaul, Clemson tweaked its threads to look more like the ones it wore in 1981, with bigger numbers on the front and back, and a return of the tiger paw logo to the top of the shoulders.

That frees up the side of the shoulder for smaller numbers, just like Clemson wore when it beat Nebraska in the Orange Bowl 35 years ago.

The last of Pittsburgh's nine national titles came in 1976, when coach Johnny Majors and Heisman Trophy-winning running back Tony Dorsett led the Panthers to a 12-0 mark. That team's helmets had “Pitt” written in script on the sides, a style that lasted until 1996, when the school switched to a Panthers logo.

What's old is new again, though, and the Pitt script is back. According to coach Pat Narduzzi, today's college football players like donning vintage designs as much as new ones.

"I think it’s very attractive to recruits," he told ESPN.com's Andrea Adelson. "You’ve got to have a little swag to you. I think our kids got some swag, and we’ll continue to add to the swag."

Also looking to the past for a “new” look is Virginia Tech, which under first-year coach Justin Fuente will have new uniforms that include a change in font.

According to the school's website, the lettering pays homage to Christopher Columbus Kraft Jr., a Hokies alum from the 1940s who went on to become a NASA engineer. This also ties in well with the school's tradition as a polytechnic research institution.

Fringe Benefits

At this rate, it shouldn't be long before the jerseys start getting bedazzled or include epaulets on the shoulders.

A continuing trend with college football uniforms of late has been the inclusion of different patterns that stand out alongside the solid color of the rest of the material. Last year saw Michigan State add an alternate kit with a Greek "key pattern" on the shoulders, and Florida State added some flair to both the sleeves and neck line in 2014.

Not willing to be left behind, schools like Kentucky, Oklahoma State and Purdue are joining the fringe party for 2016.

Oklahoma State, a past pioneer in the world of chrome lids and oversized mascot logos, is jumping on the pattern bandwagon by including a "custom paisley print" around the neck and sleeve edges.

Purdue, which previously harkened back to the glory days of the locomotive with train tracks running down the center of its helmet, now has added a "cowcatcher" design on both shoulders. For those not well versed in train history, that's the pointed guard on the front of engines that are meant to clear away any debris—cows, included—that might be scattered on the tracks.

And Kentucky has thrown a checkerboard design onto its sleeves, though that's managed to draw as much praise from fans of one of the Wildcats' rivals as from its own supporters.

Numbers Never Lie

Uniform updates have been going on for quite some time, but one area that tended to stay the same was the jersey numbers.

Go back as recently as a decade ago, and almost every college football team had the same basic block font for its numbersboth on the chest and back as well as the shouldersand any uniform tweaks were to the colors or helmet designs.

Now it's getting to where every FBS team seems to have its own unique set of stylized digits, and most of the updated uniforms for 2016 are following suit with this.

Oklahoma State's latest set of changes also includes a "barbed wire typeface" to further drive home that program's cowboy culture, while Central Florida's update features numbers that all have tiny notches carved into them. It falls in line with the school's UCF logo and works well with new coach Scott Frost's push of the #UCFast motto he introduced after being hired.

Rutgers's fresh uniforms are meant to "go back to a traditional Rutgers look," new coach Chris Ash said, per Ryan Dunleavy of APP.com. They scrap the the odd medieval/gunmetal motif the Scarlet Knights had been using for a few years. "I wanted a nice, clean, professional look that is traditional and identifiable with Rutgers."

Apparently, that also includes having a special serif-style font for the uniform numbers instead of old-style block numbers.

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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