Ranking the Best College Mascots

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistSeptember 21, 2020

Ranking the Best College Mascots

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    There's so much pageantry surrounding college athletics, from the pregame rituals to the traditions, beautiful campuses and monolithic stadiums. But one of the coolest things about them are the mascots.

    In some cases, it's a cool, costumed individual getting the crowd amped, doing push-ups and generally hanging around the cheerleaders and providing sideline entertainment. But it's truly awesome when live beasts roam the field or reside outside the stadium.

    These mascots become part of a college's identity, whether they're storming the field, performing with the band or just doing things throughout the games to keep the kids entertained.

    Across the country, there are plenty of memorable mascots that are part of the game day festivities.

    From the unique Tree at Stanford to a pair of very good boys in the SEC to a couple of incredible specimens from the bovine family to a bizarre creature in Bowling Green, Kentucky, collegiate mascots everywhere have their place in our hearts.

    So, giving special consideration to those living creatures that have to be taken care of, the others that are pretty neat themselves and also adding some bonus points for uniqueness, let's rank the top mascots in college sports.

    As always, make yours known in the comments section.

10. Big Red, Western Kentucky

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    Michael Noble Jr./Associated Press

    On a maiden voyage to a Western Kentucky football game back in 2002, this huge, red monstrosity approached in a dark tunnel, causing an immediate jump, a step back and a "What is that thing?"

    It, of course, was Big Red. And if you don't know what it is, well, join the club.

    The Wikipedia page doesn't shed any real light on its species, either, referring to it as a "red, furry being" created by WKU student Ralph Carey in 1979.

    "Big Red is meant to symbolize the spirit of WKU students and alumni as well as the sports teams' nickname, the 'Hilltoppers,' a name chosen because the school's campus sits atop a hill 232 feet above the Barren River flowing through WKU's home city of Bowling Green," the page says.

    Whatever Big Red is, it has received a near-cult following over the nearly 41 years since it has been in existence. Some think the mascot is cute. Others look at it as being horrifying. 

    The large creature with a plump belly is known for putting smiles on kids' faces with its belly shake and belly slide, and no matter if it is a "being," a "blob" or a "spirit," it's definitely a conversation-starter that has put Western Kentucky on the map.

    With a team name like the "Hilltoppers," it's important to stay away from stereotyping Kentuckians, and Big Red successfully navigates those boundaries. It's one of the most marketable mascots on the list and is known across the nation, probably more so than the teams themselves.

9. Brutus Buckeye, Ohio State

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    One of the most storied college football programs and richest Big Ten athletic departments in the nation is The Ohio State University Buckeyes.

    It's not uncommon to see them playing football or basketball on a television set near you, and that means plenty of visibility for Brutus Buckeye, a huge, surprised-faced nut who leads the band, traipses around the sideline and is known for doing push-ups on the sideline.

    According to Brutus' Ohio State website, he is also known for taking an aerobics class with Richard Simmons and the ESPN crew, wearing the hat from legendary coach Woody Hayes' first game at Ohio State and "enjoys hanging amongst the trees in Buckeye Grove and visiting his abundance of cousins scattered all throughout the state."

    The rest of that site is fantastic, too, if you take the time to look.

    Brutus is not your ordinary nut.

    He was inducted in the Mascot Hall of Fame in 2007, and in a conference full of cool mascots, he sets the standard. According to his Wikipedia page, Brutus first appeared in 1965. He definitely has become one of the most recognizable mascot in all of college sports.

    When the Big Ten begins play in late October, the Buckeyes should be one of the nation's top teams again, so get ready to watch Brutus celebrate across the sidelines when Justin Fields and Co. light up a scoreboard near you.

8. The Tree, Stanford

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    When your athletic programs are named after a color, it's pretty difficult to personify that in any way with a mascot.

    Though Stanford doesn't have an official mascot, according to its official site, the Tree is the unofficial symbol that has become synonymous with one of the top athletic departments in the nation.

    It officially is considered a member of the Stanford Band, and is "representative of El Palo Alto, the Redwood tree which is the logo of the city of Palo Alto." It also just looks like something that would originate from the brilliant mind of a Stanford grad—a dancing, multi-layered mascot that makes you think when you look at it.

    The Tree also changes from year to year; that's because it's created anew by the student chosen to represent it each year. That's why if you click on Google images of the Tree, there are many different ones.

    This tradition is neat, a bit trippy and certainly one of the most unique ones in all of college sports. Much like the No. 10 mascot on the list, Big Red, its representation here is because you just don't see anything else like it in sports around the country.

    Years ago, Stanford's mascot was the Indians, until the school decided to change to The Cardinal in 1972.

    According to the Tree's Wikipedia page: "However, in 1975, the band had performed a series of halftime shows that facetiously suggested several other new mascot candidates it considered particularly appropriate for Stanford, including the Steaming Manhole, the French Fry, and the Tree. The Tree ended up receiving so much positive attention that the band decided to make it a permanent fixture, and the Tree came to be embraced by the Stanford community at large."

    It's been embraced by the rest of the nation, as well.

7. The Leprechaun, Notre Dame

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    You would have a difficult time finding a leprechaun in real life, even if you go searching at the end of rainbows, but there's a pretty popular one tied to a storied program in South Bend, Indiana.

    Notre Dame is one of the most revered college football programs in history and also has top men's and women's basketball programs. Of course, football, where the Fighting Irish enjoy the second-highest winning percentage of all-time, is where the money is made.

    The nation's flagship Catholic university is also known for its leprechaun on its logo, with its dukes up ready to punch. On the gridiron, a full-sized, fully dressed leprechaun may not look just like the elven character you'd expect to find near a pot of gold, but it's neat to see, nonetheless.

    According to the Wikipedia page, the cartoonish leprechaun logo was designed in 1964 by Theodore W. Drake.

    But it's the prancing, dancing "real" character that causes the biggest show, despite the familiarity many college football fans have with the fighting mascot.

    More recently, the university has become much more progressive with its leprechaun roster. According to the school's official athletics site, the department announced its most diverse crew in the 2019-20 season.

    "As such a visible representative of Notre Dame, the leprechaun is a role model to fans across the country," head cheerleading coach Delayna Herndon said, "and we hope this group can inspire people of all backgrounds to see themselves as a vital part of the Notre Dame family."

    There's no questioning the rich, storied history of the Fighting Irish program, and the leprechaun has a special place in that lore, as well.

6. Boomer and Sooner, Oklahoma

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    One of the most recognizable pregame college football traditions is the Sooner Schooner, rolling across the gridiron to lead the Oklahoma Sooners onto the field.

    The schooner is led by two creme white Welsh Ponies, Boomer and Sooner, two majestic creatures who pull the Conestoga wagon across the field, representing the people who settled at Oklahoma Territory in the 1860s.

    Currently, the university is on its fifth set of ponies, "Boomer and Sooner V," who began their run as mascots in 2008.

    According to the Wikipedia page, "The Sooner Schooner and ponies were introduced in 1964 and became the official mascot in 1980." The page also says they're driven by the Ruf/Neks, OU's all-male spirit squad

    SI.com's Evan Scott Schwartz wrote a little more about how the Sooners got their names in a 2014 story.

    Recently, Oklahoma has been the cream of the Big 12 conference, especially in football, where they have been a part of the College Football Playoff the past three seasons. Though a lot of times, television audiences do not get to witness the Sooner Schooner, it's a rich tradition at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman.

    The schooner crashed in October 2019 in the second quarter of the Sooners' win over West Virginia, causing it to be sidelined for the remainder of the season, and Werner Wagon Works in Kansas built the fourth edition of the schooner, introduced in June.

    It will be neat to watch the two beautiful horses storming across the field before the Sooners play home games in 2020.

5. Smokey, Tennessee

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    The past few years hasn't been kind to Tennessee football, but that doesn't keep the Volunteers from having one of the coolest, most recognizable mascots in all of college sports.

    While you may be more familiar with the big, cuddly costumed Smokey mascot, the real Smokey is a beautiful Bluetick Coonhound that has been around since a mascot contest in 1953 that noted, "This can't be an ordinary hound. He must be a 'Houn' Dog' in the best sense of the word."

    The current mascot is Smokey X, who was introduced in 2018.

    According to WBIR's Tonja Burke and Tom Barclay, Rev. Bill Brooks and his wife Mildred took care of seven generations of "Smokeys" before they passed away in 1994. The Hudson family has been doing the honors since then.

    On game days, the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity handles much of the responsibilities for handling Smokey before and during the games at Neyland Stadium.

    The very good boy is treated like royalty, normally seen draped in a blanket when the season wanes into the winter months and Saturdays on the banks of the Tennessee River get colder.

    Though there may be some mascots in college football more recognizable, you won't find a more beautiful creature than the hound dog, whose howl can be heard when the music of the Pride of the Southland Marching Band stops.

    SI.com's Torrey Hart mentioned Smokey as one of the greatest mascots in college football history in a 2019 article, and children and other fans line up for hours to get their picture with him.

4. Mike the Tiger, LSU

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    A lot of fans only get to ever seen the cartoonish version of Mike the Tiger, LSU's cool mascot that marched up and down the sidelines throughout last year's football national championship season.

    But most don't know the university has a real tiger habitat outside Tiger Stadium, and a real tiger resides right there in a massive cage. Unfortunately, Mike VI died of cancer in 2016, but the Bayou Bengals welcomed another one the next year, according to the school's official website.

    The rescue tiger came to the university as "Harvey" and was observed by a team of veterinarians before he was approved as the next "Mike." If you're ever near Baton Rouge, it's worth making a detour and seeing this awesome beast, named in honor of athletic trainer Chellis "Mike" Chambers, according to the Wiki page.

    He was donated by a refuge, and the school's site says the school has not purchased a real tiger since 1958. The newest Mike has characteristics of a Bengal and Siberian tiger, and he hopefully will be a part of tradition for a long time around the program.

    Of course, you'll probably never see the real Mike on the football field. It would be a major risk to have a predatory cat on the football field, but the cat is a beloved fixture on campus and enjoys a life in the shadow of Death Valley.

    This is a tradition that began all the way back in 1935 when the first Mike was purchased from Little Rock Zoo, according to the Wiki page. It makes you wonder how much he likes all the noise coming from inside that stadium on Saturday nights.

3. Bevo, Texas

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    From Smokey the Cannon to "The Eyes of Texas" to the "Hook 'em" sign, the University of Texas has athletic programs steeped in tradition.

    But there's nothing quite like Bevo, the burnt orange longhorn steer who is one of the most recognizable parts of the program and one of the most beloved mascots in the nation.

    Bevos have represented the university at football games since 1916, and he replaced "Piggy," a bulldog that was the school's mascot until then. According to the Wikipedia page, the first longhorn that became mascot was purchased from the Texas Panhandle for $124 and was named "Bo."

    The current Bevo is owned by Betty and John Baker's Sunrise Ranch in Liberty Hill, Texas. But that may be his home, but it's not where he makes his name known.

    That would be near the South end zone of Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium, but the longhorn also goes on some road trips to be with the team, as well.

    Recently at the 2019 Sugar Bowl, the nation realized in a hurry you don't mess with Bevo. As the University of Georgia's bulldog mascot, Uga, was posing for pictures, Bevo burst through several barriers to try to charge the dog. It made for a hilarious moment since, thankfully, no animals were hurt.

    "Both Georgia fans and Texas fans have seen some interesting mascot moments over the years," UGAWire's James Morgan wrote, "but this may be the worst mascot on mascot crime in Bevo’s history."

    Bevo is a beautiful creature and he is one of the great mascots in all of college sports who has become a representative of his storied program.

2. Uga, Georgia

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    Brett Duke/Associated Press

    Forget about Uga shying from a steer weighing a ton plus; Georgia's mascot doesn't get scared of many mascots out there. He doesn't get scared of much of anything, as a YouTube video shows the dog once biting at an Auburn player.

    It also cannot be outclassed by many, either.

    Unlike the "Hairy Dog" cartoonish mascot Georgia trots out there, Uga is a beautiful, awesome tradition who has been a part of Bulldogs games since 1956. According to the Wikipedia page, every member of the Uga lineage has been owned by the Sonny Seiler family of Savannah.

    Uga X is the current mascot, and he is present at every home game and many road games. One of the bulldogs even wore a tuxedo to the 1982 Heisman Trophy ceremony and a black jersey for a recent "blackout" game against Auburn.

    The Sanford Stadium staple is a White English Bulldog who is normally donned in red and black and has been present at most of the big UGA games in recent memory. Just how revered is Uga? In a 2019 SI.com article, by Torrey Hart, the bulldog was named the greatest mascot in college football history.

    "Each ... has its own unique name, is given a custom-made jersey and a varsity letter, and resides in an air-conditioned on-field doghouse,"  Hart wrote. "When his day comes, each Uga is buried in a marble vault alongside his fallen predecessors outside the football stadium."

    This isn't just a dog loved by Georgia fans. Everybody has an affection for him, and there is a reason why he is one of the most beloved creatures in all of college sports.

1. Ralphie the Buffalo, Colorado

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Uga and Smokey are great and worthy mascots. Mike would be higher on the list, but he can't make appearances inside the football stadium. Bevo is a sight to behold.

    But it's another member of the bovine family that makes the top of this list.

    Colorado's Ralphie, the 1,200-pound buffalo, is a magnificent spectacle, led charging around the field before the game and at halftime by her handlers. There is also another team of people to ensure Ralphie doesn't injure other students, band members or fans while she is storming around. 

    Though sometimes incorrectly labeled as male, Ralphie is indeed a female, which are used because they are smaller and less aggressive, according to the Wikipedia page.

    She leads the team out of the tunnel, and though there are certainly better football teams in the nation, there is no better mascot. According to CU's official site, there are plenty of reasons to stay out of her way.

    "Ralphie and her Handlers can reach speeds of 25 miles per hour," the site says. "Ralphie and her Handlers also make special appearances throughout the year talking to fans and educating them about the University of Colorado Boulder, Colorado Athletics, Ralphie, and buffaloes in general."

    The first time a buffalo appeared on the Colorado sideline was 1934, and they did so on and off for years until 1966 when one became the official, full-time mascot.

    Since then, Ralphie has become one of the most recognizable mascots in all of college football. When you are a unique creature that takes an entire team of personnel to keep you from doing some serious damage, you belong at the top of the list.