Sports are visual. Most athletic events are consumed via television, and the fan watching can tell the good guys from the bad guys thanks to color schemes and other optic nerve stimuli. Listen to sports on the radio? Cool, you're either in a car or from 1936. I'd also be willing to bet at the very least your brain is forming a mental picture of what the game looks like. Dave Niehaus was the best radio man because he could paint the mental canvas of a baseball game, from the green grass all the way up to the powder blue sky.
Sports uniform manufacturers have taken note of the fact you -- the sports fan -- turn on the TV and quickly recognize who is playing and... wait, what the heck? Virginia Tech is wearing helmets with stones painted on them?
Ah, you win again, massive multinational corporation. You got my attention.
I've wanted to rank the uniforms of the Pac-12 for a while, but I waited a little bit because I felt it would be best to let the first few weeks play out. See all (or at least most) of the schools' combinations and give the newer looks time to be processed.
How do I grade how college football teams look? It's subjective, but at the end of the day, it all boils down to: Do I want this team to change anything about their look? If the answer is no, congratulations, it's perfect. If the answer is that some elements need to be changed, then your school falls in the middle of the pack. If the answer is scrap everything and start over, you're number 12 on this list.
I've ranked the schools of the conference one through twelve. Tonight, we start on the "hater" end of the spectrum. I'll be counting down (up?) from the seventh best look in this conference to what I feel is the absolute worst. I'll give you the top six teams later on this season.
Since everyone on the internet is required by federal law to have an opinion, please feel free to share yours in the comments.
7. Utah Utes
Utah kicks off a common theme amongst the bottom-dwellers of the Pac-12 uniforms. Which is: Schools which very recently had a much better look decided to change for the sake of change. Remember this look? Alabama does, because they lost to it 31-17 in the 2009 Sugar Bowl. Perhaps the last time Alabama wasn't Alabama. You know how the SEC always looks down on the Pac-12? Utah was a Mountain West school when that stunner of a game took place. Even if you don't like the look, everyone has fuzzy memories of a uniform design from a phenomenal season. That's why I still have a soft spot for the Gesser Rose Bowl uniforms.
Utah went from a unique number font to bland block numbers. The piping on the '09 uniforms was random, but it looked pretty decent. Now it's just run-of-the-mill striping placed on the uniform so that things aren't completely plain... or so you associate it with the other Under Armour schools. Regardless, everything about Utah now is mediocre. This is Under Armour basically phoning it in for a school that isn't their flagship. Ten years from now you won't remember these existed.
I have some bias here: I loved California's old look. A modern classic. The stripes were seemingly inspired by the swipe of a bear claw, and the pants were so good they started getting ripped off by teams with no reason to copy them.
California's new set is decent... with one gigantic flaw. Did I say flaw? I meant one gigantic collar. Nike's Pro Combat template lends itself to some ridiculous collars if teams decide to color it in. It doesn't have to be like that, as the Buffalo Bills recently proved. Nevertheless, Cal went with the ultra-thick collar design this season, perhaps to match their ultra-thick pants stripe that is also unnecessary. And while we're on the subject of the unnecessary, Nike has decided to give random schools gray alternate jerseys for some reason. Cal's isn't awful, but come on.
This look is unfortunate, because the Golden Bears do have something going for them: their numbers. Not only is it a good font, but there's a sublimated bear if you look very closely.
Okay, here we go.
I could go into details. Details like the gigantic duck wings on the shoulders that aren't really intimidating or necessary. The weird number font (granted, Oregon's had worse); the "O" logo on the back of the helmet, etc. But my real beef with Oregon comes down to something simple. Despite having cool, unique school colors, Oregon refuses to feature them in their uniform designs. Instead, they go with Phil Knight's color-du-jour, whether it's black, gray, neon yellow, blackish-green or grayish-black.
The lines aren't even blurred anymore. Nike is Oregon and Oregon is Nike. They are a single entity. Oregon will wear whatever colors are trending within the Nike Brand, and occasional green and gold accents to appease the big money donors not named Knight.
The best lie Phil Knight ever sold was that shoes make you better at basketball. The second best lie is that recruits love uniforms -- all the way to the point where they might choose their university based on them. This is absurd, and if you take the time to think about it you realize how ridiculous that concept is. If I'm a recruit, I bet my tour of Eugene goes a little something like this: You tour Oregon's absolutely absurd facilities. The football operations building, the recently renovated Autzen stadium, the luxurious locker room and training facilities. Then you're told about the skyrocketing costs of college education in the 2010s and how you're getting that for free. You're getting all your food for free for the next 4-5 years. The tour guide, who is probably a gorgeous recruiting hostess, walks you through campus where there just happens to be numerous other attractive college-aged girls soaking up the late summer sun (this also distracts from the bros in the park who are just crushing a frolf sesh). Finally, you walk back to the locker room and some guy in a Nike track suit shows you some absurd looking jersey with silver wings on the shoulder and a glossy yellow helmet sprinkled with diamond dust. The Nike rep asks you, "Would you like to be seen in this jersey?". Hell yes you would!
Let me be clear: No recruit has ever chosen a University based on the school's uniform. It could be the tiniest of factors, maybe, but if you asked a random recruit to write a list of reasons they'd select a school I doubt it would even crack the top ten. Recruits can envision themselves playing in certain uniforms because certain teams have built a brand around them. Still, if USC's colors were pink and baby blue they'd still pull in a thousand five star recruits... assuming rest of their history remained the same.
Still, the narrative has been won. It used to be Washington State was unique for having two different colored helmets. Now two helmets are an admission your school is poor. You should have at least three! Matte helmets, chrome helmets, retro helmets, helmets with facemasks that continue the helmet stripe from the top (See: Our next school). Jerseys in every school color. Pants in every school color. Michael Bowlin's ridiculous shoes.
Nike, Under Armour, Adidas, Russell... they've all pulled off an incredible magic trick. Making us think uniforms matter to recruits. The only value uniform technology has in the recruiting game is reminding recruits where you stand in the overall arms race. But what exactly is the end game?
10. Oregon State
I was mean to Nike in the last review, so let me say something nice: Oregon State's previous look was their best ever. Just a fantastic uniform -- it's basically a clinic on how to make a subtle, bold statement that still won't be confused for any other school.
Oregon State botched its rebranding just a year after Washington State got it right. Getting "Re-beaved" meant that Oregon State replaced it's dated yet lovable Beaver logo with Benny The Rabid Beaver. Here's the really messed up thing about it: Oregon State had already essentially re-branded a few years ago with a cool "OS" logo created by one of their own alumni. I still maintain that logo would look great on a helmet... and while "OS" is a bit awkward it at least differentiates Oregon State from the two other "OSU"s (one of whom has the exact same color scheme).
Instead Oregon State toughened up its Beaver to the point of absurdity. There were a couple helmet mockups floating around the internet (here, here) that show the new Beav could work effectively on a helmet. OSU didn't go that route. Instead, they put nothing on the black helmet (save for a gigantic stripe), the Beav-nado on the white helmet and numbers on the orange helmet. Wow. The number font is okay, but not great. The real issue here is the striping all over the place; striping that is trying too hard. Striping that goes all the way down the helmet and even continues on the facemask. Stripes on the shoulder and truncated pants stripes (see the main image above). This overall statement is basically Oregon State's athletic department telling Nike that they want to look just as ridiculous as their rivals down south in Eugene. That's a shame, because a simplified Oregon State could look like sanity in an otherwise insane landscape.
There is another Pac-12 uniform set I consider worse... but UCLA's are by far the most infuriating. UCLA's uniforms should be a no-brainer. For years, they looked tremendous. A cool color scheme, cool shoulder stripes (that wrapped all the way around the shoulder) and an original number font.
Then Adidas comes out with its techfit template, which is the company's attempt at making football jerseys into leotards (without sleeves). Again, I said some bad things about Nike, but at least Nike cares about details. Things like making shoulder stripes go all the way around the shoulders. Here's what Adidas did to the Colts. Note the shoulder stripes, or lack thereof. Here's the Nike version, which fixes it. The same applies to UCLA. In fact, UCLA's shoulder stripes now basically look like sleeve stripes.
The stripes are only the beginning. Adidas scrapped that cool number font, in favor of cheap-looking block numbers. Then they apparently ran over each jersey with truck tires. Even the names on the back of the jersey look like they were glued on by a third grader. Every detail is cheap and phoned-in. Adidas even showed us they were capable of applying the cursive number font, but are only using it on the alternate because... um, who knows? Seriously, if you can figure this stuff out, you might be able to get a high level job at Adidas.
But never fear. UCLA has added black (!) alternates for 2013, to celebrate those LA nightzzzzzz. The number font is actually quite nice, but everything else about the jersey is unnecessary.
This is UCLA in a nutshell -- perfection has been served up on a platter for them, and they've thrown the platter on the floor and stomped on it. Such is life with Chianti Dan at AD (amirite, Bruins Nation?).
Give it up for your Arena League Los Angeles Avengers!
Arizona, like UCLA, is an absolute shame because this is a team that once achieved perfection. Around ten years ago, Arizona got it right. White helmets and pants with the red-white-blue striping pattern, and clean jerseys with a unique but not annoying number font. The result was magic. My favorite college football uniform set of the past decade.
Then, naturally, Mike Stoops took over and made things worse. Now Rich Rodriguez is at the helm and Nike has decided to pull out all the stops. Love gradients? Of course you don't! They're terrible. But Nike still put them all over this set, including within the numbers. I've read that gradient colors within the numbers are being phased out by the NCAA, and the teams that still wanted to use them this year had to apply for an exemption. That means Arizona and/or Nike actually had to do extra work to get those awful numbers approved. I find that both hilarious and sad.
But hey, anything for recruits, right? There is also a copper helmet because sure, why not.
Arizona deserves better. Maybe next year?