SEC mascot nicknames ranked by uniqueness
As SEC fans’ passion gets revved up with the release of those preseason polls they’ve been thirsting for since, well, last season ended, we’ll take a much lighter approach with a slightly different kind of rankings: the uniqueness of mascot nicknames.
All of them have some deep meaning tied to the school or the state, something sacred to attach to the program for as long as the football team takes the field.
But that doesn’t mean these SEC nicknames can’t be rated or ranked. Some just sound cooler to say or are far more original or have much greater historical significance.
So here is our annual, updated countdown of mascot nicknames, rankings that for a change have nothing to do with what has happened or what could happen on the field this fall.
Just remember passionate SEC faithful: These rankings are based on the team nickname itself, not whether Georgia’s Uga mascot is better or worse than LSU’s Mike the Tiger.
14. WILDCATS (KENTUCKY)
There is nothing wrong with Wildcats, let’s get that out there first. It is a fine nickname. It’s just incredibly common, putting it last in the countdown.
There is nothing unique about “Wildcats,” though we will admit there is something unique about Kentucky Wildcat basketball. But we’re not talking basketball here. We’re talking nicknames, and special nicknames, and Wildcats, whether it’s Kentucky blue, Kansas State purple or Arizona red, doesn’t scream special.
Incidentally, the Wildcats nickname was attached to Kentucky after a 6-2 road victory over Illinois in 1909. Commandant Carbusier, who was head of the military department at old State University, said in a chapel service after the game that the football team “fought like Wildcats.”
So there you go. It’s all the great Commandant Carbusier’s fault that he couldn’t come up with something better than Wildcats that day.
11-13. TIGERS (AUBURN, LSU AND MISSOURI)
OK, so now we’ll have three passionate fan bases all upset that their nickname is this far down. But that’s the way it is, and Tigers just doesn’t make someone stop and think about how they got their name.
For LSU, the best thing about having Tigers as the nickname is that its mascot treasure, Mike the Tiger, is a reality because Tigers was the chosen name for the football program in Baton Rouge. Again, like Wildcats, Tigers is just fine, but it’s nothing more than that. It’s just too darn common to be anywhere other than near the bottom of the SEC barrel.
Now, does “Auburn Tigers” roll off the tongue? Absolutely. We’ll admit that. But then it all just rolls away. In a 14-team league, having three schools called Tigers seems like a lot of the same, and there’s nothing unique about that. Heck, the War Eagle perched on the sideline is so iconic at Auburn that many go through life mistakenly thinking that’s their real mascot nickname. It isn’t. It’s just plain, old Tigers.
9-10. BULLDOGS (GEORGIA AND MISSISSIPPI STATE)
As last year’s countdown pointed out, via Buzzfeed.com, Bulldogs is the most common mascot in NCAA Division I athletics and, once again, nothing could be less unique than a mascot nickname that’s passed around more than any other one.
The fans of Athens and Starkville are wonderful and spirited, Georgia’s demanding better than being good and Mississippi State’s demanding it can at least catch up to Ole Miss. But the nickname Bulldog is only special because it spawned Georgia’s own Uga, who is mascot royalty in America, and Mississippi State’s Bully, who is no slouch whether in costume or the real, breathing Bulldog whose lineage began way back in 1935.
Uga and Bully make the mascots terrific at both schools. But Bulldogs being the actual name? That makes it way too dull and ordinary.
8. GATORS (FLORIDA)
There’s nothing overly exceptional about the Gators nickname except that it fits the program so perfectly. Gators are unique to Florida, and so it was an obvious match to have one of the state schools take on this nickname. The beautiful marriage of Florida and Gators is complete when you watch the Gator Chomp performed on fall Saturdays and consider that UF’s intimidating stadium is affectionately known as The Swamp.
7. AGGIES (TEXAS A&M)
Utah State and New Mexico State are also called by the same nickname, but when you say “Aggies” only one school really comes to mind. Aggie was short for agriculture, one of the lifebloods at Texas A&M, and the “Gig ’em, Aggies!” tradition that began in 1930 and rolls perfectly off the tongue is so symbolic of the spirit of College Station.
6. RAZORBACKS (ARKANSAS)
Unique is a nickname that’s truly Arkansas and nobody else’s — well done, Fayetteville. And well done Hugo Bezdek, who called his players “a wild band of Razorback hogs” after a huge victory over LSU in 1909.
A year later, the student body voted to change the mascot, so Arkansas was saved from being forever known as the Cardinals, a fine bird, but come on. There is no comparison, and there is nobody else called the Razorbacks.
5. GAMECOCKS (SOUTH CAROLINA)
This one being fifth is a compliment to the depth of great mascot nicknames in the SEC. Is it unique? You bet. Tiny Jacksonville State is also nicknamed the Gamecocks, but that’s about it.
British General Banastre Tarleton gave birth to the nickname after saying that Revolutionary War hero Thomas Sumter “fought like a gamecock.” Sumter was from South Carolina and himself was given the nickname “Carolina Gamecock.” In 1900, the football team was first called the “Gamecocks” by The State newspaper, also a reference to Sumter.
So the nickname screams toughness and the ability to persevere, which is what life in the SEC East (and SEC) is all about, and certainly what South Carolina has done throughout its up-and-down football history.
4. REBELS (OLE MISS)
The Rebels nickname is as unique as it gets. But the reason for that of course is filled with controversy and pain, so we slot Ole Miss at No. 4 and no higher. The program has in recent years tried to distance itself from its Confederate past, but Rebels holds on (for now, at least) as the nickname and a brutally honest reminder of the state’s history.
3. COMMODORES (VANDERBILT)
Vanderbilt has always found itself near the bottom of the actual football standings, but in these off-the-field rankings the school rates very high with its unique nickname that’s tied to the Naval Academy.
Vanderbilt’s teams were nicknamed Commodores in honor of Cornelius Vanderbilt, who made his fortune in shipping. The commodore was known as the commanding officer of a task force of ships and was the highest-ranked official in the U.S. Navy until the Civil War. That’s why the Mr. Commodore mascot looks the way he does, like a serious Naval officer from the 1880s.
An unlikely connection between academic treasures like Vandy and Navy is neat and as unique as it gets, and it puts the Commodore nickname near the top of these standings, a place the football team unfortunately hardly ever gets to.
2. VOLUNTEERS (TENNESSEE)
Like Vandy’s nickname connection to the Navy, in-state rival Tennessee proudly boasts a nickname with a military background that speaks to its state’s brave soul in fighting for America’s freedom.
Tennessee’s “volunteers” helped win the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812 and years later the Mexican-American War, so playing football in Knoxville is both an honor and a nod to U.S. conquest and survival.
What other program can boast that? Talk about uniqueness. And rarified air.
1. CRIMSON TIDE (ALABAMA)
No. 1 on the field, and No. 1 this time around in our nickname countdown, just stop and say “Alabama Crimson Tide,” and you get the sense that this program was destined for success. The story of how Alabama and the Crimson Tide became one goes back over a century and, yes, Auburn was involved. How perfect. And Tuscaloosa’s football players have worn the name well since 1907.