SEC 360: Ranking SEC football uniforms from worst to best
In all of sport, there is no uniform prettier than those worn by college football teams. Some NFL uniforms may be flashier. Some MLB uniforms may carry a bit more nostalgia. But there is no uniform in the world like the college football uniform.
Part of the pageantry of game day is watching two teams charge onto the field from opposite ends of the stadium before crouching at the line of scrimmage. I love the way certain teams look together on the field, and I always seem to notice how their respective colors may clash or match, given the uniform selection for that evening. I like the way Florida and Tennessee look together, LSU and Ole Miss, Alabama and Ole Miss, Florida and Georgia, Texas A&M and Arkansas, and Kentucky and Tennessee. And because I live in Alabama, I get a jolt of unnerving anticipation every time I see Alabama and Auburn on the field together; I almost can’t believe it, like I’m seeing Bigfoot for the first time all year.
So what SEC teams have the best uniforms? This a purely subjective question, of course. I think inherently, most folks want to believe their beloved team has the best uniforms, but if you really step back and think more objectively, you’ll start to see how other teams have the capacity to show off their sartorial splendor as well (look, this is the SEC and everything about it is competitive, but don’t get offended if your school isn’t at the top of the list).
Because I didn’t want this to simply be “Al’s list of his favorites,” I polled my Facebook friends to see what SEC uniforms they preferred before I compiled my list. To foster even more objectivity, I added the caveat that you cannot list the team you normally pull for (for instance, Texas A&M fans cannot vote for Texas A&M as having the best uniforms, Florida fans could not vote for Florida, and so on and so on). The answers were interesting. I found that many people love Vandy’s uniforms. A few loved Missouri. Kentucky got several votes, and so did Auburn. There were no right or wrong answers and, like many things, it’s different strokes for different folks.
I gave this fan poll a great deal of weight while compiling my list. For instance, I ranked Vanderbilt’s uniforms much higher than I would have otherwise, primarily because many of the commenters listed them as their favorite. I took into account that South Carolina got only 1 vote and Mississippi State received fewer than a handful.
I will say that I think a hard line can be drawn between those who prefer traditional uniforms and those who like a more modern look. Modernists oftentimes feel that traditional uniforms are staid and boring, while traditionalists believe that messing with a classic look is tacky and rube-like.
It’s also interesting to me that typically the most successful teams have tinkered with their uniforms the least — and this is the case from sport to sport. The New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, the Boston Celtics, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Green Bay Packers, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the St. Louis Cardinals are just a few examples of professional teams that have, with minor exceptions, clung to their sartorial roots. In the college ranks, teams like Alabama, USC, Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame and Texas — all college football blue bloods — embody this mind-set as well. If you look at the teams that have won the national championship throughout history, not much has changed in terms of uniform design. A few programs like Oklahoma, Tennessee and Florida have introduced alternates or throwbacks, but largely the teams that are successful don’t knock over the apple cart.
Still other programs have grown such a wild hair in experimenting with alternate uniforms that it’s difficult to pin down which combination serves as their “real” uniforms (see: Oregon) and which is the alternate. Ultimately there’s something to be said about the spontaneity and excitement of a different look, but there’s also something to be said about consistency, branding, and knowing what to expect when a team trots out onto the field.
I could hem and haw all day about this but I know you want to get to our list:
14. South Carolina
I absolutely love the alternate helmets with the script “Carolina,” but it’s the Gamecock logo and the color combination that just doesn’t do it for me.
South Carolina’s script “Carolina” helmets.. pic.twitter.com/mpcVuX4hpp
— The College Football Account ™ (@TheCFBAccount) August 30, 2018
Black and … garnet? In my opinion, that’s almost Draculean or something that sounds like the primary colors for a Meatloaf music video.
It might be time for the artistic minds of Columbia to come up with a new logo. I don’t know how you can draw a Gamecock any better, but it’s worth a shot. I’d leave it off the helmet, though.
And even though this goes against my traditional leanings, my favorite USC uniforms are the all-black versions the team has worn periodically during the Will Muschamp era. I like it principally because the red is understated, but again, I just can’t force myself to like the overall color scheme.
13. Mississippi State
I’m hoping that Mike Leach has enough swashbuckler in him to revamp Mississippi State’s uniforms. I like the color scheme with the maroon and gray, but the block “M” with the banner stretched across it just doesn’t do it for me (like, there’s a banner on Mississippi State’s helmet — and to make matters worse the banner is echoed on the chest of the jerseys).
Here’s what I would do if I was the AD at Mississippi State: I’d hire the best graphic designer in all of the Magnolia State (and make sure he or she is not a graduate of Ole Miss) and I would completely overhaul the football uniforms and logos. I’d do away with any trace of black or gold on my uniforms and lean to a more traditional look that wasn’t cheesy.
But the key, in my opinion, is the “M.” I might even experiment with a bulldog logo on the helmet, but I’d make sure it looked menacing and that it didn’t look like it was designed by a toddler.
I like the new font Arkansas uses for their athletic teams. I like Arkansas across the chest. I don’t mind the shade of red. I’m just not a big fan of the hog on the helmet (although I do prefer the matte helmet to the shiny one).
It's time for second half football! pic.twitter.com/DgxRp0N96b
— Arkansas Razorback Football (@RazorbackFB) November 29, 2019
Arkansas has had a few variations of its uniforms throughout the years, but my favorite is that of the Darren McFadden era from 2005-07. Simple, clean, and traditional. Yes, there are two hogs on the shoulders, but it doesn’t bother me for some reason.
And am I losing my mind? Has the color changed from a crimson of the Clint Stoerner days to more of a cherry color? It just seems lighter to me. Anyway, it’s not a bad uniform at all, but unfortunately it doesn’t make our top 10.
Missouri’s uniform combination with the black jerseys atop the gold pants is, as the kids say, “dope.” I also like the combination of white helmets, black jerseys and white pants, but I strongly rebuke the all-gold look as a major fashion faux pas.
— CFBTalkDaily (@CFBTalkDaily) June 8, 2019
According to Missouri’s website, the official school colors are black and “MU Gold” which is approximately a USC gold instead of the “Old Gold” you might discover in South Bend, Indiana. The move away from the block “M” logo that was prevalent in Missouri’s pre-SEC days was accomplished largely by former head football coach Gary Pinkel, who installed the Tiger head on the helmet and started referring to the program as “Mizzou.”
This is another program that likes to shake things up with respect to their uniforms, so don’t expect to see much consistency from game to game — at least anytime soon.
Everyone remembers Sandra Bullock’s famous line in the movie The Blind Side, when she says of Tennessee’s colors, “I will not wear that gaudy orange. I will not. It’s not in my color wheel and I’m not going to wear it.” Regardless of whether you like the particular shade the University of Tennessee has chosen for its athletic program, it certainly elicits a reaction one way or the other. You either love it or you hate it and there’s no in-between.
The majority of responses chose line 4 as the best # font for the Vols uniforms. With that being said, here is the potential Vol football uniform for 2020 if they overhaul the uniforms to a more traditional look as rumors have suggested, but with the # font you voted for! https://t.co/TF1iIM58Nr pic.twitter.com/csz9ye8aw1
— Tennessee Uniform Boy (@CfieldsVFL) January 30, 2020
Actually, I like Tennessee’s uniforms. They’re very classy and when the Vols play on television, you don’t have to squint your eyes to know whom you are watching.
If I was a Tennessee fan, I’d be super-obnoxious with the colors. I’d have a car with a Vols wrap or maybe even paint the outside of my house in that gaudy shade of orange. I like the gray alternate uniforms, but I’d get far, far away from any checkerboard look that’s not in an end zone.
9. Texas A&M
Texas A&M comes in at No. 9 principally because it has arguably the best helmet in the SEC and the shadow on the numbering is a unique touch.
Gig 'em! Today we feature the helmet history of Texas A&M. @AggieFootball (Team 129/130) has 36 helmets and has had TAM on their helmet since '65.@UniWatch @PhilHecken@TexAgs @BarstoolTexasAM@billyliucci@BrentZwerneman@rcb05@mbpRivals@olinbuchanan@WakeEmUp9#CFB150 pic.twitter.com/ttxCOM2vjn
— Blaise D'Sylva (@wtfcoach) January 7, 2020
As you might expect, I don’t utterly adore when A&M wears maroon jerseys over maroon pants, preferring maroon jerseys over white pants for the home uniforms and white jerseys over maroon pants for the road. The aTm look is absolutely outstanding (I like it so much I might even consider getting a tattoo of it) and echoing it on the pants — with the silhouette of the state of Texas around it — is a stroke of brilliance.
Color me a scrooge, but I don’t like the chain and anchor thing on Vanderbilt’s helmet. I don’t know…it’s just too artsy or something and I can’t get into it. But it’s clear from my Facebook post that because a lot of people do like the uniforms, I may be in the minority on this one.
Shocker alert: I love the old school Vandy uniforms with the star on the helmet and the big block numbers. Similar to New Orleans Saints uniforms, they were simple yet profound. And just to show how fair I’m attempting to be, I placed the ‘Dores at 8, even though Vandy is technically my least favorite uniform.
Over the past few years, Kentucky has stepped up its uniform game to near Oregonesque proportions. Generally speaking, I do not care for the checkerboard look, as I feel it looks like something that ought to be sold beside a toy rifle at Cracker Barrel.
Kentucky’s grey uniforms are, however, straight fire, which elevates the ‘Cats to a high ranking on our list. I like the fact that the checkerboard look on these uniforms, while still present, is more understated, and shoot, I don’t even mind the chrome look on the helmets. It’s definitely not traditional, but as Will says in the movie Good Will Hunting, “at least I won’t be unoriginal.”
In the state of Alabama, you either adore crimson and white or you adore navy and orange. I know Alabama fans that won’t drink out of an Auburn cup or wear the colors navy and orange together, as, my Lord, someone might mistake them for an Auburn fan. Through my research, I’ve learned that Auburn fans are very proud of their uniforms but clandestinely some Alabama fans think that they’re pretty cool, too.
My only critique of the uniform is that there’s something about the white helmets that bugs me a little bit.
Honestly, I would like to see Auburn model the Chicago Bears home look: blue helmets with no stripe with the Auburn logo on the side, three stripes on the sleeves and narrow numbers on the jerseys, navy pants for road games and socks with blue and orange stripes. I mean seriously. Can you imagine how good that would look?
To me, the thing that makes Florida’s uniforms is the color combination. The shade of blue, coupled with the orange, gives off a very soft feel, such that I almost want to eat an orange or bask in a tanning bed when I gaze at the splendor of it.
When faced with a choice, I opt for the more traditional look of the Danny Wuerffel era (blue jersey over white pants for home, white jersey over orange or blue pants for away) versus the blue-on-blue or the white-on-white look.
I really like the throwbacks with the circle logo, high shoulder stripes and blue and orange piping on the pants.
— UNISWAG (@UNISWAG) February 4, 2020
The current helmets (displaying the cursive “Gators” on the side) don’t just titillate me beyond belief, but I can certainly understand why someone might have an affinity for them.
As I am a bit of a nostalgist, I really like the old Florida logo with the alligator strutting over the state of Florida and wish that could somehow be reincorporated. In my mind, Florida has some of the best uniforms in the conference if it stays in its lane and doesn’t get cute.
I was talking to a buddy last night and he really likes Georgia’s white away uniforms. I prefer the red home unis, but the thing that puts these uniforms over the top is the silver color of the pants. In my opinion, red and silver look great together, and all I think about is Herschel Walker charging down the sideline like Secretariat on grass. Though it’s probably a Green Bay Packers knock-off, “G” on Georgia’s helmet is unmistakable.
— CFBTalkDaily (@CFBTalkDaily) April 12, 2018
If I had to make one change, I would take the black trim off of the numbering and move back to the simple block font of the Walker/Vince Dooley era.
Laugh all you want about the copious amounts of houndstooth some Alabama fans wear or share your old tired joke about Tide fans shopping at Walmart, but Alabama’s uniforms are about the classiest thing you’ll see on TV. As untouched as a Toulouse-Lautrec painting in a velvet-roped art gallery, these uniforms have remained essentially the same through the years, save for Mike Shula’s dreadful use of the houndstooth on the collar for a few games of his 4-year stint as Alabama’s HC.
"Whenever I see those Crimson jerseys and Crimson helmets, I feel humbled to have played football for Alabama.” -Derrick Thomas pic.twitter.com/cdZSH2pXl1
— Ryan C. Fowler (@RyanCFowler) May 30, 2019
One person in my bible study group suggested that Alabama go with an alternate look for one game per year, and I don’t think it’s a terrible idea because I’d like to see a throwback nod to the white helmet days of the Bear Bryant era.
And though most people would prefer the home crimson to the away whites, I think the white uniforms are the prettier of the two uniforms (not saying they are my favorite, just that I think they are prettier). Perhaps a good alternate look would be to wear crimson pants with white piping during an away game. Otherwise, I wouldn’t change a thing.
2. Ole Miss
Their team might not actually be able to beat you on the football field (that will soon change now that Lane Kiffin is the coach), but Ole Miss does pretty girls, authors and uniforms better than pretty much anyone.
The red unis with the gray britches and powder blue helmets, worn periodically throughout Ole Miss history, are some of the illest uniforms in the SEC.
After a long hiatus, then-head coach Hugh Freeze and then-athletic director Ross Bjork brought back the powder blue helmets in 2014 to honor the late Chucky Mullins, who was paralyzed after a hit by a Vanderbilt player in 1989. Coach Billy Brewer reintroduced the powder blues in 1983 to give a nod to his playing days under legendary coach Johnny Vaught. Brewer’s team wore them until 1994
There was a strong Facebook reaction to the LSU uniforms. It’s safe to say that people like these uniforms very much, particularly the purple version the Bengal Tigers have donned on various occasions.
About That time! pic.twitter.com/8sEhONLbYu
— LSU Football (@LSUfootball) September 21, 2019
LSU’s helmets can definitely make a case for the top 2 or 3 in the conference, and the color scheme is certainly one of the most unique in the entire country.
Let’s face it, folks. LSU is the defending national champion and has the best looking uniforms.
Life is pretty good in Baton Rouge.