Steve Barnes

College Football Uniforms Becoming Project Runway Failures

Created on Aug. 25, 2014 8:00 AM EST

I have never claimed to be a fashion guru. In fact, I live on the waterfront in Florida so my idea of formal attire is socks.

But what in the name of Lady Gaga is going on around college football?

We finally have a four-team Football Bowl Subdivision playoff, so that is kind of answered. The Ed O'Bannon case is looking at the opportunities for players to earn money while competing in college, so that has been addressed. Coaches and trainers are now taking more precautions when it comes to head injuries to players and that is long overdue.

So what is the deal with the football uniforms lately? When did a traditional uniform become a problem?

Recent uniform changes make it look like the apparel companies have been waiting outside an audition for "Project Runway," for people who couldn’t even get an interview to get on the show. Then they gave those folks carte blanche to run wild with college football.

I really doubt a team plays better because it has trendy clothing to wear running out of the tunnel.

I could take the easy way out and blame Oregon for this anomaly. The Ducks say their uniforms -- all 4,696,943 combinations -- help in recruiting. If a kid is basing his college decision on a gaudy color scheme, more power to him. Maybe they’d like to dress in public for four years like Warren Beatty in "Dick Tracy," or like a krewe member in a Mardi Gras parade, too.

But, there are other transgressors.

I first noticed the uniform dilemma when I saw Georgia in silver helmets. I have spent a little time in Athens and the tradition is silver britches, not headgear. Some Georgia fans favor a change from tradition. One even told me he'd like to see "U-G-A" on the helmets with a bulldog, sort of like LSU with its tiger. Really? That would be not be "U-G-A," that would be "U-G-L-Y." Georgia will tinker with tradition this year, however. The school is exploring the possibility of wearing gray or even white pants instead of the normal silver britches.

In last year's game between Mississippi State and Ole Miss, each featured new looks. The Rebels didn't alter too much for the game in Starkville, but the home team made a real fashion faux pas.

Shiny gold numerals on the maroon jerseys? It looked like someone super glued Christmas garland on them. Also, the school name was replaced with the term, "Hail State." It was more like, "Oh, Hell State?" The back should have read, "I'm Sorry, Hit Me With a Cowbell."

This year the dress code has really pushed the envelope. Consider these changes:

Notre Dame: No team talks about more tradition than the Irish. Recently, a new uniform was unveiled that is, well, non-traditional. The university-released picture showed a player in full regalia. He was wearing number 14, but if it had been number 33, I would have sworn I was looking at Tony Dorsett in his 1976 Pitt uniform. Steal if you want Notre Dame, but from Pittsburgh?

Add to that the undershirt. It looks like the guy ran into a freshly-painted wrought-iron fence to get that design. Then there are the gloves. My high school friend, Dawn, commented she believed they looked like they were some sort of Mehndi pattern an Indian bride might wear. I have no idea what that means, but Dawn was always smart and funny, so I am going with her description.

Michigan: The Wolverines have a few new looks in store. Actually I think they would look great — on the Michigan roller derby team.

Boise State: The Broncos are going to debut the season against Ole Miss wearing new orange helmets with chrome facemasks. It seems appropriate the game is going to be played in the Georgia Dome. With all the traffic problems in Atlanta, Boise State will fit right in since they will be wearing what appears to be a traffic cone with the grill from an '86 Pontiac embedded in the front of it.

Florida State: Noles, just because you now have three crystal trophies doesn't mean you need three helmets. FSU has one that is a tad too much like the Washington Redskins' (if I am still allowed to use that term) under Steve Spurrier's brief stint in D.C. Following the ole ball coach's lead? Really? 

Kansas: The Jayhawks might have taken the cake this year with their "Crimson and Chrome" look. The chrome facemask, as with Boise State, could be mistaken as the front of a shopping cart. It would give the public address announcer a chance for some cool bits during the game, however: "(Insert KU defensive player's name here) with a clean-up on aisle 14."

But it is the Jayhawk logo that gets me. I have visited many theme parks and festivals in my life and there is always a caricature artist there. That is what the Jayhawk appears to be. An exaggeration of a cartoon version of the mascot. Is that really what the goal was with this monstrosity?

None of those uniforms would turn heads at Fashion Week in Milan, at least not for the right reasons. I am not the only one who believes that changing the way a team is outfitted does not have a direct affect on how that team plays.

A group of football fans, known as the SEC Divas agrees.

"Football is about toughness, skill and hard work not about flashy outfits. Just look to the SEC where tradition, even the uniforms, reigns supreme and guess what...they win championships!" Lindsey Braxton Shook, co-founder of, said. "As a fan, I prefer to be wowed with the on-field product, not the latest fashion statement by Nike. Let’s leave the trendy outfits to the fans!" 

The Divas are quite credible. First, the ladies are huge, knowledgeable football fans, but more importantly, they know fashion.

The group's website,, is dedicated not only to discussions of college football, it also offers tailgating recipes, tips on where to go in each SEC town and a full-line of, apparel, jewelry and even fragrances available for purchase. A portion of the proceeds from the sales gets donated to the general scholarship funds at Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State and Alabama thanks to the organization.

As steadfast as Shook, an Auburn graduate, is about schools remaining with their traditional uniforms, she agreed there have been some good throwbacks in the past.

I liked Texas adding the player's number on the helmet above the outline of the Longhorn. That looked classy. Miami went to a helmet that featured a Hurricane-warning flag. I have never been a Miami fan, but wow, that looked cool.

Still, I miss a couple of old looks. I have never liked the bright orange helmet with "Gators," scrawled across it in Gainesville, but the white helmet with the interlocked "UF" always looked like the team was proud to represent the University of Florida.

Ole Miss has never looked the same since Colonel Rebel disappeared from its helmet. Let's face it, Archie Manning looked better in his Ole Miss uniform in the 1960s than Eli Manning did decades later.

Of course, I will say that I loved what Western Kentucky did with its jersey in 2013. As with the "UF" theme, the Hilltoppers had the university's logo subdued in the numerals on the jersey -- the university logo, not the athletic department's. That was a good way to represent your team and your school.

Teams will undoubtedly change their looks from time to time. But I hope some never do.

Penn State needs to remain generic, because that is what the Penn State uniforms look like. If anyone at Alabama decides to put an elephant on the helmet, Bear Bryant will come back and haunt them. Auburn? Same thing. Shug Jordan is waiting to take revenge on anyone who removes the "AU," as is Shook from the SEC Divas. Arkansas has to keep the Razorback, Clemson the tiger paw, Iowa the Hawkeye, UCLA and Nebraska their script letters and Army-Navy, stay plain.

I am not Mr. Blackwell and I don't read GQ.

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