Tradition is extremely important in college football. While we love the sport for the action on the field, the history and the pageantry really make college football what it is. For many programs, a consistent, easily identifiable uniform and helmet is a huge part of that tradition. While schools like Oregon have made big splashes with their rotating wardrobe, there is something to be said for an iconic look.
We've compiled our list of the 15 most iconic helmets in college football. When one of these teams hits the field, even the most casual fan knows who is playing. It isn't a huge coincidence that these are some of the nation's best programs, either.
Before the 2014 season, Oklahoma unveiled a set of alternate uniforms, including a new helmet which kept the same interlocking 'OU' logo and color scheme of the normal Sooners look, but added a wood grain and matte finish. While the players seemed to be big fans, even those slight updates were not popular among many Sooner fans. Fans of historic programs like OU don't want to see their uniforms tampered with at all.
Despite some recent alternates, Oklahoma's helmet has remained remarkably consistent throughout the years. The Sooners have been wearing a version of the interlocking 'OU' on their helmets since 1966, and while the shade of crimson has changed a bit, the design has been going strong for almost 50 years.
Last week, we ranked the primary logos of every power conference football program. We're big fans of Clemson's tiger paw logo, which ranked third on our list. The paw is the main feature of Clemson's lids, which the program has used since the 1970s, after ditching a design with a big 'C,' which resembled the Chicago Bears' helmets. We're glad they did.
Clemson uses a very clean white-on-orange look, and with the paw, there is no question which ACC power is on the field. They always look good running down the hill at Death Valley before a big game.
For those of us who grew up in the 1990s and early 2000s, few college football logos are as iconic as "The U." Miami was the dominant program of that era, and while the 'Canes have been down, at least by their standards, the logo still carries some panache.
Miami has worn green, white, and recently, orange helmets, with some different base designs, but the U logo has remained consistent since 1972. In that time, Miami claimed five national titles, and conference championships while members of the Big East.
12. Texas A&M
Texas A&M's 'ATM' logo has been a part of the design since 1965, and despite some one-off experiments with different colors and outlines, it has been the defining feature of the Aggies' look.
Texas A&M significantly altered the course of its program's history with the move to the SEC, leaving behind arch-rival Texas. However, when the Aggies hit the field, they still look like the same program that has 18 conference titles, 22 All-Americans, and two Heisman winners. Even as Kevin Sumlin helps transform the Aggies into one of the most hip programs in the country, Texas A&M holds on to its simple, defining look.
White helmets, orange 'Power T,' and an orange stripe. Since the 1960s, Tennessee has had the equation for a simple, iconic college football helmet. UT's specific shade of creamsicle orange looks good against the white background, and the football program has used that combo to great effect in many ways, none better than the Volunteer helmet.
The block letter logos are always a solid choice as well, and Tennessee's Power T has remained iconic, even through some lean seasons for the Volunteers. Clean looks like Tennessee's helmet always lend themselves to becoming iconic and revered, and we doubt we see the Volunteers wear anything else anytime soon.
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There is more going on with LSU's helmet design than many of the others on this list, but the general look has remained consistent since 1977: 'LSU' over the program's Tiger logo. Outside of a bit of experimentation with one-off white and gold helmets, LSU has stuck with the yellow base, and pretty much the exact same design since switching to purple facemasks in 1980.
The LSU program does a nice job with unique design choices, with the cool tiger eye midfield logo at Tiger Stadium, and the classic helmet, which doesn't look like any other on this list. We always love seeing those yellow lids fly around during night games in Death Valley.
9. Florida State
Florida State controversially adopted a redesigned helmet ahead of the 2014 season, which many alumni and other traditionalists are not fans of. Ultimately, however, the basic look of the helmet is largely the same, and has featured the spear logo since 1976. New design or old, we're big fans of the look, and it has served Florida State well as they've become one of the top programs in the country, and the premiere team in the ACC.
Updating the classic logo just months after winning the 2013-14 national championship was a weird choice, and we totally understand why long-time fans of the 'Noles would be upset about it. However, we think the current look is still true enough to the helmets worn from 1976-2013, that they've earned their spot on this list.
After wearing a plain cardinal helmet early on in program history, USC added the Trojan logo in 1972, and has remained remarkably consistent ever since. The logo changed a bit in 1992, but reverted back to the style that is still worn today after just one year.
This season, USC jumped on the growing trend of helmets with chrome and metallic finishes. While many programs wouldn't do that with a helmet is distinctive as USC's, it is a testament to the look that is held up so well, and fans and players seemed to like the alternate look. Instead of changing what has helped define USC football since the early 1970s, they made some minor alterations to make it look fresh for 2015.
As far as logos go, Texas' Longhorn is totally iconic. We put it very high in our ranking of primary logos last week, and it is no surprise that it works so well as the main feature of the Longhorns' helmets. Texas has been using the Longhorn look since at least 1961 according to NationalChamps.net's helmet project, and it is an instantly recognizable mark of the flagship program and school of the football-crazed Lone Star State.
Head coach Charlie Strong has worked to add even more meaning to Texas' helmets. When he opened camp in August of 2014, Strong removed the Longhorn stickers from the helmets, and made the players earn them back. Without the Longhorn logo, Texas doesn't look like Texas, which was probably Strong's point. It also proves just how iconic this helmet is.
6. Ohio State
The defending national champions have gone away from their classic look a bit more than some of the other teams on our list at times, but they always wind up going back to the gray helmets with red and black striping, and plenty of Buckeye stickers of course. A number of programs utilize helmet stickers, but because Ohio State's base helmet is so plain, the stickers wind up being one of the most unique features of them.
In the 1960s, OSU's helmets used to feature a fairly big red pad running across the middle, as well as black numbers on the sides. They also went with primarily red shells in 1966 and 1967, but since 1968, the gray lids that we know today have been the dominant look for the Buckeyes.
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Georgia isn't the only major athletic brand to utilize the oval 'G' logo, Green Bay Packers fans will remind you of that. However, that style, combined with the red and black color scheme, screams "Dawgs" to college football fans. The intimidating look is very distinct, and one of our favorites out of the SEC East. The helmets probably don't hurt head coach Mark Richt's efforts to keep many players in talent-rich Georgia home for college ball.
After wearing plain gray helmets for years, Georgia adopted the current red helmet, black 'G' look back in 1964, and aside from some slight stripe alterations and single game alternate looks, they've worn the same ones consistently ever since. We don't think we'd like to see any other lids dominate Between the Hedges at Sanford Stadium.
Whether they suited up for Paul "Bear" Bryant or Nick Saban, the many stars who have strapped on an Alabama helmet have worn an almost identical look: a crimson dome with white numbers. Alabama's helmets are as simple as it gets, but like so many others on this list, they've become an indelible part of the program's brand. A number of programs have gone back to the classic 'numbers' look, which was popular back during the middle of the 20th century, but Alabama has stuck with it the entire time.
The Crimson Tide occasionally wore white helmets in the 1970s and a few years in the early 1980s, but have been all about the crimson lids since then. Clearly, it it a part of a working equation. Alabama has won 15 national championships, 10 since 1961, and 24 SEC titles. Other programs may try out an alternate helmet or change things up for a special occasion. We don't think Alabama will go down the road very often, if at all.
3. Penn State
White, with a single blue stripe, and that's it. Penn State's helmets are as clean as they come, and the denizens of Happy Valley wouldn't have it any other way. After ditching numbers on the sides of the helmets in the 1970s, Penn State has gone with this very basic white and blue look, and it fits very well with the similarly streamlined jerseys. In 2012, Penn State put the number 42 on the left side of each helmet as a tribute to injured teammate Michael Mauti. The fact that the Nittany Lions would add to their helmets, even for a game, shows what the linebacker meant to his teammates.
Penn State has made slight alterations to its uniform in recent years. In 2012, under Bill O'Brien, they added names to the back of the uniforms. However, aside from the '42' game, the helmets have gone virtually untouched. Don't expect that to change any time soon.
2. Notre Dame
While there are many famous helmets in college football, few have the traditions instilled in them that Notre Dame's "Golden Domes" do. Student managers used to repaint helmets on the Friday nights before games, and now repatch them, since the Irish switched to a new helmet style in 2011. Notre Dame's lids feature real 23.9 karat gold flake in the paint, which matches their color to the actual Golden Dome, the landmark building on the South Bend campus. Notre Dame helmets look immaculate every time the Irish hit the field. The school can replace the grass at Notre Dame Stadium with turf, but no one is altering the primary helmets that the program wears.
Notre Dame has experimented with alternate helmet looks for their Shamrock Series games over the last few seasons, but the plain gold helmets are the dominant look, and will always be associated with the historic program.
Many of the helmets on this list were adopted in the 1960s or 1970s, and feature a block letter or single logo to represent the school. Michigan, the most iconic helmet on our list, goes farther back. The Wolverines first wore this "winged" helmet in 1938, and have a look that is not often replicated at the FBS level. Nine years later, Fritz Crisler, who brought the helmet design over from Princeton, led Michigan to the first of back-to-back national titles.
Since 1938, Michigan has added numbers to the side of the helmets on occasion, including single games in 2011 and 2012, but few other alterations have been made. Tradition is extremely important in Ann Arbor, as anyone who has heard the term "Michigan Man" knows. There's a reason why Wolverine fans are so excited about the Jim Harbaugh era at Michigan. He wore that winged helmet, he knows what is necessary to win at Michigan, and what the program means to those who have attended and played at the university. The old-school, traditional helmet is a huge part of the Michigan identity.
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