There’s a mantra out there that says “look good, feel good, play good”, or at least something close to that.
One of the favorite parts of every off-season is seeing which teams commit to major branding changes, especially as far as the uniform department goes. It’s always fascinating to watch a team’s brand evolve in real time and certain uniform sets are associated with eras that bring good memories back.
Last season, we had four teams (Akron, Buffalo Miami and Kent State) commit to wholesale changes in their uniform kits that stood out and one team (Western Michigan) that seemed to change its identity every other week.
Other teams (CMU, EMU, Miami, NIU and Ohio) introduced new alternative uniforms to add to their sets for consideration in our Power Rankings.
It was a lot of hard work trying to agree on a ranking list, especially since our two personal lists were wildly different, but the law of averages and some calls to the other writers helped us sort things out.
Without further ado: the rankings, from bottom to top!
12. Western Michigan Broncos
There could be some controversy with this selection, since you either love Western Michigan’s look or you outright hate it, but there’s a good reason for this ranking: a certain P.J. Fleck is no longer the coach at WMU, which leaves a significant branding gap for the Broncos.
Fleck was instrumental in the week-to-week uniform options for WMU when he was at the helm, helping integrate the wood font and oars (seen above) amongst other things into the Broncos’ look.
For some reason, Fleck really liked grey and used it every opportunity he could. There was also the terrible idea of outlining the helmet Bronco in a different unseemly coloration every week. Oh and there were four different templates the Broncos used last year. Even when WMU had an identity, it lacked an identity.
And now, the rights of the slogan “Row the Boat” sailed to Minnesota along with Fleck, so the oars creatively integrated into the helmet stripe and on the shoulder pads will likely disappear as a result.
It’ll be interesting to see if WMU reverts back to an older, more consistent look or the original default template Fleck had when he first arrived.
11. Ball State Cardinals
(Aside: There aren’t really a lot of photos available for the Ball State football Cardinals in our coffers for use; the picture above is from a 2015 game against Texas A&M.)
The Cards are blessed with a favorable color palette, but Helwick and I agreed that Ball State just does not do a good job of utilizing it. The all-black uniforms the Cardinals wore against WMU earlier this year are definitely a contender for one of the best individual sets in the MAC, even if black isn’t a primary color. But the uninspired regular sets (complete with oversized wording on the pants stripe, or “Cleveland Browns pants”) drag the entire set down considerably.
The introduction of the red helmet is definitely a step in a great direction and hopefully it will be used more.
10. Kent State Golden Flashes
Kent State created the biggest argument in the Slack chat room.
I’m really high on the uniform combinations that Under Armour introduced after Nike mailed it in with Default Template #3 for over five years, but Helwick argued that the look feels very high school. He also wasn’t a fan of the “Walmart brand” Los Angeles Chargers look.
(For the record, both the Chargers and Flashes introduced the “Bolt” helmet in the 1960s, although Chargers were several years earlier.)
The uniforms keep the no-outline look and modernizes the font for the Flashes while adding some much needed color on the sleeves and collar, resulting in a clean look.
Other decisions are... more questionable. For one, the stripes at the bottom of the pants seem kind of useless. The Flashes also have recently abandoned gold pants in favor of white ones when wearing blue tops, a break from tradition.
Other helmets, which go for a bolder look, only hit the mark some of the time. The logo’s cartoonish appearance certainly doesn’t help designers.
9. Bowling Green Falcons
This is the part of the standings where we enter the “decent but forgettable” area of modern uniform aesthetics.
Helwick was really big on these uniforms, which utilize the team’s somewhat limiting colors to its advantage, finding a way to tone down the garishness of the colors without totally neutering them.
Myself, I see a “meh” uniform. It feels a little too much like a “create-a-school” uniform from NCAA 14. The badge on the collar is a great touch and the colors are well-utilized. The variety of helmets is also fantastic; I’m especially a fan of the brown one. That being said, the pants are a major hindrance to the entire operation. Like Ball State, they utilize the “Cleveland Brown pants.”
It could be worse, but it could be better.
8. Buffalo Bulls
Buffalo’s uniforms saw a major upgrading last season when the Bulls adopted one of the best modern logos in the MAC, as well as in college football. The new bull logo fits well on the helmets and creates a stronger identity for a program that seemed to lack it a few years ago.
Remember the New York Bulls Initiative, when Buffalo tried to re-brand themselves as New York? Well that didn’t work, but the uniforms have cleaned up since then.
The black and blue combo is risky, because the colors don’t mix very well. Several of the Bulls’ combinations feature shortcomings. For example, the blue numbers on the white jerseys don’t mix well with all-black helmets and all-black pants.
But the Bulls have several looks (all-black and all-white) that rise them out of the uniform rankings cellar.
7. Central Michigan Chippewas
Central Michigan’s uniform set is one of the more effective and consistent designs in the MAC. They’re helped by a visually appealing color palette, as maroon and gold is often an effective combo. Just ask Minnesota or Arizona State — well, maybe not Arizona State anymore...
The Chippewas’ all maroon combination is basic but effective, but I really like the all-white basic combo, the one they looked good beating Oklahoma State in. In that game, they paired the white uniforms with a spectacular matte maroon helmet that features a gold racing stripe down the center and a gold facemask, a welcome addition to a helmet that badly needed color. The alternate golden top is a great change of pace in small doses.
Not all Central Michigan uniform elements were created equally though.
CMU’s only other major national television appearance this year, a 55-10 loss to Tulsa in the Miami Beach Bowl, featured uniforms as ugly as the result. All white uniforms (even the helmets!), maroon letters with chrome outlines, and chrome nameplates reeked of doing too much.
Also, CMU went 1-2 in gold helmet games, including key games against WMU and Miami. Sometimes, it’s best to stick with what works.
6. Miami RedHawks
Miami utilizes several distinct combinations that are in great contrast to each other. There are the classic-style ones, which feature the “M” logo on the helmet and sharp-looking fonts on the uniform. And then there is the feather helmet.
Although it looks chaotic, the feather helmet is a great alternate uniform for a team that can pull off a classic look. It matches well with the all-red combination.
On the jerseys, the RedHawks employ a white shoulder-stripe, similar to what Michigan State used in the early 2010s. While the Spartans have since removed it, I think the look suits Miami and adds an element to what would otherwise be a bland, white and red uniform.
Miami has also introduced several other helmets in past seasons, including one with a large RedHawk logo. Most of the helmets seamlessly fit into the rotation, and Miami can further improve its looks by using more white than silver.
5. Eastern Michigan Eagles
We’ve reached our Top 5 jerseys, which Helwick and I agree feature iconic looks, both old and new.
Eastern Michigan’s resurgence this season looked extremely crisp to boot, as EMU introduced a new home jersey (pictured above), made last year’s team senior-created white jerseys with the shoulder wings a permanent away jersey and got rid of the gimmicky “EMU-erica” and “Fifty Shades of Factory” looks from previous seasons.
The decision to move to chrome from grey is a welcome change that adds flash to the Eastern Michigan color set and mixes well with the dark forest green they utilize. The steel inset can be a little gimmicky, but for some reason, it seems to work for EMU and the school uses it to their advantage.
There’s also a host of helmets that integrate seamlessly into EMU’s look that help its ranking here and like sister school CMU, they find a way to make adidas’ “tire track” jerseys look really cool.
There’s a slight downgrade in ranking here if only for that outlandish “track and field” look. Also, Eastern Michigan could find itself among the conference’s elite in uniform aesthetics if the Eagles limited the use of grey in favor of green in several combinations.
4. Akron Zips
AKRON FINALLY MADE CHANGES TO ITS UNIFORM, OH HAPPY DAY.
It felt like the Zips were never going to get out of 2002 with their old uniform set, which was resplendent with unnecessary piping, oversized font and blatant misuse of two very favorable colors in assembling the uniform tops.
All of that was addressed by Adidas in the offseason, who created a more classic look for the Zips. Some will dress down the new look for being too clean and sterilized after over a decade of what could best be described as unique garishness, but Akron found ways to class it up. For one, a modernized version of Akron’s number font and word marks stayed around.
Akron also established a much-needed identity, adopting a “Z” logo (which no other FBS college is suited for) and the “Fear the Roo” mantra.
Perhaps the best part of the changes were Akron’s wide variety of helmets, which we feel were amongst the best in college football during the past year. The all-white helmet with the full “Fear the Roo” kangaroo and number was a staff favorite this past season, as was the matte navy helmet above.
The school’s awareness to change to a modern look that still encompasses Akron’s unique qualities catapults them to the top 5.
3. Toledo Rockets
This uniform set was the center of another hotly-contested debate, as I wasn’t very high on them and Helwick said they were among the best. I ended up losing the argument.
Toledo’s uniform set is one you either love or hate; the basic elements set the Rockets apart, though. From the Rocket helmets to the number and letter font, it’s a unique look that sells the Toledo brand.
Being the Rockets also means Toledo can get away with riskier moves, as their futuristic logo allows them to be on the cutting edge. This showed up with the gradient helmets last season before it became a major theme in college football. The double stripe/colored sleeve combo on the shoulder gives the allusion of take-off as well.
Toledo seems to have gotten rid of the grey alternate uniform elements, which most aesthetics experts (myself and Helwick included) agree is trope at this point. The look above is the sleakest example we could find of a perfectly executed all-white look, right down to a white rocket on a white helmet.
They don’t reach #2 because of the rather ugly all-yellow look that they insist on trotting out at least once or twice a season for big games. It’s very easy to go overboard with this color palette, and sometimes, that garishness tends to show up, especially when any yellow element is used.
2. Northern Illinois Huskies
Northern Illinois is one of the MAC’s most well-known programs, and as such, got its pick of the trendy look litter a little earlier than their fellow MAC squads. The 2013 Orange Bowl jersey, the predecessor to today’s set, immediately come to mind.
As a result, the Huskies are a little ahead of the game in terms of making the modern look stick. They execute it to perfection with all three of their primary sets, including the sleek black/red/black look above, which could very well be one of the best in all of college football.
Besides that truly-terrible Chicago-style one-timer set pictured in the Toledo photo above, NIU has also distanced itself from the just-as-gruesome “HEROES” jersey (corny nameplates AND an American flag motif? C’mon) and the never-to-be-talked-about-again “CORN” jerseys, as well as a chrome helmet logo employed in 2013. That earns points in my book.
For some reason, NIU insists on wearing a helmet with pink lettering at least one game per year, but other than that faux pas, the uniform sets are just about everything you could ask for from a modern look: minimal, with sharp contrasts and recognizability. (I, for one, enjoy the use of “NIU” instead of “Northern Illinois” or “Huskies” on the front.)
- Ohio Bobcats
There’s nothing like a classic, and the oldest member of the MAC knows that well.
Ohio, the only MAC team with a non-Big Three (adidas, Nike and Under Armour) uniform merchandising deal, knocks it out of the park with a distinctive look that translates well across the eras to earn our unanimous #1 pick.
Ohio’s uniform just screams “college football.” The tops are no-fuss, with a double stripe pattern that is duplicated on the shoulder sleeves and on the helmet.
It’s really easy to get green and white wrong (just look at some of Michigan State’s recent attempts) but Ohio’s choice to keep it simple with some slight alterations to keep it modern are appreciated. A slight change to the pant from double stripes to a hip stripe didn’t ruin the look and the 3D Bobcat helmet bumper is a cool addition.
Both helmets — a glossy white on green look and a matte green on white look— are instantly recognizable as well.
Ohio’s insistence on wearing its extremely cliche black jerseys for big games will never fail to perplex, but even those disasters have a certain charm to them, if only for the in-laid bobcats in the white numbers, which have a uniquely Ohio design.
So what do you think? Did we get it right? Did we get it wrong?
What suggestions would you make for your squad moving forward? Tell us in the comments or on Facebook and Twitter!