NCAA Football

College Football’s 10 Best and 10 Worst Alternate Helmets

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Alternate Uniformverse's Best, Worst Helmets

horrible headgear
Paul Abell-USA TODAY Sports

It seems more and more college football teams are jumping on the alternate uniforms and helmets bandwagon each year. Apparently, it’s now just as important to make a fashion statement on Saturdays as it is to make a football statement.

The schools that know how to do it right pull off a win-win, looking good while playing good. Some end up getting much better reviews on the catwalk than the gridiron. Ultimately, an alternate done well can only enhance the image of a program, whether the team is worth a darn or not. And that flare deserves to be recognized.

But it wouldn’t be fair to mention the good without the bad. And there have been some really bad alternates recently. When a team runs out of the tunnel wearing something apparently designed by a third-grader, no amount of ensuing great football can turn our attention from the unsightly unis.

Some schools consistently make a splash – Oregon comes to mind. Others are more hit and miss – see Oklahoma State. One school, however, has simply tried and failed again and again. Because of its complete and utter disregard for our eyes, this team has been completely disregarded from this countdown.

It has its very own: 5 Examples Proving Virginia Tech Rocks Worst Alternate Helmets in College Football

Here are college football’s 10 best and 10 worst (and Hokie-free) recently-worn alternate helmets.

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10 (Best). Oklahoma State

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Worn: Week 1 vs. Mississippi State

Sometimes Oklahoma State gets it right, as it did in the season opener against the Bulldogs. The black matte base – which looks awesome more often than not – contrasts extremely well with the bright orange lettering. The Cowboys have rolled out countless helmets in recent years, but this is one of my Okie State favorites.

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10 (Worst). Oklahoma State

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Worn: Week 2 vs. Texas-San Antonio

One week after strapping on the B-A black matte domes, the Cowboys fell off the horse with this less-than-inspired look. The orange base is bad enough, but the design truly hits a new low because the lettering is the same color. Orange on orange, really?

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9 (Best). Indiana

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Worn: Week 4 vs. Missouri

The Indiana Hoosiers burst into the alternate uniformverse this season with a selection of fancy lids. But this one, which resembles Japan’s rising sun national flag, is the cream of the Midwestern crop. Who says Indiana doesn’t have style?

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9 (Worst). Northwestern

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Worn: Nov. 24, 2012 vs. Illinois

In the neighboring B1G state of Illinois, the Northwestern Wildcats aren’t looking quite as good –literally. More often than not, the solid black base with an oversized light shadow logo or mascot works well. But it’s hard to take a helmet seriously when it’s covered by terrible clipart from Microsoft Word 1997. Yo, Northwestern, rebrand that hideous logo already.

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8 (Best). Notre Dame

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Worn: Nov. 12, 2011 vs. Maryland

It’s hard to decide whether this edition of the Notre Dame Shamrock dome surpasses the simpler version (which is just ND’s normal helmet with the green Shamrock added). Either way, it looks good any time the Fighting Irish put the Shamrock stickers on.

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8 (Worst). TCU

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Worn: Week 1 vs. LSU

It’s hard to remember a more confusing helmet design than the one TCU went with to open the season. Did the Horned Frogs steal this design from a 1980s windbreaker? I mean, nothing about this look even comes close to hinting an correlation to frogs or Christianity or anything else indicative of TCU.

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7 (Best). Mississippi State

Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Worn: Nov. 3, 2012 vs. Texas A&M

What this helmet lacks in color it makes up for with style. Mississippi State’s silver on white combination might be the most fashionable thing anyone’s ever worn in the Magnolia State. If you’ve ever been to Mississippi, you know that’s not a joke.

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7 (Worst). Texas A&M

Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Worn: Nov. 3, 2012 at Mississippi State

The second entry from that game falls into the negative category. The outline of the state looks okay with the Texas A&M logo, but overall, this design isn’t doing much for me. Maybe it’s the maroon airbrush fade from the facemask across the bottom of the helmet. Maybe it’s just an uninspired look, altogether.

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6 (Best). Utah

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Worn: Nov. 17, 2012 vs. Arizona

This is a perfect example of the superiority of simplicity. There are no unnecessary colors. No blown up artwork. And no special effects. The Utah Utes boiled this lid down to its simplest form, and it worked. Utah should consider going with this dome permanently.

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6 (Worst). Maryland

Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Worn: Week 4 vs. West Virginia

This is the perfect example of way too much going on in way to small of a space. Maryland, seriously, how much are you trying to cram onto one semi-spherical object? When the Terrapins first debuted the two-sided flag helmet a couple of years ago, I liked it. The original design was a bit busy, but it earned major points for creativity. Then, with this version, it got even busier with the addition of the flag wave effect and “Maryland” in giant all caps across the back.

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5 (Best). Washington

Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

Worn: Week 3 vs. Illinois

Sometimes, all it takes to reinvent a helmet is changing the base color. That’s what the Washington Huskies did, replacing the traditional gold with a white look. The result: an almost royal appearance. The way the purple and gold trim complements the clean, white base is reminiscent of something worn in a ancient Roman palace.

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5 (Worst). Virginia

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Worn: Dec. 31, 2011 vs. Auburn (Chick Fil-A Bowl)

Sometimes, all it takes to ruin a helmet is changing the base color. That’s what the Virginia Cavaliers did, opting for this obnoxious orange instead of the traditional blue. The result: the Wahoos not only lost the 2011 Chick Fil-A Bowl, they did it with giant citrus fruits on their heads.

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4 (Best). Missouri Tigers

Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

Worn: Week 4 at Indiana

Missouri is a relative newcomer to the alternate lifestyle, but the Tigers apparently know what they’re doing based on this fearsome looking hat they wore against Indiana last week. The black matte base is the perfect backdrop for the shiny pewter tiger. When you catch a flicker of it in the stadium lights, it’s reminiscent of an actual tiger flashing through the underbrush.

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4 (Worst). Arizona

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Worn: Week 1 vs. Northern Arizona

Arizona’s classic all white helmets are fantastic. The Arizona Wildcats' blue helmets are pretty good looking. Even ‘Zona’s red helmets are okay. But copper? The school says copper is symbolic of the state’s mining history and is used in a lot of architecture on campus. That’s great Arizona, just don’t let us hear any of you Wildcats point a finger when another school gets cute with that idea. Oh, wait – it’s already happened. Virginia Tech is wearing a “Hokie Stone” helmet this week to showcase the rocks mined near Blacksburg to construct the facades of campus buildings. What’s next, Stanford to wear helmets made of Sequoia bark?

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3 (Best). Georgia Tech

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Worn: Sept. 3, 2012 at Virginia Tech

Georgia Tech’s “Honeycomb” helmets are as mesmerizing as they are sweet. Perhaps they were one of those puzzles that if you stare at it long enough another image will emerge. In classic technical speak, however, the school offered this explanation: “The hexagonal pattern has become synonymous with Georgia Tech, as the shape is considered the strongest geometric object and used by yellow jackets to build their nests.” In any case, there’s no question it’s a strong helmet design.

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3 (Worst). Arizona State

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Worn: Week 2 vs. Sacramento State

Yellow is a hideous color for a helmet, so it must be done just right to pull it off. No college football examples of such success come to mind. One school, however, continues to try. Arizona State apparently hasn’t learned any lessons from its old yellow helmet design featuring Sparky running (dangerously) with his trident. Although this version of ASU yellow headgear doesn’t boast a cartoon character, it’s really not any better overall.

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2 (Best). Oregon Ducks

Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

Worn: Week 3 at Virginia

It’s really hard to pick just one Oregon Ducks helmet. At this point, they’re all alternates and they’re pretty much all pretty slick. No one does modern football headgear quite like the Ducks, and this is one of their best yet.

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2 (Worst). North Carolina

Rafael Suanes-USA TODAY Sports

Worn: Nov. 15, 2012 at Virginia

There’s nothing wrong with the mirrored look. It actually works quite nicely with North Carolina’s colors. The problem is the Bigfoot print displayed prominently on the side – should have opted for Ramses the ram instead. That way, the Tar Heels wouldn’t have been left wearing paleontological evidence of homo sapiens presence on their heads.

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1 (Best). Boise State

Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

Worn: Oct. 20, 2012 vs. UNLV

Boise State is another program that seems to always hit the mark with its alternates, but this one bucks all the other contenders. Boise’s had blue and white helmets with the dominating Bronco on them, but neither compares to the black matte version.

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1 (Worst). Notre Dame

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Worn: Oct. 6, 2012 vs. Miami

Notre Dame should beg Jesus’ forgiveness after committing this sin. Where do we even begin? The off-kilter leprechaun? The horrible mathematics (the helmet is 5/8 gold, 3/8 blue)? The Fighting Irish have one of the most iconic uniforms in college football. I would encourage them not to deviate from that in the future (unless it involves a simple Shamrock on gold).