And so it comes down to this: Oregon and Ohio State. The Ducks versus the Buck(eye)s. The O versus the O.
From a uniform standpoint, this figured to be a case of old school against new school. But the new-schoolers -- Oregon -- have confounded expectations by choosing to wear a white jersey and a fairly conventional uni design. So instead of seeing a traditional football uniform facing off against a superhero costume, we have two teams in gray pants. Who would've expected that?
Still, there's a lot more going on with these uniforms than initially meets the eye. Here are 10 things to watch for during Monday night's game:
1. Diamonds are a
girl's player's best friend. As was the case in the Sugar Bowl and Rose Bowl, the Nike logo on the jerseys and pants will have a "fractal diamond" pattern, which supposedly symbolizes the diamond championship ring that the players are competing for. A nice enough detail, although it would've been a lot nicer if Nike had applied this pattern to the team logos instead of its own. Seems to be a case of corporate self-glorification.
2. Title game flashback, Oregon version. The last time the Ducks competed for the national championship was in 2011, when they wore white jerseys, charcoal pants and all that Day-Glo trim. Man, remember that? They lost to Auburn 22-19.
3. Title game flashback, Ohio State version. The Buckeyes' most recent appearance in a title game was in 2008, when they wore a basic version of their familiar scarlet and gray against LSU. They lost 38-24.
4. The spirit of '68. Ohio State's black TV numbers and gray/white sleeve striping are a throwback to the Buckeyes' 1968 national championship team. Of course, the elements were positioned a bit differently back then, because football jerseys had real sleeves in those days. (And if you think the black TV numbers look weird, let's be glad they didn't go with the massive TV numbers from the mid-1990s.)
5. Colorblind. Oregon's colors are green and yellow. Doesn't it seem odd that the Ducks won't be wearing either of those colors in the championship game? And isn't it even odder that their pants, socks and shoes will be gray, which is one of Ohio State's colors? Very strange approach from Oregon and/or Nike on this one.
6. Head games. Many fans watching the Sugar Bowl wondered how Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones managed to amass so many buckeye leaf merit decals despite having played so little this season. An OSU spokesperson, queried about this, said, "There are team-based leaves and performance-based leaves and win-based Buckeye leaves -- they add up," but declined to share the specific formula or criteria used by coach Urban Meyer. However, you can see the criteria used by one of Meyer's predecessors, Jim Tressel, here, and it's pretty clear that it would be hard for a Tressel-coached OSU player not to rack up at least half a helmet's worth of buckeyes as long as the team was playing well. Everyone on the team got a decal for a team win (two if it was against a Big 10 opponent), another for winning the turnover battle, and so on. It's not clear whether Meyer is using a similar system, but it doesn't seem like the bar is being set particularly high here, even for players who don't actually play very much.
7. Tight squeeze. In addition to dealing with all those buckeye awards, Ohio State's equipment staff has to find room for a bunch of additional decals on each player's helmet. Here's what you can expect to see during the big game. (One of those decals, the "53" memorial for former player Kosta Karageorge, is also being worn by OSU's sideline staff, and defensive tackle Michael Bennett has been saluting Karageorge by wearing his number.)
8. Puddles gets downsized. Oregon's cartoon "fighting duck" mascot, affectionately known as Puddles, appeared on the team's nose bumper and sleeves for the Rose Bowl. For the title game, he's still on the sleeves (it's a little hard to see from that angle, but he's there), but check out that nose bumper -- no more Puddles! Will the Fighting Ducks have enough fight without their duck?
9. Abs-solutely. More and more players this season wore crop tops -- jerseys cropped around the midriff instead of being tucked in -- and one of the foremost practitioners of this style has been Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott. OSU fans love it because it reminds them of Eddie George. Elliott says he does it because it gives opposing players less of a handhold, but come on -- we all know he does it to show off his abs.
10. Can't tell the uni without a scorecard. Having trouble remembering all the different uniform combinations Oregon wore this season? No worries -- you can refresh your memory with the excellent Duck Tracker site, which documents the Ducks' on-field stylings on a week-by-week basis.
Additional notes: Here's a good view of the field being prepared for the big game. Although the end zones are black in that shot, that may change. For example, at one point the Ravens' end zone for Super Bowl XLVII looked like it was going to be black, but it ended up being purple. ... Anyone else think the championship trophy looks more like a rolled-up newspaper than a serious prize? ... During the Rose Bowl, one Oregon player had the Riddell logo, instead of Puddles, on his nose bumper. That's because he was wearing a Riddell Revolution 360 helmet, whose bumper is harder to modify. ... Another Oregon player had some helmet logo issues during the Rose Bowl. ... Ohio State is probably the only organization in America that gives out little gold pendants shaped like football pants. They're awarded to players who participate in a win over Michigan. Full details here. ... Three good articles about how Nike transformed Oregon's visual program here, here and here.
A New Program for Uni Watch Fans
As a uniform columnist and a big collector of various things, I've always wanted to have a project that would allow me to say, "Collect 'em all!" -- and now I do: the Uni Watch T-Shirt Club, a yearlong series of limited-edition tees based on uniform designs. Full details here.
Paul Lukas is disappointed that the Ducks aren't wearing any green. If you liked this column, you'll probably like his Uni Watch blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch membership program, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.