The College Football Playoff championship will take place Monday night, with Alabama facing off against Clemson in Glendale, Arizona. From a uniform standpoint, it's a pretty straightforward game, as both teams are outfitted by Nike and wear fairly conventional designs.
Five years ago, however -- when the Bowl Championship Series was still being used and the College Football Playoff system hadn't yet been instituted -- the title game had some major uni-related subplots. That was in 2011, when the season came down to Oregon versus Auburn.
At the time, Oregon was deep into its "What crazy uniform will they wear next?" phase while Auburn was a stronghold of traditional uniform design, so the game was viewed as a showdown between the old school and the new school.
In addition, Oregon's uniforms were designed and made by Nike, which over the previous half-dozen years or so had consolidated its status as the most influential college football uniform manufacturer. Auburn, meanwhile, had its uniforms supplied by Under Armour -- at the time a relative newcomer and upstart. So the two schools were viewed as proxies for their respective corporate outfitters.
With the Ducks making it to the title game for the first time, there was a lot of anticipation -- some positive, some negative -- about what they'd wear. Surely Nike would pull out all the stops, right? A few weeks before the game, we found out:
With nat'l championship game next Monday, let's look back at the 2011 title game, when Oregon came out w/ this uni. pic.twitter.com/9lkEBde6YB— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) January 4, 2016
Not really that radical, was it? No chrome helmet, no lettering down the pant legs, no diamond plate pattern on the jersey, no mono-colored bodysuit design.
Nike's designers were constrained somewhat by the fact Auburn was the top-seeded team, which meant Auburn got to wear its colored jersey and Oregon had to wear white. Still, they managed to include some interesting elements, such as the uniform numbers on the base-layer sleeves (not a bad idea in this era of ever-shorter jersey sleeves) and the neon-colored accents. The neon socks and shoes were particularly eye-catching and were designed to look like a blur as the players ran.
As for Auburn, the Tigers just wore their standard home uni. One can imagine the internal conflict this created for the folks at Under Armour. On the one hand, they were no doubt thrilled to have their brand showcased in the title game. On the other hand, they probably wished they could have shown off one of their more forward-looking uniforms instead of a legacy design like Auburn's. The last thing Under Armour wanted was to be viewed as the standard-bearer for traditionalism.
But that's how it looked during the game, which had a distinct "Yesterday versus Tomorrow" visual vibe:
2011 BCS Title Game: Auburn vs. Oregon, old-school uni vs. new-school uni, Nike vs. Under Armour. pic.twitter.com/Owf9UlW38X— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) January 5, 2016
Auburn won the game on a last-second field goal, 22-19. Five years later, how have the game's uniform themes played out? Here's a quick summary:
Oregon has continued its never-ending carousel of uniform designs. But while the sheer multiplicity of designs is still dizzying, the designs themselves no longer seem so audacious. In retrospect, the 2011 title game could have marked the start of a more sedate period (relatively speaking) in the Ducks' uniform program.
One part of the Oregon uniform turned out to be a trend-setter: the neon accenting, which has now spread throughout the uni-verse.
Auburn has pretty much stuck with the same uniform it had in the 2011 title game. There was a small adjustment in 2012, when the pants striping was given a point at the lower end (this qualified as a major uniform change by Auburn standards), but the old striping was restored this past season.
Under Armour quickly took steps to ensure that its corporate image wouldn't be tethered to Auburn's old-school look. On the first weekend of the following season, the company set a new benchmark for outrageous uniforms with its flag-based "pride" uniforms for Maryland. In subsequent years, the company has established itself as Nike's chief rival in the world of modern uniform design.
Despite Under Armour's rise, Nike is clearly the major player in the world of college football uniforms these days. All four of this season's College Football Playoff teams are Nike-outfitted (and the same was true last season, incidentally). So no matter which school wins on Monday, Nike will come out on top.
Would you like to nominate a uniform to be showcased in a future Friday Flashback installment? Send your suggestions here.
Paul Lukas will be rooting for Alabama on Monday night, mainly because of the uniforms. 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.