By Paul Lukas
Special to Page 2

Strike up the marching band for the Uni Watch fight song because it's that time of year again, when student-athletes hit the books and Uni Watch takes a look at what players will be wearing on the gridiron this season.

Our first stop, of course, is in Oregon, where Nike once again has used the Ducks as a design laboratory, with predictably laughable results. Uni Watch knows better by now than to attempt any rational critique of this school's attire, especially as these aren't really uniforms -- they're costumes. So let's all just sit back and enjoy the ride as they continue to dig the sports world's deepest aesthetic hole, with no bottom in sight. And hey, it could have been worse -- here are some of the other design concepts Nike considered, and the tapered uni numbers are actually an improvement over the ones used in last year's Civil War game. Granted, that's sort of like saying the weather in Phoenix is refreshingly mild compared with Death Valley's, but Uni Watch figures we have to take these small morsels of sanity wherever we find them. (For more on the Ducks' new design, and the thinking that went into it, look here.)

After Oregon, the rest of this year's uniform revisions are sort of like the '73 Belmont field chasing Secretariat. The one that has raised the most controversy is Ohio State's new sleeve stripe pattern (here's another view), which apparently threw the entire state of Ohio into cardiac arrest when it was unveiled a few months back. Uni Watch initially disapproved of the change, but it's hard not to like the way the sleeve stripes now match the helmet stripes. The new design is supposedly more form-fitting, too. Of course, it would've been even better if the Buckeyes had gone back to a classic look like this, this, this or this, but maybe they'll get around to that next season. (For more info on these and other OSU unis, look here.)

Another high-profile change is on tap at UCLA, where the blue on the road jersey is changing from navy to powder blue (or "true blue," as they like to call it at UCLA). Uni Watch doesn't like this one -- true, the new blue hue will now match the color on the Bruins' home jersey, but now there's nothing to match the navy on the team's helmet logo (unless they plan to change that, too -- Uni Watch has heard rumors to that effect, but nothing definite). And besides, you don't mess with a certified classic. Textbook case of fixing something that wasn't broken.

And there's a slew of less seismic changes out there. In fact, there are now so many Division I-A schools, and they change designs so often, that Uni Watch probably has missed a few. But here's as complete a rundown as possible, with apologies for any omissions:

Georgia Tech will wear 1970s throwbacks when Virginia visits on Sept. 21.

• Nice move at Virginia, where the "V" sleeve patch is changing from orange to white, so now it'll match the "V" on the helmet. Also looks as though the Cavs have changed their nameplate font (compare old to new), which looks pretty good, and added one of those neckline triangle patches, which doesn't.

• Disappointing development at Wake Forest, which is going from this to that boring Nike template everyone's using these days. Pfeh.

• One year after Syracuse unveiled a new look, the Orange have come up with another one, by eliminating all the white trim, which strikes Uni Watch as a major mistake. It's hard to know which will induce more headaches: the team's play or those vibrating colors.

• Major improvements at South Florida, where the greens are now greener, the dinky nameplate typography now looks respectable, and the chest logo appears to be a bit smaller than last year's. Rather incredibly, all these changes were brought about by Nike, so let's give credit where it's due.

Louisville is eliminating the gold accent from its uni numbers, which will look like this and this.

Northern Colorado is celebrating its entry into the conference by changing its look from this to this. This is one of several new designs this season from New Balance, which is looking to become a major player on the college uni scene.

• For tonight's season-opening game, Northwestern and Miami (Ohio) will memorialize Randy Walker -- who coached both teams in his career -- by wearing a helmet sticker with "41" in red and "Walk" in purple. (Further details here.) In addition, Northwestern will wear a "Walk" jersey patch all season long.

Purdue will celebrate the 40th anniversary of its 1966 team (which won the 1967 Rose Bowl) by wearing throwbacks for the season opener this Saturday. Although the Boilermakers usually wear black jerseys at home, they'll wear white for this game because that's what the '66 team wore in the Rose Bowl. (Further details and photos here.) In addition, home and road jerseys will have the "action P" logo at the base of the collar and the school's train logo, which had appeared on the sleeves, has been removed.

Illinois is ditching this and this to become Nike-fied, complete with the ridiculous rear bib. On the plus side, however: No more orange pants!

• A very small change at Iowa, which has added a small "Iowa" logo to the chest area.

Minnesota will commemorate their 1961 Rose Bowl team by wearing '61 throwbacks on Oct. 21.

BIG 12
• In an interesting move that Uni Watch can't recall having seen before, Oklahoma is retiring a number for one season. It's No. 38, and it's being put on the shelf this year to honor the 50th anniversary of the debut of Prentice Gautt, who was the school's first black player. The Sooners also will wear a memorial "38" helmet decal. (Further details here and here.)

• Another memorial move: Iowa State will wear a helmet sticker in honor of former quarterback Cris Love, who died in June. (Further details here.)

Oklahoma State is, thankfully, replacing its pocket calculator uni numbers with something more conventional (read: legible). Better still, the front bib striping doesn't wrap around to the back and player nameplates have been removed.

• Speaking of player nameplates, they were banished from Texas A&M's jerseys in 2004, but they might reappear this season -- or they might not. Aggies media relations director Alan Cannon tells Uni Watch that the decision, whatever it turns out to be, might not be unveiled until Saturday's season opener. (Further details here.) Also, the team is making slight jersey modifications: The old version had a fairly sheer mesh, screen-printed uni numbers, and a very low placement of the school name, while the new one features a tighter, more opaque fabric, sewn-on numbers, and higher logo placement.

• Great news from Baylor, where the Bears have always looked pretty damn good but now will look even better. Gold helmets this year, too, which means the full effect should be a lot like last year's Miami throwback -- a very good look. Kudos all around.

• Major upgrade at Rice, which is going from this and this to this, this and this. But what Uni Watch wants to know is how come the Owls keep fooling around with newfangled designs on the football field when the school's baseball unis are so old-school?

• You've got to look closely to see the subtle changes at East Carolina, where they're using a bit less yellow in their helmet (old, new) and uniform numbers (old, new). Uni Watch likes these changes. Too bad about the chest horns on the road jersey, though.

• Bit of a modernization at Houston, which is going from this to this. The chest typography is pretty swank, but the best part is that the annoying white side panel is gone, which is like a dark cloud being lifted from Uni Watch's head.

Central Michigan, which used to look like this, is another team switching to New Balance, which has given the team a rather Nike-esque makeover -- ugh. (Additional photos are here, and a short video is available here.)

Bowling Green is adding a brown third jersey, first seen in last year's season finale.

Buffalo is switching from this to this and this. Sorry about the teeny-tiny photos, but presumably we'll all get a better look at the new design when the Bulls are flattened by all the powerhouse opponents they're playing this season. (Further details on the new design here).

• The end of an era or the end of an error? Either way, San Diego State's two-tone helmet is no more. The team's new helmet is solid cherry red.

• The more of these New Balance teams Uni Watch sees, the more apparent it becomes that these schools are trying to get the Nike treatment on the cheap. What other conclusion is possible after seeing the new Wyoming design? Of course, the Cowboys' old uni wasn't exactly a masterpiece, so it's no great loss.

Air Force is changing from this to this.

Auburn, now being outfitted by Under Armour, has made subtle changes, switching from this to this. Basically, the school's logo now appears on the pants (which means the pants will have "AU" on one side and "UA" on the other); the SEC logo on the jersey has swapped sides with the manufacturer's logo; and the chest wordmark font has been tweaked.

Florida has a 100th-anniversary logo, which will be worn as a jersey patch in place of the usual gator head logo. Also, look for the Gators to wear Spurrier-era throwbacks Sept. 30 (but don't hold your breath to see them dress like this or this).

Arkansas will wear a black "PE" helmet sticker in honor of their longtime radio announcer Paul Eells, who died in a traffic accident earlier this month.

• Bit of a snoozefest at Middle Tennessee State, which is changing from this and this to this. In other words, MTSU has switched from one really boring template to another.

Utah State is changing from this and this to this (here's a side view). Uni Watch pleads indifference -- the old and new designs are both weak. But here's something interesting: Instead of wearing player names on the back, all players will wear "Aggies" -- as a gesture of team unity. So now the coaching staff is going to have to unlearn all those clichés about how you should "play for the name on the front of the jersey, not the name on the back."

Idaho's "Idaho" chest mark, which has led an on again, off again existence in recent years, is on again.

• For reasons Uni Watch can only guess at, San Jose State is taking one of the nation's best helmets and replacing it with this. Or, depending whom you ask, this (note how the school name is all on one line in this version). Either way, a huge mistake.

And there you have it, at least for now. Feel free to report any omissions or mistakes, and Uni Watch will try to cover them next time around.

Speaking of which: Instead of our customary two-week cycle, Uni Watch will be back next Thursday with this year's NFL season-preview column. As many outraged readers have noticed during the preseason, the big story is those crummy new officials' uniforms (which you can learn more about here), but there are plenty of other developments, so check back in a week for the full scoop.

Battlefield Report: Forces of Purple in Full Retreat!
A highly classified communiqué arrived at Uni Watch HQ the other day, courtesy of an anonymous source with the Arizona Diamondbacks. After extensive decoding by the Uni Watch cryptographers, here's the full text of the message:

"I work for the Arizona Diamondbacks Team Shop, and I've got a juicy tidbit I know you'll be interested in: The DBacks are losing the purple for 2007. Their color scheme is apparently going to be a sandy type of red with black trim. Former DBack Matt Williams (who's now with the front office) modeled the new uniforms for a group of season ticket holders. They were told to keep it under their hats, but I guess they have as hard a time keeping their mouths shut as I do."

Uni Watch was excited but suspicious. Might this be an enemy spy, or perhaps a merry prankster, looking to have a bit of fun at Uni Watch's purple-averse expense? (Don't scoff -- just last week, longtime Uni Watch pal/antagonist the Rev. Nørb showed up at a Uni Watch gathering in Milwaukee with a seemingly endless supply of purple jerseys -- and brought along some additional purple party favors for good measure. But Uni Watch digresses …)

"No, it's for real," the source insisted. "Our bosses put a stop on all orders of DBacks merch back in April. We all thought it was weird to stop ordering merchandise in the first month of the season. Then we started hearing the rumors about the meeting with Matt Williams. At first I thought it was bogus, but we started hearing it from a whole lot of people. They were all saying the same thing: The uniform was red, white, and black, and the main logo was a 'D' that was similar to the current D/snake logo, but more realistic-looking."

A jubilant Uni Watch happily counts this as the latest in an encouraging string of defeats for the sports world's most loathsome color. As most of you probably know, the Bucks recently banished purple from their logo (new uniforms, presumably based on the updated color scheme, are set to debut shortly), and images of a purple-free Raptors uni, taken from the new NBA 2K7 video game, have been circulating, as well. Of course, a few teams will always be hopeless, but it's now clear that victory, dear comrades, is within our grasp.

I'll Have the Catcher Special -- with Drawn Butter, Please
Last column's examination of baseball catchers' chest protectors prompted an interesting response from reader Chris Coleman, who writes: "The column reminded me of a certain kind of shinguards that catchers used to wear when I was in high school. They were commonly known as 'lobster' leg guards, because the knee area at the top of the guard looked like a lobster tail. The theory was that they would be more comfortable for the catcher. They were made by Rawlings, but after going through their Web site, it seems they're no longer in production. I don't recall if any major leaguers used them."

Uni Watch had never seen this design before. Anyone out there have any personal experience with this type of gear?

Meanwhile, Uni Watch's mention of the historical paucity of left-handed catchers brought this report from Tyler Hicks: "The University of Kentucky has recruited two left-handed catchers for the 2007 season: Tyler Howe and Ross Hubbard." Fascinating news, this -- could the Wildcats single-handedly change the position's handedness? This opens up a whole new career option for lefties (a group that just happens to include Uni Watch), who've been barred from working behind the dish for generations. So dust off your lefty catcher's mitts, fellow southpaws, the world is now your oyster! Or lobster, as the case might be.

Paul Lukas grew up in Blue Point, Long Island, namesake of the bluepoint oyster. His Uni Watch blog, which is updated daily, is here, his answers to Frequently Asked Questions are here, and archives of his columns are available here, here and here. Got feedback for him, or want to be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted? Contact him here.