Uni Watch: College football preview!

ESPN.com Illustration

The big trend in college football uniforms this year is sleeves.

Not jersey sleeves, mind you -- those are still MIA. But keep an eye on the base-layer compression shirts that players wear under their jerseys, because those sleeves are becoming a bigger part of football design.

Here's the deal: Football jersey sleeves have essentially disappeared over the past decade, as players have become obsessed with achieving a skin-tight fit and giving their opponents as little as possible to grab on to. This has left less and less room for stripes, graphics and TV numbers (the smaller uni numbers that are usually placed on the sleeves or the shoulders).

Several of this year's new uniforms solve that problem by putting stripes and TV numbers on the base layer. This isn't an entirely new phenomenon -- we've seen it before with some of Nike's special event uniforms. The difference this time around is twofold: Most of the new designs with base-layer graphics this year are from adidas and Under Armour, and most of them are the primary uniforms for their respective teams, not one-off experiments. So using the base layer as part of the uniform canvas may be entering the mainstream.

Of course, it's one thing to make the base-layer graphics look good at a staged unveiling, but how will they look on the field? Will players even wear sleeved undershirts on a hot September afternoon? We'll find out as the season unfolds.

There are plenty of other intriguing uni-related storylines this season, as more than half of the 120 FBS teams have made some sort of uniform change this season, and we'll be able to add even more to the list once Nike announces and reveals its Rivalry designs for this season. As usual, Uni Watch is set to deliver the goods, so let's get started with our annual conference-by-conference breakdown (with the usual proviso that a few changes have probably flown under Uni Watch's radar and will therefore be covered in subsequent columns):


• For years Duke has worn a white helmet, but now the Blue Devils have two additional headwear options, including a black lid with a black logo. All helmets will have an "8" decal on the back in support of sophomore wide receiver Blair Holliday, who was badly injured in a boat accident over the summer.

• Last year, Maryland had approximately 1,372 uniform combinations. This year it's keeping it somewhat simpler. (Here's a side view of the helmet.) The much-ballyhooed "pride" uniforms will be back for one game as well. Eh, whatever -- the Terps can look as outlandish as they want, but it won't amount to much if they keep going 2-10. Also: The Terps have a new field. There had been some rumors about it being black, but they're sticking with green.

• No changes for Miami, but word through the grapevine is that the Hurricanes will have a new uni set next season.

• After flirting with the idea for years, North Carolina will finally wear this white helmet design in an as-yet-unspecified game this season.

NC State has updated its chest insignia to include "NC" in the lettering.

Virginia is adding a "Doc" helmet sticker as a memorial to longtime team physician Dr. Frank C. McCue III. In addition, coaches and sideline personnel will have "Doc" embroidered on the left sleeve of their shirts. Details here.

• Several alternate looks are in the works for Virginia Tech. The Hokies will wear a camouflage uni on Sept. 22 against Bowling Green. And in a move certain to raise more eyebrows, they'll wear white helmets with turkey feet on Sept. 8 against Austin Peay -- a reference to the team's old-fashioned nickname of the Fighting Gobblers.


• Sorry, no photos, but the claw marks on Cincinnati's pants are a bit smaller this year.

Rutgers has a flashy new look that includes chrome-finish helmets (although the chrome is "battle-scarred," to look more knightlike or something). Check out these additional photos and details.


• The Big Ten has never required teams to wear the conference logo as a jersey patch, but that will change this year (and as you can see, Indiana has also added a slogan to the inner collar). Kinda clutters up some of those old-school jerseys, no? The logo is also being added to every team's field at the 25-yard line.

• No uniform changes this season for Illinois, but the Illini have added some outlining in the shape of Illinois to their field design. Look for new uniforms in 2013, including this helmet.

• The aforementioned inner-collar slogan is the only new element for Indiana, unless you count these new gloves.

Iowa will wear 1921 throwbacks against Iowa State on Sept. 8. Further details here. The Hawkeyes also will wear a special Nike-designed uniform, which hasn't yet been revealed, against Purdue on Nov. 10. More details on that here.

• The big news at Michigan is that the Wolverines have a nifty alternate uniform for the Sept. 1 game against Alabama. The smaller news items include no more numbers on the helmets, some adjustments to the piping and collar on their road jersey, and several jersey numbers being unretired, including Gerald Ford's.

Minnesota has a much simpler jersey and a matte-finish helmet. Here are some additional photos of the uniform, and the helmet, plus a video clip. Also, the Gophers have added a "GT 51" memorial patch for former player Gary Tinsley, who died back in April.

Nebraska will wear a solid-red uni with a letterman-style chest logo and a black helmet for the game against Wisconsin on Sept. 29. (The Badgers will have their own special uniform for that game.) Also, judging by the tweets coming from Nebraska's equipment staff, it looks like the Cornhuskers will have white shoes this year. If so, it'll be the first time they've gone white-footed since 1989. Also-also: Check out the new practice jerseys.

• The most interesting new design of the year comes from Northwestern, which has introduced a wraparound chest stripe (sort of like the Montreal Canadiens' home uni!). Fan reaction will probably be split, but this design is a big hit here at Uni Watch HQ. Additional photos here.

• There was a lot of debate in recent weeks about whether Penn State should change its uniforms in the wake of the school's child sex abuse scandal. The Nittany Lions have decided to make two small adjustments: They're adding player names to their jerseys, as a symbol of personal accountability, and they'll be wearing a blue ribbon to support victims of child abuse. (Their opponent on Sept. 1, Ohio, will also wear the blue ribbon as a helmet decal.) Details here, and you can see a video of the player nameplates being made here.

Purdue has tweaked its logo, and the new mark has been added to the base of the jersey collar.

Wisconsin will have a pretty cool alternate design for the Sept. 29 game against Nebraska. (As noted above, the Cornhuskers have their own unique uni for that game.)

BIG 12

• Disappointing move by Baylor, which has added a solid-black alternate uni to the rotation.

Kansas is restoring the players' names to the jerseys.

Oklahoma State has changed the numbers on its gray jersey from orange with black outlining to the other way around. Meanwhile, coach Mike Gundy wants to add an orange helmet to the team's wardrobe (it has only three helmet options at present -- white, black, and gray -- so you can see why it would need a fourth), and it looks like it's already in the works. (As an aside, here's a good article about the school's equipment staff.)

• What do you do if you want to have flashy, newfangled uniforms like everyone else, but your program is committed to sticking with a traditional design? If you're Texas, you come out with flashy, newfangled practice uniforms.

• Another season, another round of mix-and-match uni options for TCU. This year's batch is supposedly based on an "anthracite" color, but it looks pretty close to black. And of course: a gray helmet.

West Virginia is one of the many teams that are adding a gray uni option, including two separate gray helmets! (Coach Dana Holgorsen says it helps with recruiting.) The Mountaineers also have added the Big 12 logo to their field.


Houston has new logos, one of which is the basis for an updated helmet design. The Cougars have also increased the size of their chest lettering, and they'll be bidding farewell to their stadium with a commemorative patch.

• Nothing drastic for Marshall, but a nice little upgrade all the same. (Incidentally, how many high-level meetings and forms filled out in triplicate were required to change the chest mark from "Herd" to "The Herd"? Just askin'.)

Rice has switched from Nike to adidas, which has downsized the school's chest script. That adidas logo really mucks up the look, doesn't it? They should put it on the upper-right chest instead.

SMU has a new number font and really weird striping treatment. Don't think I've ever seen Northwestern striping worn on the shoulders like that.

Southern Miss will wear 1970 throwbacks against Marshall on Oct. 20 and possibly for one other game.

• An upgrade for Tulsa, which is going with a much simpler look than last year.

UAB is another team getting back to basics with a much more traditional look.

UTEP will wear an orange-on-orange uni for the season-opening game against Oklahoma on Sept. 1.


• A big downgrade for Army, which has dropped the gold sleeves (lots of additional photos here). The Black Knights are also switching to a matte helmet with a sort of toasted finish -- interesting.

BYU has adopted Nike's Flywire collar style. There are also rumors of a solid-black alternate uni.

• Lots of Notre Dame tidbits. First, the Irish will wear a new uniform -- including one of history's more unfortunate helmets -- for the Oct. 6 game against Miami. Second, their regular gold pants will supposedly be a closer match to the gold on their helmets this season. Third, the season opener against Navy on Sept. 1 will take place in Ireland, so the Irish will wear cleats based on the Irish flag for the occasion. Fourth, here are the cleats they'll be wearing for the rest of the year. Fifth, adidas had a bit of trouble with a new Notre Dame glove design. And sixth, the school's grass field may soon be replaced with FieldTurf.

Continue to Part II of the Uni Watch college football preview for the MAC, Mountain West, PAC-12, SEC, Sun Belt, and WAC.

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